Sobering up: the good, the bad and the absolute worst

As I get over the ‘high’ of corporate life, I reflect on the good, the bad and the absolute worst things about being alone – and at home – with my personal transition.

the good
a. One and a half hours longer in bed
b. Having only one mobile phone (I keep looking for the other one)
c. No demands other than making sure family is clean, fed, watered and spoken to (easy!)
d. Exercising in the mornings – fantastic start to my day
e. Nurturing my ideas…plotting, creating, building – great stuff!
f. Watching lots of TV, brain numbing stuff but I think my brain is grateful
g. Not dressing up to go out – need to be careful that I eventually do have a shower though
h. Drinking lots of tea (I no more need coffee but missing my usual “small cappuccino”)
i. Being more patient as I’m less in a hurry equals less shouting at my poor children (yay!)

the bad

a. Waking up in morning with no plan for the day, so I often just lay there
b. Missing my work phone – it made me feel important
c. Missing deadlines and solving problems – it made me feel important 
d. Worrying that my exercise routine won’t last once I find how to fill up my time
e. Having ideas then physically restraining myself from doing too much about them
f. Watching lots of TV, brain numbing stuff but and I think my brain is grateful gravy
g. Missing dressing up to go out to work – it made me feel important (yes, there’s a recurring theme!)
h. Missing the chat around the Costa coffee kiosk at the office
i. Being impatient when I have to pick up after my family – I used to have a job!!

the absolute worst

Realising that my job defined me so much. It’s why I took setbacks to heart. It’s perhaps part of why I had to stop and define myself some other way. High definition…loading…

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My Early Midlife Crisis: Bear, Manoeuvre or Heal

Sometimes beauty is sad

I’m wondering if I’ve experienced an early midlife crisis. A mid-career or midlife crisis is characterised by feelings of dissatisfaction, disappointment and a lack of gratitude that tend to appear in the middle of one’s life. As I reflect on my thoughts over the last 5 or 6 years, I cannot help seeing some resemblance with such a crisis. I want to explore this.

A recent HBR article, ‘Why So Many of Us Experience a Midlife Crisis‘ by Dr. Hannes Schwandt poses that on average,

‘Life satisfaction is high when people are young, then starts to decline in the early 30s, bottoming out between the mid-40s and mid-50s before increasing again to levels as high as during young adulthood.

Does this explain the decline in satisfaction, my worries about change and being average? I confess that I panicked early in my 30s when I started to feel less satisfied about where I was in my career and I felt guilty that I was whiny. The research outlined by Dr Hannes Schwandt resonates with me because it explains – to some extent – a natural development process driven by biology. Simply put, this feeling of dissatisfaction can happen to anyone – not necessarily everyone but it’s pretty common. He notes that it affects childless couples, parents of four, stay-at-home parents, single people and senior-level executives alike. However, it is not clear to me how personality, spirituality and environment affect the progress of this. I might have seen the onset of this in my life, perhaps too soon for whatever reason. I’ve handled it in a number of ways.

If I bear it, will you think I’m tough?

My 20s were filled with optimism. In fact, some of that optimism may have come off as over-confidence. I was going to get to the top of my game. I would stay up as long as necessary to get the job done. I was irritated with people that complained or wouldn’t move fast enough. If I was to describe my future status, I would have expressed high expectations of myself. It is unclear at what point exactly but there was certainly a time when I felt like I wasn’t meeting my own expectations of myself. The few people I told looked at me like I had suddenly grown horns. They were incredulous and would say, ‘What is wrong with you??’

Jonathan Rauch in his cover story, ‘The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis‘ in the Atlantic magazine describes a similar experience. He notes that he was a published author, wrote for top outlets, had won prestigious prizes and so on. If it was someone else’s career, he would have been impressed. But still he woke up disappointed morning after morning.

In the beginning, I decided that the best thing to do was to shut up and work. I did what I needed to do and tried to ignore all the negative images that would often remind me that I hadn’t achieved much. I became pretty tough in that time. I even coined a concept to describe how I was getting through. I recently described it to a close friend,

‘I go underwater. I hold my breath and just get it done. The breathlessness doesn’t last forever. When it’s done, I can come up for air at the other end.’

The data from Dr Schwandt’s research suggests that one can wait out a crisis like this and that things look up later in life so my approach may have some merit. There are coping mechanisms such as mentoring and acknowledgement of what it is. I’m just not convinced that is sufficient to manage the shear exhaustion of bearing a midlife crisis, particularly an early one.

Will a good manoeuvre fix this?

I planned a manoeuvre to get out of my exhaustion. It manifested in real terms when I applied for and accepted an offer to undertake a doctorate degree then took time off corporate life. But the seeds of change loomed for longer than that. For instance, I actively paid off all my credit card debt over a period of 3 years in anticipation of following a dream that required a low-maintenance budget – at least initially. I built up a network of contacts from different backgrounds, targeted and engaged potential mentors in order to get a taste of the other side. The nurturing of the seeds also involved continuous (and sometimes chronic) personal reflection. I asked myself questions like,

‘When have I been happiest?’

‘What do I love doing?’

‘How can I make changes without leaving a vacuum?’

‘Where will I get support if I need it?’

Dr Schwandt acknowledges that a mid-career crisis could be painful but it could be an opportunity for self-reflection, a reevaluation of personal strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know yet if I’ve stalled a midlife or mid-career crisis. Is it something that is still coming to ‘get me’ later in life? My recent manoeuvre might not hamper the natural process. In fact, Dr Schwandt adds,

‘Whether you choose to wait out the discontent, or make a drastic change in the hopes of a brighter tomorrow, rest assured this too shall pass.’

It sounds comforting and could even be true.  In his cover story, Jonathan Rauch wrote about emerging from a passage of midlife crisis with a returned gratitude aged 54. Dr Schwandt and Jonathan Rauch both write about the happiness U-curve. According to the U-curve, there’s hope and even a chance to heal.

If time heals, does aging heal too?

Brookings scholars Carol Graham and Milena Nikolova show a clear relationship between age and well-being in the United States. Rating life satisfaction relative to the “best possible life” for them, with 0 being worst and 10 being best, respondents to the survey provided evidence of a U-curve depicted below:

happiness u-curve

According to Jonathan Rauch’s cover story, age brings the onset of wisdom which favours more emotional regulation, more tolerance of diversity , more insight, lower expectations and overall, less regret. From the graph, I have more crisis ahead because I’m 36 – not 39 or 47 or 54. I’d need to wait till my mid-50s to acquire the wisdom to help me heal. Well, I don’t accept this. An early midlife crisis surely deserves an early acquisition of aged wisdom, right? I feel like my life satisfaction is actually beginning to increase. Perhaps I’m more easily satisfied….perhaps I just know better. If this U curve represents me, then satisfaction may dip later and put a ‘hump’ at the bottom left of this U curve.

In any event, I feel strangely comforted by these research. Whether or not I’m in a midlife crisis, when things feel sunken, I’ll know that it’s unlikely to mean I’m crazy or ungrateful. I can choose to bear, manoeuvre or wait for the healing to begin.

Is anyone else on the U curve?

Image from flickr user: ella larose – sometimes beauty is sad

The luxury of being average (4 years later)

If you have been visiting this blog for a while, you may remember one of my popular blog posts back in July 2011 titled, ‘The luxury of being average. Here is an excerpt from it:

Now and then, I wrestle with my fear of being average. I worry that I’ll live an average life that won’t be worth remembering and be just as good or worse than the person that came before. I always want to be better.

Before I go on, let me put a definition of ‘average’ out here. Cambridge dictionary defines ‘average’ as

a standard or level considered to be typical or usual.

I re-read the post recently and my feelings have changed slightly but significantly. I still find easygoing folks a little annoying and I still want to be damn good at what I do. But I have found a way to live with the fact I am not good at everything and that I need to find my niche in life. How am I living with this? Here’s how: The crux of my 2011 blog post was that I felt under a lot of pressure. I know now that I was probably striving for the wrong things. It had very little (if anything at all) to do with average-ness, whether I deemed that to be a curse or a blessing. I wanted to be what other people wanted me to be and that was incredibly exhausting.

Angry or confused face?

When I handed in my resignation this past February, I discovered people find change very uncomfortable and some have certain views on what I am supposed to be and the things I am meant to achieve. To announce that I’m probably not going to achieve those things because I don’t want to is a pill some still have under their tongue and haven’t swallowed. I would say to someone, “hey, I quit my job!” and then they would proceed to tell me why they cannot quit their job. All good information but eh, I haven’t asked you to quit your job! It’s pretty funny to watch/listen to. So…do I still fear being ‘average’? No, not really. I think that regardless of whether I keep up with people’s expectations or not, I will never be average simply because I am who I am. Those decisions and the life journeys I choose to go on are unique to me. Whether or not I succeed on the path I’m on doesn’t change that. And…do I think being average is a luxury? If I define ‘average’ as

not having too much or too little and not aspiring far beyond the current reality

then yes, it could provide the luxury of a content, relatively stress-free existence. As I glance back at the definitions of ‘average’, I know it’s a luxury I cannot afford. Guess I’ll never learn.

Images from flickr user: thejuniorpartner – Angry or confused face?

PHOTOGRAPHY: Loved & Abandoned

"Loved & Abandoned"

“Loved & Abandoned”

 

I shot this on Sunday afternoon near my home. I caught one glimpse of it and had to make a U-turn.

The scene represents a friendship left to die, passion allowed to wither and a life once energetic, ultimately not lived to its full potential…

 

Photo credit: Yekemi Otaru

Blogging dilemmas, and the onset of new passions

I understand that my blog content has changed over the past few months. I often wonder if I’m still the task mistress or just a mistress posting photographs – it hardly seems task worthy.

 

Part of it has been my laziness. I’ve had to carve out time to blog and the weekly photo challenges have been an easy way to blog without actually saying anything. For what it’s worth I’ve been doing well. I think my business addiction is being fed by my new job. Finishing my MBA last October got me some of the knowledge I craved. It is perhaps due to this that I have lost my initial branding for this blog. The blog was meant to record my journey from engineering to business. While I haven’t fully arrived at my dream career, I’m on my way – learning never ends.

 

I have found new passions along the way as well such as photography. I find it creative, surprisingly technical and intense thus feeding the geek, the gypsy and the gladiator in me.

I took these pictures yesterday on a strawberry picking adventure

I took these pictures yesterday on a strawberry picking adventure

Therefore, I’m faced with a choice about this blog. Do I continue with the original theme or do I let photography replace the content here?

 

I’ve decided to start a new blog for my photography. I want to continue to have discussion here although I fear that I’m having less and less to say. It’s probably more that I’m less inclined to say it as I’ve found other avenues to unburden myself. Time will tell I guess :-).

 

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