How-To Prevent A Midlife Crisis

Published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel under the pen name Elizabeth Rose.  Chris is known as “Jason” in the I Heart stories.

Up to this point, I’ve had no issues with age.

I survived my 20s, the 30s are to be conquered, and the 40s and beyond – according to many women – are “the best ever”.

But turning 35 brought a new awareness of mortality.

Now that I’m well into my third decade, I realize that if I’m not careful, I may inadvertently rush the years ahead.

I thought about how much we wish away time.

As children, we can’t wait to be a big kid and sit with the adults at family dinners.

Then comes elementary school, the first real experience of living with a clock. We wake up early and head to class, then proceed to count down minutes until recess, lunch, and after-school activities.

As pre-teens, we can’t wait to get through puberty and, basically, anything to do with middle school.

Then high school arrives and hopes of a driver’s license nears. Following is the excitement of proms and graduation.

Finally, you are old enough to live on your own at college, and exam dates loom over your first and second semesters.

Before you know it, you turn 21 and wake up with a massive hangover.

(This may also be the first time you utter, “I’m getting too old for this.”)

Now that you’ve got 21 out of the way, you prepare to graduate college but quickly realize the “real world” is scary and expensive.

So you try grad school or embark on an epic road trip or foreign adventure to keep the “real world” at bay.

But eventually, it’s time to get a real job. Counting down ’til lunch, happy hour, or the weekend becomes standard.

Now you’ve gotten this far, society tells you it’s time to find a partner and buy a house.

It’s okay because everyone else is doing it.

So you follow the well-worn path of life according to modern society and get married and have kids. Thus, a new cycle of clock-watchers is born.

But at this point, the clock seems to speed up.

The kids grow up too fast and you suddenly realize there are certain things you “forgot to do” before this whole school/job/house/partner thing started.

So, to make up for lost time, you buy a sports car, get a tattoo, another piercing, or finding a new spouse. Just a few bandages to make it all better.

The point is with all the pushing and pulling of time, why are we so surprised to wake up one day and realize life is zooming by?

I completely understand why some endure a mid-life crisis.

I tried a little experiment at work. (At the time, I was a checker at a grocery store where the labor is repetitive and time seems to travel very slow.)

The challenge: to not look at the clock for an entire shift. For breaks or lunch, I would set an alarm to let me know I’m off.

The big day rolls around and I make an intention to act mindfully.

I took my position behind the register and the experiment commenced.

As customers came and went, I chatted with them to keep busy.

I engaged further than the typical “How are you today?” and “Would you like a bag?”

With friendly eye-contact, I asked more about their week, what they planned on cooking for dinner, or what trips they had coming up.

Even the less-than-friendly people came around when they noticed the effort I made to connect.

Without knowledge of the time, I became more patient and open.

I was, as they say, present.

When I accidentally glanced at the clock, two hours had gone by in what felt like 30 minutes.

On top of that, these small-but-meaningful exchanges left me in high spirits.

I found I was able to complete work with a sense of purpose and came home inspired to try again.

Admittedly, it was a struggle to get back into the practice of avoiding the clock once I broke the seal, but eventually, I was able and the rest of the day was rather enjoyable.

Lesson learned: As much as we hope, we cannot rush time nor slow it down.

But if we can restrain from constantly checking a clock, we can feel time linger. 

Even if just for a moment.

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