Friday, June 17, 2016

Midlife Crisis: Perpetually Persistent Myth

Ah, the midlife crisis! We often envision a man in his 40s, possibly pushing 50, who wakes up one morning to realize that half his life is passed. He panics in an existential crisis, bemoaning the lost youth and missed opportunities. Then he decides to try to turn back the clock by ditching his wife of 20 years and their children, dying his hair, hitting the gym every day or enrolling in extreme recreation (e.g. sky diving), trading in the family mini van for a brand new Mustang, and dating his 22-year-old secretary.

If we're being gender-equal, then perhaps we see a woman in the same age range (45-55) who decides to get some plastic surgery, dye her hair, get some piercings or tattoos, leave her husband to date the 20-year-old pool boy, and take monthly or quarterly booze cruises with her fellow mid-life crisis girl friends.

The truth of the matter is that the midlife crisis is more of a mythical excuse to behave immaturely instead of dealing with the realities of aging and adult responsibilities. Two primary psychosocial developmental theories that address this age range are Carl Jung's and Erik Erikson's. I will discuss Erik Erikson's theory in a future blog post. Most of the other developmental theories cover childhood, not any part of adulthood. Let's take a look at the original theory, the one that actually mentions the midlife crisis: Carl Jung.

Stage 1: Childhood (age 0 to 25 years). This is the dawn of life. Jung believed that human personality emerges from the Universal (i.e. collective) Unconscious at birth and returns to it at death. We spend childhood learning the ins and outs of the world and growing (emotionally, psychologically, physically) so that we have the skills and abilities to handle the requirements of adulthood.

Stage 2: Youth (age 20-38). This is the morning of life. We set out on our independent life-careers, acquiring whatever we think we need for our happiness and well-being. According to Jung, people in this life stage usually define life goals in terms of family, money, social position, and career success. Basically, this time is spent in acquiring "stuff" and focusing on personal needs.

Midlife crisis: age 37-43 years. This is what Jung called the noon of life, a time of spiritual bankruptcy. According to Jung, life ceases to have any meaning for most individuals at this stage, especially for men. [NOTE: most of Carl Jung's patients were affluent men in the post-Victorian era.] At this point in life, individuals begin to focus on their transpersonal needs--tenderness and caring in families, intimate friendships and challenging companions, moments of deep conversation and quiet intimacy, appreciation of nature.
Jung did propose a "midlife crisis" of sorts for women of this age as well. Unlike men, however, he hypothesized that women spend their Youth concentrating on meeting the needs of others, enjoying intimate conversations with other women, and enjoying nature and spirituality. During midlife, they devote their time and efforts to new career goals outside of their nurturing role. In other words, for Carl Jung women and men switch their life focus during this Noon of life.

Stage 3: Maturity (age 42-69). The afternoon of life, this is the time in which our focus shifts from getting "stuff" to devoting our efforts toward suprapersonal values, developing our relationships with others. People see their grown children as worthy of mutual respect and friendship. They spend more time sharing activities with their spouse, going on vacations, visiting friends and relatives. This is also a time in which an individual becomes his/her own person. They finish deciphering who they want to be and pursue their own non-material needs and express their own values.

Stage 4: Old Age (retirement to death). This is the evening of life, a time when a person accepts the waning of their years with grace and no regrets. They prepare to reemerge into the Universal Unconscious, to add their personal life experiences to the collective unconscious so that it can become fodder for future generations. This is a time for the aged to attempt to pass on their wisdom to future generations, though chances are pretty good that the youth aren't listening.

So, while Carl Jung did take it for granted that the majority of men in their late 30s to early 40s would experience some sort of midlife crisis, he saw it as more of a turning point to realign priorities from youthful selfish materialism to mature wisdom of spiritual growth and social relationships. This is not a time to try to turn back the clock, as is the typical scenario for what we expect of a midlife crisis according to modern media. The fact is that even what we usually think of as a midlife crisis (see the examples above) is pretty rare. Most individuals in middle adulthood transition fairly well from their youthful days into mature responsibilities. It is primarily persons suffering from some form of psychological malady--depression, personality disorders, anxiety disorders--who behave so irrationally. Aging is a part of life. Many of us accept it for what it is. We maintain the positive aspects of youth--optimism, enthusiasm, curiosity--and supplement them with the new benefits of maturity--nurturing, responsibility, forward-thinking.

Friday, June 3, 2016

What's Your Purpose? Goal v. Objective, Mission v. Vision

It is good for our psychological well-being to have direction and purpose in life. Social interactions of any kind (business, friendship, courtship, etc.) also have more substance when there is meaning behind the activities. This being said, I occasionally come across someone who confuses "goal" and "objective" or who uses them interchangeably. There are a couple of distinct differences between these two concepts. In order to round out the organizational directives, I also included the differences between a mission statement and a vision statement. So, let's take a look at these ideas and perhaps understand why they are confused so often.

Objective: something that one's actions or efforts are intended to attain or accomplish. On the surface, I can almost see why someone would treat an objective as a goal. However, an objective is more of an end result, kind of like a destination that you will eventually get to, but you're not really in a rush to get there. It's an "I'll know it when I see it" type of thing. Examples of objectives include:
  • being the best kazoo player on the west coast
  • owning your own home with a swimming pool and garage
  • learning a new language
  • being able to recite the US Declaration of Independence from memory
Notice that these examples are fairly vague. It doesn't matter how or when they are accomplished, only that they are ultimately achieved.

Goal: the result of achievement toward which effort is directed. The goal is SMART--specific, measurable, actionable, and (most importantly) time-limited. Objectives can easily be converted into goals with some important tweaking. For example, "learning a new language" becomes a goal when we
a) make it specific--Learn to speak and read French
b) make it measurable--Learn to speak and read French with at least 85% proficiency/fluency
c) make it actionable--Learn to speak and read French with at least 85% proficiency/fluency by taking online French language classes
d) make it time-limited--Learn to speak and read French with at least 85% proficiency/fluency withing 6 months by taking online French language classes

Although the last sentence may seem cumbersome, it is an ideal goal statement because it gives the individual (and anyone else) the ability to determine the progress made toward goal accomplishment. It also allows for adjustments to be made if the progress seems to be faster or slower than originally anticipated. There should be fewer questions about how the goal will be achieved and whether it can be met. Too often have I seen individuals state "goals" when they are really identifying their objectives. Objectives tend to be ongoing, whereas goals have an identifiable end.

Vision Statement: the declaration of an organization's objectives and purpose for existence. The vision statement is usually a broad, sweeping statement of why the organization exists and how the organization fits into the larger realm of society.

Mission Statement: an official document that sets out the function, purpose, and goals of an organization. The mission statement outlines how the organization intends to achieve its vision. For example, if an organization's vision is for a brighter tomorrow, it's mission statement may include the ways in which it will bring light to the world. Let me try sculpting this a little better.

Example Vision Statement:
Hathaway Global is an organization committed to forming a brighter tomorrow. We are dedicated to ensuring that the world's population enjoys a future full of promise and we strive to provide a warm environment for our employees.
Example Mission Statement:
Hathaway Global endeavors to bring light to the world by providing quality ceramic light bulbs to low-income areas around the world. We are dedicated to using all-natural, recyclable materials that will enable us to keep costs low while ensuring a longer life-time to our products.

I admit that there is a bit of overlap in these concepts. Many organizations combine the vision and mission statement, either because they don't know any better or because they feel that only one statement is necessary. Some organizations opt for only a vision statement or only a mission statement. Some companies even include a value statement, which is even more vague than a vision statement. Many individuals have their own vision, mission, objectives, and goals. Writing and formalizing these can be a good practice, helping to give you a sense of purpose. Perhaps if more people did that, there would be fewer cases of "midlife crisis." Then again, maybe not.