My Mid-Life Crisis?

I woke up this morning thinking about the band The National. In particular I was thinking about the lead singer Matt Berninger and I was imagining the various events in his life. I saw him checking into his nice hotel room after a large concert in Hollywood, California. I saw him greeting various fans that had been waiting for him. I saw him hanging out in his room with a large smile on his face. I saw him thinking to himself “so this is what it feels like to reach this place.”

“This place” is what most people would call success. I do not think of this form of success so much in the financial sense all though financial reward often goes along with it. Instead I think of “this place” as the kind of success that most people long for in their lives. It is the success of being able to be seen by the world in a very similar way that you see your self. This may be a confusing explanation for some so let me try and simplify things a bit.

You see, I feel the reason why we idealize and idolize rock stars, actors, actresses and other artists and writers is because they get to do something that most of regular people do not get to do. They get to be exactly who they are and get paid for it. Matt Berninger, for example, does not have to go off to a job where he must play the role of a graphic designer or psychotherapist to the best of his ability so that he can make a living. He does not have to be something that he is not inorder to get paid. He does not have to be seen by other people as being a graphic designer or a psychotherapist even though who he feels like he really is on the inside is a musician and a poet. His success is that he gets to be seen by the world exactly as he sees himself. Maybe its not so perfectly black and white but you get my point. I am sure that there are few things that Matt Berninger would rather do for a job than make music and write poetry and have thousands of people acknowledge him and his work.

I got out of bed this morning and went to make some tea. I thought about what I need to do today and a slight depression came over me. I tried to remind myself to remain present and stay focused on the breath. To be with “what is” without judging it. The idea that I had to work for a few hours, take the dogs for a walk, read, eat, find something to do and spend time cleaning the house just did not seem as engaging or satisfying as I imagine Matt Berningers plans for the day would be.

Now I realize envy is a trap and I am not envying the lifestyle of Matt Berninger over mine (who knows what it really feels like to be him). Well maybe there is a tinge of envy but what I am acknowledging is that life must feel very different on the inside when you get to be exactly who you are on the outside. When the world acknowledges (and pays) you for being exactly who you want to be. And is this not what a mid-life crisis really is? Reaching a certain point in your life and realizing that things have not turned out exactly how you imagined they would? Realizing that how everyone else sees you is not how you see yourself? I think it is. I think a mid-life crisis is born out of the cracks that occur when a person becomes fractured in their life. When they have to try as hard as they can to be something that they are not (in order to make a living).

Granted, such is life in the modern world. This is the fate of most men and women. We don’t have to contend with the massive poverty that exists in India or the political nightmares that exist in Palestine, Syria and Eypt but we do have to live with this feeling of a fracture inside of our souls. The nature of contemporary capitalist society is that the individual must be able to generate a moderate profit if they are going to have a decent quality of life. If they do not have the ability to generate profit than they are either homeless, a vagabond, a loser or even worse- a total failure who is dependent on others ability to generate profit. Most people are terrified of suffering these potential consequences of staying true to who you really are so somewhere along their lives journey they make compromises. They settle for second or third best. The degree to which a person settles determines the degree to which a person experiences a mid-life crisis. I suppose it even determines the degree to which you will envy the kind of life someone like Matt Berninger gets to live.

Am I experiencing a mid-life crisis? Probably not. Would I like it if my life was filled with more acknowledgment from others for being the person I imagined myself becoming in my twenties? Probably so. Would I be happier if my work life felt like it reflected my inner life more? Maybe so. What I do know for certain is that change is the fundamental nature of reality. All things are always in a process of continual change. Nothing stays the same- not even my ideas about who I am. So do I continue to hang on to a past that may not have worked out as I would have liked it to or can I move into the present moment of my life embracing the change that shapes everything? I suppose this is what Shakespeare may have meant when he wrote:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to?”

The Success Man

I have always wondered what exactly success is, feels like, tastes like and looks like. Is success having a roof over your head and food in the refrigerator? Is it being able to pay your bills? Is it staying true to the cravings of your soul, the images in your youthful dreams? Does it look like that guy driving around in the newest Audi, the actor on the screen or the rock star being idolized by thousands of adoring fans while on stage? To be honest, I am confused by exactly what success is and what it means. Through trial and error, I am at least confident saying that I know what success is not. Success is not having to earn a living doing something that has little to do with your dream. Success does not involve too much compromise and/or settling. Success is not having to ask your father to take you clothes shopping when you are 40, unemployed and shackled with a large amount of debt.

But then again maybe success is a state of mind, a way of thinking, a belief system. At least this is what I am hoping is the case. In my life I have had two serious dreams that have not born serious monetary fruit or worldly attention. I wanted to be a professional tennis player when I was younger and then after I started reading and drinking more I decided to trade that dream in for the dream of being a writer/painter. Despite the fact that neither of these dreams have yet to work out (the only real chance I have of achieving my professional tennis dream is maybe getting to compete some day on the senior citizens professional tennis circuit), I still try to keep my spirit up and convince myself that I have indeed been successful. After all, I have a beautiful and loving fiance, a roof over my head, a fridge full of food, nice clothes hanging in my closet (even though these clothes seem to be food for moths), a newish fully owned car that works (but that I struggle to afford), various opportunities, positively influence a few people in my lifetime, good working headphones and an iPod filled with a plethora of good music. The current NOW of my life is really good- but is it successful?

Often times I feel this inner void that sneaks up on me. I try to fill it in with various foods and things, but the void consumes these things faster than I can chew them down or purchase them. What is this void? From where does it come? Shall I call it existential? A chronic feeling of dissatisfaction that is the result of not fully living my dream? Is it not fair to say that our consumer society has been built upon temporarily satisfying and alleviating these failed dreams? Last night while I was lying in bed I found myself in a bit of a funk. I get into these funks whenever I think too much about what I do not have, what I have not been able to achieve. I ask myself if I am doing with my life exactly what I want to be doing, am I doing what I was born to do? I also wonder if I am seen by others for who I am, not for who I have to be? Are there a lot of should of, would of and could of thoughts running around in my mind? I was also thinking about what Jay Z (one of the wealthiest and most successful black men in the world) said about ordinary success. In an article I read he talked about how he feels sad for people who have to go to work everyday to achieve ordinary success, the same kind of success as the majority of other people. Jay Z discussed how he feels particularly sad for those individuals who have to pursue ordinary success because their dreams did not work out. Tell me about it.

“If you could be doing exactly what you wanted, what would it look like?” my fiance asked me as I lay besides her in bed. “I would have a decent sized painting and writing studio, no debt, no obligation to go to a job and would be able to be immersed in my creative work and earn a living pursuing my creative aspirations.” “Is there not a happy medium you could find?” she asked. “What do you mean?” I replied. “I mean can you not do your work as a therapist so you can pay your bills and help others but also spend an equal amount of time doing your writing and painting?” I found myself feeling frustrated by this suggestion. Aggravation grew in my chest as I thought about what little energy I already have left. I wanted to say “do you really think I have the energy to work as a therapist and also seriously pursue my artistic work?” Instead I just took a deep breath and let it out. I then figured out what success might be- getting to spend the majority of your energy on doing the work that you want to do, getting to be engaged with your life’s work/purpose on a full-time basis. Basically, not having to find a happy medium.

I suppose this may be why I envy certain actors, musicians, writers and artists- they get to make a living doing their life’s work and do not have to return to graduate school, go into serious debt in order to build a decent and worth while career. Their soul work is acknowledged in the world, not just in the privacy of their own minds. As I turned out the light and shut my eyes to go to sleep, I realized that I am the one who has made certain choices in my life. Sure I may not have had parents who supported my dreams but maybe I never believed strongly enough that I was capable of achieving whatever I put my mind to. Maybe I smoked too much dope. I doubted myself and did not do all I could of done to turn my dreams into some kind of tangible reality (here is an example of one such could of statement I live with). Such is life- it is the deck of cards that I have been dealt. I am almost 41 years old and about to embark upon a new career as a psychotherapist. Being a psychotherapist did not enter into my youthful dreams but I figure that it is better than waiting tables. No, I do not consider myself a success man, but I am open to the idea that maybe some day I will. In my back pocket I still carry around a wallet sized portion of hope that I have enough time on earth to see at least a part of my youthful dreams become a reality. I will keep doing my part, keep showing up, keep writing and painting and keep remaining open to possibilities and inspiration rather than compartmentalized by a profession. However, now I may just have to begin to work on finding a “happy medium.”

My New Wave Mid-Life Crisis

My wife told me yesterday that I have been wearing too much black. “But it is my favorite color,” I replied. “It is not a color,” she said. “It is. And for me it is a color that is symbolic of something very personal,” I said. My wife has not been able to understand the alteration that I have gone through in the past few months. I have gone from a rather ordinary looking 38-year-old to a full-fledged new waver. I have been sticking my dyed black hair straight up with aqua net and a hair dryer. I have been painting my finger nails with black nail polish everyday and I wear black eye liner. As I already mentioned I only wear all black clothes and I have a silver crucifix that hangs down to the center of my chest. What I am describing to you is a radical transformation for me. It is a look that I once had in my youth but I never imagined that it would return twenty-five years later. “You’re an adult now, and this look just does not work anymore,” my wife explains, but I do not agree with her. I think I look just fine the way I am.

My new wave transition started after I went through a brief obsessive stage listening to the music of Tears For Fears, Jesus And Mary Chain, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and others. The music re-connected me with a certain feeling that I had not felt since I was young. My world has become enclosed with the expectations and responsibilities that adult life seems to entail. These expectations and responsibilities create a kind of worried mood that is never satisfied with what is. The new wave music that I began listening to again, a few months back, re-connected me with a feeling the I possessed in my youth- a happiness with the way things are and a desire to never change. Ofcourse change is inevitable and the desire to not change is a naive luxury that youth can afford, but since I have gone back to my new wave ways I have felt this desire to stay the same, to be myself in a way that I have not had a chance to be in a long time.

My wife and my boss do not understand this explanation. They think that I am going through a mid-life crisis. My boss is threatening to fire me if I do not stop coming to work with black eye liner and crucifix on. I try to explain why I look the way that I do and how the way I look is a natural expression of an inner connection with who I really am. I am happier in all black and having my hair hairsprayed straight up gives me s sense of purpose/meaning because I do not look like everybody else. My boss does not understand. He finds all of my “antics” completely unacceptable. “I need you to come to work looking professional and being prepared to work. I am not employing you to be some kind of self absorbed aging new wave flashback. I have hired you because I believe that you are a good employee and you get the job done, but the way you have been looking and acting the past month is unacceptable,” he says with a very cold and corporate demeanor. I try to talk about my feelings, about how I am being true to my inner core but his position is impossible to change.

My wife called my therapist to talk with her about what is going on. My wife is concerned that I am going to lose my job. I try to tell her that if my boss can not accept me for who I am then I do not want to work for him anyways. After all the world of work was and is not really for me. I am more of a dreamer, a free spirit. I should have been a musician or successful artist but instead I have spent most of my life with my head in the clouds and gotten very little work done. “You need to change, you can change,” my wife said. I replied by saying, “hey those are the lyrics from a great Tears For Fears song!” I was hopeful that maybe she was starting to speak my language, to see things my way, but I was wrong. “Look I really need you to stop this nonsense. You have to work because you have no other options. You are not a famous musician like Robert Smith. You do not have the luxury to dress in whatever crazed way you want to. You need to keep a job, to do what your boss says or else you will not be able to afford anything!! You can still listen to new wave music but you need to change the way you look!! A grown man does not wear black eye liner to work!!!”

When I was young I took for granted the way I looked. I thought I would look the way I looked then, forever. I took for granted the wide open future as a space in time in which things would remain the same. I never imagined that my lifestyle, my friends and my passions would grow old, rust and become so out of fashion. I still have many of the hurts, pains and sorrows that I had when I was a young new waver but now as an older man the one thing I no longer have is the freedom to express these hurts, pains and sorrows the way I once did. I am not yet ready to grow old, to grow up and let go of my youth filled dreams. I am not yet ready to become a professional man with a worn out face who lives a certain life because it is the only reasonable option that is open for him. I still want to be new wave, to wear all black and embody the spirit that I was when young.  So I will keep my black headphones around my neck, the black nail polish on my finger nails and try to continue to be me in this mad world where people run around in circles. I find it all kinda of funny and kind of sad………..but now I need to get ready for work.