23 Nov Rebranding Midlife
When you say the word midlife, what’s the next word that immediately pops into your head? Is it crisis? ….. Midlife urgently needs a rebrand.
‘Midlife crisis’ was a turn of phrase coined by psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques in 1965 to describe the ‘trauma’ that many people felt when faced with the imminence of old age. The term was quickly embraced by popular culture and subsequently stripped of profundity and every skerrick of its original intent. The hackneyed narrative of the ‘midlife crises has been reduced to a lampoonable over reaction to aging, most often portrayed as a self-indulgent folly of the fortunate. Part cliché and part trivialised societal stereotype, more often associated with infidelity, sports cars and plastic surgery, than the response to a legitimate life transition.
This ‘tansition’ feels less like a crisis and more like an awakening to me. Like I’m finally waking up after a long hibernation, feeling liberated, energised and ready to step into the shape that was always meant for me. Maybe this is what Jungian psychologists mean when they talk about individuation being a lifetime journey towards becoming who we truly are? Carl Jung believed that each of us is born with a unique set of talents and abilities, and that it is up to us to identify those gifts and uncover our true calling. While some might find that ‘true calling’ early in life, many Jungian psychologists believed that individuation (the process by which we fulfil our potential to become who or what we were destined to be), really kicks in, in the second half of life. This is when we come to terms with death, find meaning in living, turn inward and discover the unique role that we play in the world. We care less about ego and social status. As Jung put it, we “divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona.” The show we’ve ‘put on’ for others is over and the real show starts playing out inside us. Midlife it seems is less of a crisis and more a journey towards liberation. As Joseph Campbell famously said, “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
So how to resolve the disconnect between how midlife is perceived and what it really is. It boils down to branding and if you think about it there are in fact, more than a few parallels between life and business. When companies rebrand they start by asking themselves a series of questions like, “Who are we and what do we stand for? What is it that makes us unique? Who do we need to be talking to, and what do we need to say?”
Companies who rebrand and go about it the right way come out stronger and more successful. Some of the world’s most well-known brands (think Netflix, Apple and Amazon), have achieved their long track record of success by regularly reinventing themselves.
I came across this passage in the Harvard Business Review which read; “Sooner or later, all businesses, even the most successful, run out of room to grow. Faced with this unpleasant reality, they are compelled to reinvent themselves periodically. The ability to pull off this difficult feat—to jump from the maturity stage of one business to the growth stage of the next—is what separates high performers from those whose time at the top is all too brief
As with businesses, transitioning from the maturity phase of one life stage to the growth phase of the next, requires a growth mindset, curiosity and resilience – all traits of a modern elder. Midlife needs to be rebranded as an aspirational life stage that is celebrated, not scoffed and a new word association urgently needs to be found to replace ‘crisis.’ After much deliberation, I arrived at the idea of a midlife metamorphosis … or ‘midamorphosis.’ While it might seem like an unflattering comparison to draw, there are a number of parallels that can be drawn between humans around midlife, and caterpillars. Both have a longing to shed an old skin and to transform into who or what they were born to be. Both require time to undergo this transformation. And for both, this process is not as seamless as it might appear, to an outsider looking on from the sidelines. Caterpillars, as it turns out, do not just spin a chrysalis and magically start growing pretty wings. Nope. They basically meltdown into soupy moosh first, after which their ‘imaginal cells’ take over and organise the other cells to reform into the butterfly they were born to be. It takes time and effort to become a butterfly. And so it is with midlife, as we retreat into our own midlife chrysalises, to strip back all the layers and wallow in a mire of midlife moosh. Only after this has happened can our own ‘imaginal cells’ get to work to reimagine the shape of who we might become. As Sue Monk Kidd said in The Secret Life of Bees, “You gotta imagine what’s never been.”
Ang Galloway is an Australian-based writer, MEA alum, and midlife explorer. You can read more of her stories on her blog at www.angiam.com.au