A Coach Can Be a "Midwife for Midlife."

November 13, 2023

A Coach Can Be a "Midwife for Midlife."

May 29, 2023

What first pops into your mind when you hear the word “midlife?” Yep, CRISIS!

The dreaded midlife crisis is the butt of so many jokes -- but it’s actually really serious. After I lost a few friends to midlife suicide, I set out to develop a school dedicated to rethinking midlife and, based upon how many coaches have flocked to our “midlife wisdom school,” MEA, I think you might find it relevant.

Midlife is one of three life stages that sprouted up in the 20th-century. The word “adolescence” didn’t exist until 1904 when society realized that just because you hit puberty didn’t mean you were an adult. “Retirement” was popularized nearly 100 years ago with pensions and Social Security in the 1930s and the advent of AARP and retirement communities 30 years later. 

These two life stages got a whole lot of love. 

But, there’s a life stage in the middle that hasn’t gotten much respect. “Midlife” was a natural outgrowth of three decades of additional longevity we were granted in the 20th-century, but all it got was a bad brand, the “midlife crisis” which was coined in 1965. 

And, yet, research on happiness as we age suggests that while there’s a long, slow decline in life satisfaction from our early 20’s to bottoming out between 45-50, we get continuously happier in each decade after that. It’s called the U-curve of happiness. So, midlife is like the caterpillar to butterfly metamorphosis, more of a “chrysalis” than a crisis. 

Given that midlife is now defined by many sociologists as ages 35-75, it’s likely that the majority of your coaching clients are navigating their classic midlife transitions: career changes, retirement, divorce, empty nest, parents passing away, menopause, newfound spiritual curiosity. Coaches, by helping your client through these transitions, you’re assisting them in their metaphorical “labor” of birthing a new identity and, often, a new way of living. You’re sort of like a midwife.  

Being a midwife is a glorious and strenuous calling, helping birthing mothers bring a precious, new life into the world. In a conversation with one of our MEA faculty members, Father Richard Rohr, he told me that midlife is almost like our second birth, the time when an adult’s operating system shifts from the ego to the soul. He says, "There are those who feel that something is happening to and within them. Their tastes are changing, and their balance has shifted. Sometimes they are brought up short by a crisis: an experience of conversion, a tragic loss, a period of great pain, a sharp awareness of being on a threshold. Those going through this definitely can use a midwife for their midlife metamorphosis.”

Just like a midwife, a coach doesn’t have to be called in for the dramatic moments, just at the exciting time of the birth. A coach works with the whole person and is present throughout the whole process of transition. My midlife midwife was my friend Vanda, a coach, who held my hand through the darkest time of my life around age 45-49 during the Great Recession, when I lost a number of friends to suicide. She helped me to breathe through the most difficult months of a period when everything changed in my life and I felt like I was in a dark, never-ending tunnel...my dark and gooey chrysalis.  

I believe more and more coaches should study the natural transitions that happen in midlife. Yale’s Dr. Becca Levy has shown that when we shift our perspective on aging in midlife from negative to positive, our health outcomes improve. Better balance, more openness to new experiences, better cognitive functioning, more satisfying sex life, and all kinds of other benefits.

She’s also shown we’re granted seven and a half years of additional life when we reframe our mindset on aging. Remarkably, this is more additional longevity than if we stop smoking or start exercising at age 50. 

Here’s a recent episode with me on the Coaches Rising podcast.

-Chip

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