Middlescence: How to avoid the crisis and thrive in midlife

Are you a middle-aged adult lost in this mysterious stage of life between youth and old age? Are you questioning your purpose in life and plans for the future — your career, your relationship, your very being? Does that little voice in your head keep taunting you with the existential question, “What’s next?” 

Welcome, my dear friend, to middlescence.

Middle-aged woman reading book and drinking tea at table

What is middlescence?

Middlescence is a relatively recent cultural paradox referencing the transitional period that occurs for many during midlife. During this life stage, many people question their relationships, reevaluate their personal and professional goals, and feel generally stuck in a rut.

When reading this description, you might immediately get the negative “midlife crisis” vibe, but middlescence can be a positive opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery. Sure, some might make seemingly drastic life changes, such as ending marriages or leaving careers, but many more midlifers use this time to reflect on their accomplishments and reevaluate their goals for the future. 

Life-stage expert and author Barbara Waxman hopes to spread the message encouraging middle-aged adults to utilize middlescence as “the second adolescence, but with wisdom.” Instead of spiraling into the void or tearing apart the lives they’ve built, Waxman encourages middle-aged individuals to use their experience to make the necessary changes for their most authentic and fulfilling lives.

It is important to recognize that middlescence is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Each person’s journey through this phase will be unique in both impact and length, influenced by factors such as culture, socioeconomic status, and personal circumstances. By embracing middlescence with compassion and an open mind, you can navigate this time with grace and emerge stronger through the transition.

Middle-aged women practicing self-care

Why is middlescence more prevalent today?

The rise of middlescence is notable, as illustrated by the word’s recent addition to the pages of the Cambridge English Dictionary. This phenomenon is the result of the perfect storm of societal, healthcare, technological, and economic factors that have changed what midlife looks like today.

One key factor contributing to the rise of middlescence is the increasing longevity of life. With advancements in healthcare and technology, people are living (and working) longer than ever before. This extended lifespan means that individuals have more time to question their purpose and identity as they navigate through different stages of adulthood.

Thanks to the increase in remote work and shift in professional aspirations leading up to and after the pandemic, society’s expectations for “how” and “why” we work have changed significantly. The Great Resignation illustrates middle-aged workers’ desire for purpose in their work, as many individuals decide to switch careers or take a career break later in life. 

And, of course, let’s not forget the modern-day emphasis on personal development and self-actualization. Look at the stuffed shelves of any bookstore or list of top-downloaded podcasts, and it’s undeniable that people are no longer content with following a predetermined path laid out by society. Instead of simply going through the motions, people are more likely to seek meaning and fulfillment in their lives, often leading to this period of introspection during middlescence.

Middle-aged women relaxing and listening to music on headphones

Is middlescence the same as a midlife crisis?

Midlife and crisis go together like peanut butter and jelly, thanks to the cultural conditioning of the media. When you hear the term “midlife,” your brain might flash an image of a 50-year-old man who “upgrades” his station wagon and housewife to a Porsche and 25-year-old bikini model. But how often does this cliché really occur?

Yes, it’s true that some people may go for the UFC-extreme version of middlescence that aligns with our traditional notions of a midlife crisis. But, these cases are not in the majority. 

Most people approach midlife adolescence in a much gentler manner, often finding new inspiration or direction for the kind of life they want to lead. There may be many emotions or internal battles as they work through their reimagined visions for their career, relationship, and personal identity — but it is only through these struggles that they will ultimately achieve growth.

Whether your middlescence resembles an episode of Real Housewives of New York or a sappy Hallmark movie, it is important to keep in mind that there is no crisis if you and your loved ones are happier for the transition.

How can I make the best of middlescence?

Navigating middlescence can be an exciting yet challenging journey. If you are experiencing the midlife metamorphosis and rethinking the path you have mapped out for yourself, consider how to use this confusing time period to create your best life.

Middle-aged couple walking hand-in-hand on the beach

Relationships

Middlescence often coincides with many life changes that cause strain on even the strongest couple. Health concerns, career changes, aging parents, and child-rearing will cause significant stress on their own. Serve them up on that dingy midlife platter all at the same time, and you’re bound to feel some stress in your relationship as you work through these changes.

Practice effective communication, empathy, and patience as you discuss midlife obstacles with your partner. Take the time to actively listen to your partner’s thoughts and feelings without judgment. This will foster understanding and create an environment where both of you feel safe expressing yourselves.

Keep an open mind as you explore new possibilities for your future together. Support your partner’s ambitions and struggles, and enjoy dreaming up solutions as a team. Remember, this is a partnership; if one partner is unhappy, the partnership is unhappy. 

Prioritize your relationship and spend quality time together. Whether it’s going on dates or traveling together, incorporating more one-on-one time in your daily routine, or just sharing more laughter — make the effort to have fun together and focus on communication to help strengthen your bond.

Last (and possibly most important), embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for personal development to grow both individually and within the relationship. Middlescence can be a time of self-discovery for both partners, so encourage each other’s individual pursuits while maintaining a strong foundation of support.

When moving on is the right decision

Sometimes, you and your partner may come to the realization that you are no longer a good fit together. While this is not something anyone plans for their relationship, it does happen — and it’s not always a bad thing to move on. If you and your partner decide that you would be better off apart, it’s even more vital to be respectful and supportive of each other and your family during the process of separation. It will be a hard adjustment for everyone; there’s no denying that. However, a separation done for the right reasons and in a respectful manner usually results in better family relationships in the long run.

Middle-aged women practicing meditation on the beach

Physical Health

Have you noticed that you’re having more trouble sleeping these days? Or that it takes you twice as long to recover from a simple cold or bounce back after a hard workout? Nope, you’re not imagining it —  your body is changing. 

If you are not tolerating foods the same or experiencing unanticipated weight gain or loss, evaluate your diet and how nutrition can improve your physical health. Engage in regular exercise to feel energized, healthy, and help manage stress. Explore different types of physical activity as your body (I mean you, achy joints!) changes. Develop a nightly bedtime (and morning) routine to promote healthy sleep habits. And if you have any unhealthy vices that you keep putting off quitting, such as excessive drinking or smoking — there’s never a better time to quit than right now.

No matter your stance on the healthcare industry, middle-age is no time to skimp on proper preventive care. Schedule regular doctor visits for your annual physical exam, well-woman exam and mammogram, first colonoscopy, and other diagnostic tests that become increasingly important in midlife. While it might feel like you’re visiting the doctor more than ever, it’s better to practice these preventive measures rather than experience an unforeseen health issue that could have been addressed earlier. Don’t be discouraged by the biological impact on your body as you age. Instead, use this time to really listen to your body and adjust your habits to feel your best.  By taking the best care of your health and body now, you may feel better in midlife than in your twenties and thirties!

Woman taking notes in journal

Emotional Health

Changes in your emotional state are a natural part of middlescence — and not just due to the hormone fluctuations of menopause. (That’s a whole other topic for another day!) Part of these emotional speedbumps are simply a result of managing these life changes from a place of wisdom. By middle age, you are more self-aware and intuitive, which heightens your experience as you maneuver through each step of your evolution. 

Find healthy ways to cope with your emotions, whether it’s practicing mindfulness techniques, engaging in creative outlets like art or documenting your thoughts in a journal, or developing a self-care routine. Surround yourself with people you trust and admire to build a strong network and maintain positive social interactions. Instead of trying to handle all these feelings on your own, reach out to others when you need support and seek professional help through therapy or counseling if you need it.

Remember that you are not alone in your journey towards better emotional and mental health. By staying in tune with your emotional state, cultivating effective coping strategies, and building a strong support system, you can navigate middlescence with resilience and come out happier on the other side.

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Middle-aged women working on laptop

Career

Middlescence can be both an exciting and challenging time in your professional journey. It is a time when many middle-aged individuals find themselves at a crossroads in their careers, weighing the pros and cons of stability and security versus personal growth and professional fulfillment.

To make the best of your career, you must first engage in some serious self-reflection. Take the time to assess your skills, interests, and values. What truly drives you? What are your passions? By understanding yourself better, you can align your career choices with what brings you joy and satisfaction.

If your midlife professional goals are to take your career to the next level or even make a career change, evaluate what new skills or education you will need to accomplish this dream. Perhaps it’s time for a much-needed career break; ensure you are emotionally and financially prepared for this immense change through diligent planning. Embrace the new possibilities that middlescence brings forth — it is never too late to pursue your dreams or make meaningful changes in your career trajectory. With self-reflection and purpose as your guiding principles, you can make the best of this transformative phase in your professional journey.

Middlescence as a second chance

If you were to rewind the tape of the past five years of my life, you’d most likely be quite entertained by the dramatic transformation I’ve experienced. And, to be honest, the drastic upheaval does, in many ways, resemble that of an (early) midlife crisis. However, as I look back now at these years of upheaval and realignment, I can’t help but feel that life is finally shaking out the way it’s meant to be.

Ending a marriage to build a stronger family structure

People surely scoffed when my first marriage to a wonderful man and father to my children ended. But they didn’t see the struggles inside of our picture-perfect family. Now, we’re both happily remarried to partners much better suited for each of us, celebrating holidays and birthdays together with our children and getting along better than ever. I’ve become close friends with his new wife, and the four parents/step-parents now text daily to manage these crazy girls together. Everyone — kids, parents, and new spouses — is much better off for this change.

Leaving one career behind to find purpose

I’m sure I seemed crazy when I just walked away from my 19-year career without another job lined up. (I’m not going to lie; five years ago, I would have thought I was crazy!) But in my heart, I knew it was the right decision for myself and my family — and there would never be a time when taking that leap of faith would be easier. It was only after the jump that I was able to pursue my other passions, including this blog, which ultimately led me down the path to creating my own business and working with other entrepreneurs. I feel more fulfilled, inspired, and optimistic about the future than I have in almost two decades.

Middle age is a gift

As a twenty-something, I dreaded getting older. I wanted to avoid the aches and pains, tears, and wrinkles I knew would inevitably find me someday. Now, I embrace middle age as a gift. I will forever be grateful for the new beginning midlife gave me, and look forward to enjoying this beautiful new life I’ve styled for myself.

Embrace middlescence for your second act

Your midlife offers a unique opportunity to embrace change and growth. It is important to acknowledge what a great blessing this time is: a time to discard the narrative of your youth to achieve the fulfillment and meaning you deserve in your life.

Middlescence isn’t a crisis; it’s merely the beginning of your life’s second act. It is a second chance to create your most authentic life with the experience and wisdom that can only come after many years.


Have you experienced any of the discontent or transitions of middlescence? Do you feel that these changes have been for the better or worse? Share your midlife stories in the comments below!

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8 Comments

  1. Such a great article with so many helpful ideas. I’m beginning my 2nd act, and the transition has been tough. I needed this read today!

  2. I agree that Middlescence is a second chance. I think I’m enjoying one of the best times of my life right now. It took some navigating though 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  3. I agree with this. It doesn’t have to be a crisis, just an evaluation. I think it’s normal and healthy to reevaluate what we want our lives to be. Great article.

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