If you’ve ever worked in an office, you know that person: the one who is always complaining about work, various health woes, bills to pay, their children, traffic, the weather and about life in general. I refer to this person as that bitter old person in the corner cubicle. As someone hitting 40s soon, I hate to say it but this person is often middle-aged.
When I was in my early 20s, I never understood why anyone would be so negative about their life. Why did they stay at a boring, unrewarding job? Why didn’t they just move or change jobs? Why don’t they write to their congressperson? Why do they shoot down my dreams? Why do the parents on My So-Called Life whine so much?
Now, in my late 30s, I understand all too well. Most people are hit with difficult challenges and setbacks and this takes a toll after so many years. Most big dreams do not come true. It’s not easy to become a famous writer, news anchor, international spy or [insert your BIG dream here]. It’s difficult to change jobs when you hit your 40s. By that age, you have a family, a mortgage, childcare or college tuition costs and a lot of other responsibilities.
Life is often unfair and is not what you imagined. When you’re young, you know this in the abstract but you still have time…You can still dream big. Even if you had more modest goals in mind, you still envision yourself with a rewarding career, a wonderful spouse and two lovely kids. Only later, in middle age, do you face the fact that you’re not management material, you may have married the wrong person, and your teenage daughter daydreams about stabbing you..repeatedly.*
Some people, usually women, get out of the work force altogether. That’s one way to avoid becoming that bitter person in the corner cubicle. If this is not an option and you don’t want to go through the typical mid-life crisis (i.e. buy a sports car, have an affair, quit your day job to open a restaurant, etc.), what can you do?
I believe that embracing a simpler frugal lifestyle is the key to mid-life happiness. You may not have a big house or luxury car, you may not have achieved your childhood dream, and you may not even have the perfect family. However, instead of focusing on what you don’t have or did not accomplish, you can focus on the good things in life, however small.
Here are some tips to prevent a full-blown mid-age crisis (or a quarter-life crisis for that matter):
1 ) Find reward outside of work
At some point, you have to accept that you are not getting a corner office at your current company. If you enjoy your work regardless, you can stay put and find meaning outside of work. This could be time with family and friends, a fun hobby, a creative pursuit, volunteer work, travel, etc.. The possibilities are really endless.
2 ) Change jobs
Yes, it’s hard to get hired when you get older. However, it’s not impossible. You can improve your skills and marketability through professional certification programs, night classes, volunteer opportunities, or projects at work. At least send your resume out there!
3 ) Never shoot down other people’s dreams
You may think you know better and maybe you do have some words of wisdom. However, realize that even if you didn’t become a world-famous writer, news anchor or international spy doesn’t mean someone else can’t achieve their dream. If you’re the younger person receiving the advice, try to listen (a little). Sometimes even that bitter old person has good tips that can help make things easier.
4 ) Minimize complaints to one area
Okay, you hate your job, traffic, weather, your bad kids, etc. You can’t complain about everything or people will start avoiding you (unless they’re also a complainer). Too much negativity is bad for your health. Yes, traffic is bad. Traffic is bad every morning. It’s okay to vent once in a while but not daily.
5 ) Appreciate the “small” simple things in life
This is probably the hardest and most important one. You drive an old car and can’t afford all the cool tech toys. You’re still paying off your student loans. You may not have the right clothes or your dream house. Whether the cause of this negativity is financial or not (i.e. you’re not keeping up with the Joneses), it’s important to think of a positive to counterbalance the negative.
For example: I sometimes dwell on the fact that I don’t have a six-figure salary. I need to counter that negative by remembering that I do make a decent salary in a respected job that makes use of my experience and degree. Plus, I still have time to enjoy other things in life!
It’s important to remember the small things that you love about yourself and your life. What small things are you grateful for?
For more on this topic, check out a recent Wall Street Journal article about having a positive mid-life crisis.
* Morbid reference courtesy of “My So-Called Life”