Don’t have a mid-life crisis, have a ‘second bounce’. How to do it (with no fast cars to be seen)

Approaching or being in mid-life can cause some people a bit of a meltdown. But it doesn't have to, say a philosopher and a life coach, who advocate a new way of looking at it. Lucy Handley reports

Buying a Porsche, dating a much younger woman and becoming a MAMIL (middle-aged man in Lycra, or cycling fanatic) might be the stereotypical symptoms of a male mid-life crisis, but in fact men approach their 40s, 50s and beyond with a more positive approach than women.

New figures show that 29 per cent of men are ‘feeling good’ about middle age, compared with 22 per cent of women, while just over a fifth of men see it as an opportunity, compared to 15 per cent of women. However, overall, two thirds of the people surveyed feel positive about mid life, saying it is a time for ‘fresh opportunities and experiences’.

The authors of The Goodyear Second Bounce report, philosopher Robert Rowland Smith and coach Mark McCartney, encourage society as a whole to reframe the second half of life.

“So far it has been conceived as the worst half. But that might just be a prejudice. We may not have youth, but we do have experience. If we also manage our energy correctly, we can live much more fulfilled lives than we did in the first forty years.”

Instead of thinking about the mid-life crisis, people should focus on a ‘second bounce’, which will help avoid any feelings of being usurped by a younger generation, and is a more deliberate way to approach being in your 40s or 50s.

“The second bounce involves going through a process too, but going through it deliberately, rather than being caught up in it helplessly or with a sense of panic at time slipping by.”

The mid-life ritual

The mid-life ritual is a way of assessing the first half of your life and working out your ambitions from now on, and there are five steps:

1. Assess life so far

Be honest and look at whether you’re ahead or behind in the goals you had when you were younger.

2. Think about your achievements

This isn’t just about qualifications, but other things you’re proud of, relationships or helping someone else to success.

3. Learn from it

Think about what you’d do differently now, based on poorer decisions you made. But don’t be too harsh on yourself.

4. Consider your ambitions now

“The future can be a lot better than the past, even if the past was great,” say McCartney and Rowland Smith. “Even if you plan on retiring at some point in the next two decades, you can still set goals, whether these are professional or personal.”

5. Work out how to fulfil them

Work out your ambitions, and then break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. 

This may be easy to read in black and white, but could be harder to execute, especially if you have fixed ideas about yourself and your abilities. If someone is told they have no talent for playing an instrument, pursuing a particular career or even something like baking when they’re younger, that message can stay with that person for a long time.

But McCartney and Rowland Smith say you can change your attitude from fixed to growth. “Once you start imagining your second half as a period for new growth, rather than decline or fixity, you will start behaving accordingly, and new opportunities are likely to arise.”

Six ways to reduce your mid-life crisis and heighten your mid-life bounce

1. Stop being unproductive

The actor Samuel L Jackson has talked about how life has changed as he’s got older, and he advocates more ‘otium’, or leisure time, including studying or learning a new skill, and less ‘negotium’ which includes structured work or employment. The rules of the mid-life bounce include being less busy, and simply stopping certain things.

2. Make small changes

“Making dramatic, extreme changes often results in disappointment, but we can often make progress towards a big goal by making small inroads towards it,” say McCartney and Rowland Smith, advising people to make lots of small changes over time to contribute to greater goals.

3. Get support

Get a coach or mentor who will stretch and challenge you.

4. Focus on your health

Avoid the ‘rot from the stuff we do’ says Dr Henry Lodge, co-author of Younger Next Year, pointing out that many of the ‘ageing’ diseases are those that we bring on ourselves, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

5. Prevent regrets

It sounds morbid, but in the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware, the top thing people cite is to have been true to themselves in life, and secondly that they hadn’t worked so hard.

6. Create a positive image of yourself

Being in mid-life means you have plenty of time yet to come, so think about who you want to be. “One reason people lapse into mid-life crisis is that they have no positive image of themselves to aspire to as they get older. Paint a picture of yourself in the future that is one that interests and inspires you,” the report suggests.

The School of Life and Goodyear surveyed 2,000 people in the UK aged between 35 and 55 for The Second Bounce report, by Robert Rowland Smith and Mark McCartney.