The term “midlife crisis” was coined in the mid-1960s to describe a social phenomenon that occurs primarily in Western and Western-dominated cultures where some people in their “middle years,” usually between the ages of 40 and 55, experience a dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval as a result of realizing that their youthful years are fading and that old age is imminent. The crisis can be precipitated by unemployment, underemployment, career dissatisfaction, other causes of self-doubt, or even extreme grief, such as the death of a loved one. Regarded today by some scholars as a socio-cultural construct and not a cross-cultural human phenomenon, since it is markedly more prevalent in societies that venerate youthfulness and denigrate aging, midlife crisis should not be treated as an unavoidable fact of life—even in the cultures where it tends to be more commonly experienced. The trick is to anticipate it, prepare for it, and avoid it.
A 21st-century gentleman must be prepared to make several work-changes during the course of his work-life, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. And to a large degree, his response to those changes, whether positive or negative, will depend on his overall attitude towards change. On one end of the personality spectrum are the people who tend to resist change, and on the other end are those who welcome it, always happy to “go with the flow.” Most people are somewhere between both extremes.
One of the best safety nets in times of work-upheaval is a good education: It objectively establishes qualification; it imbues confidence; and it demonstrates an aptitude for learning, all of which are key components of adaptability. Honed skills and talent also prove invaluable in times of change, for they provide viable work-alternatives or work-supplements. And a going concern—such as an ancillary project or an on-the-side-business—can oftentimes quickly evolve into a thriving entity when nurtured. But perhaps the greatest facilitator of change is faith—the ability to graciously accept that the closing of one door signals the opening of another.
But sudden change can also be, and oftentimes is, disconcerting. And as a gentleman struggles to regain his equilibrium in the midst or aftermath of upheaval, it would be wise for him to refer to his life priorities, which will provide him with some sense of direction in his time of uncertainty. The best way to identify life priorities is to state them in writing, revisiting, reassessing, and readjusting them if necessary, at the beginning of each decade of life. A young man should identify the 20 most important things in his life, ranking them in order of importance from most important to least important. Then at the beginning of each decade of life thereafter, for example at age 20, then 30, then 40, etc., he should consider carefully whether he is living his life in such a manner so as to realize his priorities based on their order of importance in his life. If after careful analysis a gentleman determines that his pattern of life is inconsistent with his stated priorities, he must make the necessary adjustments to his life. Likewise, a man experiencing midlife crisis should use his stated priorities as a guidepost as he restructures the remainder of his life. A gentleman should fearlessly pursue his priorities, for in their pursuit he will create his own happiness. And he should know that at the end of life, when it is all said and done, he is more likely to regret the things he did not do than the thing he did.
Though popularized in the 1940s after World War II, a review of the historical record indicates that pension plans have existed since the 1600s, with retirement provisions for the widows of clergy, for teachers, and for naval officers being amongst the earliest. And over the past 400 years, pension plans have undergone many evolutions, from being unregulated private entities to agency-regulated government retirement schemes. But as countries experience decreases in birthrate and advances in people-substituting technology, both of which impact the number of people entering the workforce, while simultaneously experiencing a disproportionately large aging population, pension plans in most countries are challenged and are on the verge of collapse absent drastic reforms. It would therefore be most unwise for the typical 21st-century gentleman to assume that he will be able to retire comfortably on his pension. The more prudent approach would be to view a pension, to the extent that there is one, as a supplement to retirement income. As such, a gentleman should find ways to transform the things that bring him pleasure into things that bring him pleasure and income. And today, with the world having been made smaller and more accessible on account of technology and the internet, a gentleman can relax in his retirement home on St. John in the American Virgin Islands, Cruzan Rum-and-Coke in one hand, while conducting business all over the world with the other.