In the beginning of our lives, we are shaped primarily by outside forces. What our parents think of us. The interactions we have at school. The ambitions and the fears that we absorb from the culture around us.
We end up driven by some big clusters of motivation, which grew up in response to outside pressures: perhaps we never really absorbed love from our parents – either because love was scarce or because we didn’t absorb it – and so we are driven to become powerful, noticeable, and what we secretly hope is lovable, through acquiring achievements and status. Or, we might have felt intellectually inferior at multiple points in life, and so devote our talents and efforts towards showing the world that we are smart, and desperately avoiding any situation in which anyone might see us as stupid.
For some people, the motives formed before they were 20 years old continue to drive them throughout most of their lives. The “mid-life crisis” is what happens when our brain registers, on some level, that the way we are living is actually very far from what might make us happy, that we our dedicating our working lives to the maintenance of a complicated edifice we have constructed, which we have built on top of, rather than developed out of, who we really are. In the mid-life crisis, the big, buried forces within us break out – often with messy results for ourselves and other people around. We are 45 years old and decide to move to another country – which turns out to be a dumb idea. Or we buy an impressive car – which doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
I am 32 not 45, and the challenge I am giving myself over the coming years is to avoid the mid-life crisis by having lots of mini-crises in advance. I want to work out how to trust myself enough to figure out what is really on, deep in, my mind, what I really enjoy, what I personally think is good and should be done in the world, and then to have the determination to follow this through practically. Life is an adventure, with the possibility of genuine, worthwhile achievement. No matter how many times we have lost ourselves, the magic is always there waiting to start again, when we set off in search of good things to make part of our active ‘self’. Like an underwater archaeologist diving down into the skeleton of a sunken ship, swimming through the seaweed and dark blue water, looking to bring gold back to the light.