Midlife: A New Mode of Being

As many of you know, I’m 42 years old.  Over the last six years, I have been battling a sense of aimlessness. 

I wanted to know if this was common and eventually, I wondered if I was experiencing a midlife crisis.  In retrospect, the desire for a label is interesting.  I suppose I was searching for connection.  A label would imply that I was part of something larger; something common that necessitated labeling; a group of people who have experienced something similar; that my experience was “normal.”  While I find the word “normal” at best to be unfortunate (which you can read about here), it’s an understandable attempt to feel connected. Feeling abnormal or different was my harsh vocal inner self-critic disconnecting me from humanity. 

Setting Goals in early Adulthood

When I was 19 years old, I discovered that I wanted to study music.  I yearned to know everything and took every class.  Even as an undergraduate, I wished to be a professor someday, sharing my passion for music with others.  My goal was established and clear.  I felt lucky; I knew what I wanted while many of my friends stumbled in search for their path.   

I continued with my education.  I earned a Master’s Degree in Music Composition; then I pursued and received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Music Composition, as well as a Master’s Degree in Music Theory. The point isn’t to impress but to illustrate the path that became a paramount feature of my young adult life.  In any given semester, I was to complete a series of courses.  Those classes would lead to the next semester’s classes.  Those classes would lead to degrees and those degrees would lead to the professorship.  The next step was always clearly displayed and identifiable.  After 18 years of walking this path; I reached my goal when I was offered and accepted a teaching position.

During that 18-year journey, I was unaware of the comfort and stabilization offered by that path; not realizing the imprinting power of living with the same thoughts and feelings for an extended period; mindlessly enjoying the comfort born of certitude; of knowing what I was supposed to do next; 18 years of the same internal cocktail of chemicals produced by my daily thoughts and emotions, derived from this mode of being.

Achieving Goals during a Midlife Crisis

Finally, after 18 years, I accomplished my goal.  I had reached the end of the path and expected happiness; peace from reaching the summit and enjoying the view.  However, within a few months, I began to feel discontent.  The emotion was quiet; easy to ignore or bury, but was symptomatic in the form of a new goal.  I began to think about buying a home.  Soon, the thought and goal consumed me.  Up to this point in my entire life, I had never cared about money or home ownership.  Never!  Now, suddenly it was my primary objective.  It felt good. 

In hindsight, I suppose it just felt familiar; replacing old goals with new ones.  After a couple years of saving, my wife and I finally bought a home.  Yet, after a few months, the discontent returned.  I began to think about whether we could buy a second home and rent out the other.  Something didn’t feel right.  The internal friction was strong enough to get my attention and I began to look inside, discovering feelings of utter aimlessness and frustration.  I didn’t want to replace old goals with new ones; it made me feel like a hamster on the wheel. 

However, it was familiar; a mode of existence strongly imprinted in my mind; set goals and strive to achieve them. I didn’t know how else to live, but I was simultaneously annoyed by the seemingly inherent dissatisfaction that accompanied this mode of being.  I wanted to feel satisfied and content with my life; achievements, possessions, everything.  I still do.  I want a new way to live; a new mode of being where I am no longer the familiar hamster.

Setting Goals at Midlife