How to Tell if You've Arrived at the Port of Mid-Life Crisis*


"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." -Henry David Thoreau

I remember as a kid occasionally hearing adults mention the term "mid-life crisis".  Usually it was in reference to some 40-something balding male who just purchased a Corvette or quit his stable white-collar career to try his luck at professional fishing.

I never knew what the term actually meant and I couldn't seem to identify any particular crisis. Corvettes are cool and fishing is fun, so what's the problem?  It finally hit me just the other day: A mid-life crisis begins the moment you realize the value of time. The REAL value of time, not the monetary value of time.

That sounds simple, right?

It's not. Let me explain.

You see, I've known for a long while that society has trained us to trade our time for money. You've known that most of your adult life too. For example, if you're a skilled craftsmen, you know you can get X dollars for building someone a custom table that takes you Y hours to make. However, have you thought about the fact that there's really no end to the amount of dollars in our world, but time here on Earth is very much finite?

Realizing that time is finite, I mean REALLY realizing it, that's when the mind has a tendency to slip into crisis mode: What have I accomplished in my life? Are my children learning anything unique and useful from my existence? Am I moving towards something, or merely moving around? Am I getting good value for the time I'm spending?

Perhaps some of you are saying, "Quit being so damn dramatic and get back to work, slacker!" And many of you are probably saying, "Duh! It took you until your late 30's to ask these questions?"

The answer is no. The questions have been developing for a long while. But I'm just now realizing that these questions should and can have answers. The light is starting to come on. In fact, if you ask my wife Erin, she'll tell you I've been asking these sorts of questions for a few years now.

Want to see the moment the light went on for some others? Check out these quotes:

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." - Henry David Thoreau

"Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you." - Carl Sandburg

"And time, the most precious commodity of all, far more valuable than gold, has been devalued as people are forced to squander it in a terribly backward equation - trading it for money. Just how crazy is that? Who, when their allotment of time is all but spent, would not trade every bit of gold for just a fraction more time?" -John Kretschmer

And then there's this little nugget I cobbled together in a blog post titled Voice of Reason from January of 2013:

"Most of us are told by society that we should trade time (The very fuel of life) now for freedom later. Essentially, the formula goes like this: School (4+ years of college) + Job (40+ years) = Savings & Retirement -> Freedom to Do Life. Trade today for tomorrow. Spend 40-ish years trading 5 days for 2. No offense intended towards anyone who's followed that plan. Heck, I'm following that plan right now myself, but I'm also a mid-lifer who's questioning the sanity of it all."

So if this light of understanding has been flickering in my head for at least the last year or so, you'd think that would be enough time to find some clarity, but I'm afraid I haven't found any yet.  What I have done is convince myself that there's not enough time to wait for my ship to come in. Instead, I've got to find a way to swim out to it.

What does this all have to do with sailing? Maybe nothing at all. Maybe this is just what a very long, cold winter does with my thoughts and ambitions as evidenced by this post and the post from January of 2013 I referenced above. Then again, perhaps it has everything to do with sailing. And sailing away.

*I apologize in advance if you wake up tomorrow after having read this and find that your own mid-life crisis has begun. Or maybe instead of me apologizing, it will be you thanking me for the wake up call!

11 comments:

  1. A fellow liveaboard, first encountered in the 80's, now a very successful businessman, recently suggested unreeling a tape measure on the floor. Mark your suspected life expectancy, your check-out date is a guess. Note the inches past and inches to go.

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    1. Thanks for the tape measure visual. Quite sobering to see it laid out in front of me like that!

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  2. It did me some good to read your earlier quote about "college + Job (40+ years) = Savings & Retirement -> Freedom to Do Life." Truth is that I have been feeling guilty about 'settling for' an unambitious profession that supported my recreational life of sailing & tennis. Now that I'm retired, I miss the affluence of my contemporaries. But I also admit that I had some fun along the way.

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    1. Thanks RW. "Settling" is hard for everyone and something we all do at one point or another. Thank you for commenting!

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  3. Mid-life crisis affects everyone differently. Some breeze through unafflicted. When I turned 49 I bought (to restore) the car I wanted since I was 16, a 1960 Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite. Restoration completed years later and it was time to sell it, having no regrets. One of my brothers-in-law had a harder time - hung himself at 40. Having lived in Sturgeon Bay on Lake Michigan for a few years, your blog brings me back to some fun times. My tape measure is getting shorter, but I'm not ready to reel it in.
    And know that the Lake will be open someday, again.
    Dave
    http://svfifthquarter.wordpress.com/

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    1. Thanks Dave! You've got a great blog and one that I'll be following from here on out. You're right, mid-life crisis is different for everyone and even manages to avoid some.

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  4. For a couple years now, I've been following your blog. Always entertaining, but not usually this thought provoking. After lengthy deliberation and introspection, a few weeks ago I left a good-paying but demanding career. My intent is to voyage under sail, rather than settle for daysailing and short vacations, while my health can still meet the demands. I looked in the mirror, and saw an out-of-shape guy who I never expected to become. I looked at my feet, and saw contorted, arthritic toes reminiscent of my dear departed grandmother's. I looked at my financial assets and asked myself if a large surplus will have any real worth when I reach the point at which I can no longer enjoy it, as I will. As we all will.

    Now my efforts will be focused on liquidating "assets" that are actually burdens, finding and preparing the "right" sailboat, and working through the many details necessary for this lifestyle change.

    Rob

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    1. Thank you. And congratulations on leaving your demanding career with an intent to voyage and not settling for something less! We're working intently on the "financial assets" piece so we can cut the ties to the dock with no regrets.

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  5. Funny you should post this today. I've been re-reading Walden and it is amazingly applicable to the cruising life. Thoreau was a cruiser at heart.

    Deb
    S/V Kintala
    www.theretirementproject.blogspot.com

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    1. Yeah, agreed, many of the great writers have a "cruiser's mentality" and are freedom thinkers.

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  6. Excellent set of points to consider. Now at 50 I'm wondering how much energy I have to sustain the stress of a corporate life. Our children are on the home stretch of completing college. That change of life event alone has prompted conversation of our next steps. We haven't been able to sail as much as I first thought. I'm itching for something different.

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