A few days ago I wrote about the invention of the mid-life crisis and how to identify if you’re having one or not. Today, I’m going to tell you exactly what to do, if you think you’re having one, whether you actually are or not.
STEP 1 – Breathe and notice that it’s good to be alive.
No matter what has brought the crisis, pause for a moment and notice there’s nothing actually wrong at this moment. If, of course, your crisis is caused by being on fire, please take the glass of water I mentioned earlier and pour it on yourself. If not, then your crisis is not an emergency.
Even a terrible cancer diagnosis or death of a beloved pet isn’t an emergency. You’re alive, and you won’t be dying in the next hour. So take a moment and notice that you’re alive, and that’s pretty good.
Being alive means you’ve got some options. You still have choices you can make. Even if you can’t change what’s happened or if some decisions have been made for you, you can choose how to relate to them. This is a powerful ability, so take a moment to breathe in and notice underneath the story of the crisis that you’re alive and that being alive is inherently good.
STEP 2 – Notice your unrealistic expectations
If you’re upset, it means you had some sort of unrealistic expectations. Maybe you thought your STAR team member would stay forever, well that wasn’t realistic, not just because no one remains anywhere forever, but because you thought you could predict someone’s departure and while you can try nothings perfect.
Here are some other unrealistic expectations:
You will get something because you feel like you deserve it, or you have paid your dues.
You should be treated fairly, so you will be.
You were right and will continue to be right.
The market is rich for your business, and you have no significant competition.
People will agree with you because you’re thinking logically.
Illogical emotional people will change their course once you reveal that they are wrong.
You did the right things, so you should be happy by now.
It’s normal to have unrealistic expectations. It doesn’t mean you’re an idiot, failure, fool, dolt, dummy, or sucker. It means you’re human. You may feel like you’re an idiot or that you’ve been wronged, but none of that really matters. What matters is that you had an unrealistic expectation. So take a moment and notice that.
If you notice yourself being upset uncontrollably, go back to step one.
STEP 3 – Declare a breakdown
If your crisis is caused by something breaking, not working, or failing in some significant way. You can declare a breakdown.
A breakdown is not a failure or indication that anything is wrong. It’s merely a declaration that something isn’t’ working anymore. Like a car breaking down. The car has not failed you. It has not conspired with the demons of defunct timing belts to thwart your Sunday plans. Something has simply stopped working.
Start by noticing what is happening that shouldn’t be, or isn’t happening that should be and call it out.
Next, express all the feelings you have about it. Rant, diatribe, write angry letters, you do not send. Don’t spend a ton of time on this; just express your feelings and feel them for a few mins. Think 10 – 15 MAX. Anymore and you may fall under the spell of your own feelings and forget that this is life, and life is messy.
Then notice the facts of the situation. Your biggest client just quit. You got a tax bill for x amount of dollars. You have or don’t have the money to pay rent. You just yelled at your wife. Think like a robot recording recordable data. Only report the facts.
Not you’ve got the contour of your breakdown in check.
STEP 4 – Take Stock and Discover Your Values
Now it’s time to take stock of your life and what matters to you. Sit down and really consider what values you hold most dear. Try if you can to not emphasize values that get you more outraged about the crisis itself. For example, don’t amplify your value of FAIRNESS!!! if you feel like you’ve been mistreated.
Instead, try to think of a time you aren’t in crisis and consider the values that you hold most dear.
Write these values down and why they matter to you.
Maybe even write a mission statement or review one that you previously created.
Solving your crisis is NOT the goal. Getting in touch with what you’re going for in life is. A sports car might SOLVE the feeling of getting older. Firing someone might SOLVE the feeling of being out of control. Eating a bag of chips might SOLVE the feeling of emptiness but not in a lasting way.
So don’t try to SOLVE anything, instead get clear on what matters to you.
STEP 5 – Get present and forgive
Once you’ve got a list of your values, begin to notice how you’ve been playing the game of life. Notice the costs of playing that way. Notice how you’ve been living out of alignment with your life as you say you want to live it.
Get present to the cost of it for yourself, for those you care about, and for life in general. Don’t torture yourself, but don’t turn away either. Your life up to this point is the result of choices and luck that lead you here. You can’t control the luck, but many of the choices were yours. So just be honest about that.
Then forgive yourself for screwing up, for making a misstep, and for not being as cool as you wanted to be. It’s ok. It’s an unrealistic expectation to think you wouldn’t screw things up. Humans are messy, and we make imperfect choices. And all that means is that you make imperfect choices. It can be incredibly humbling, but a crisis is GREAT for humility. So get humble and forgive yourself.
STEP 6 – Choose and Take Action
The only real danger of a crisis is that you ignore the data in front of you, jump headfirst into denial, and don’t really do anything. And of course, if you’re having a crisis, you probably have already done this a few times. That’s ok. If it doesn’t feel ok, go back to step 5 (Forgive yourself) or even back to STEP 1 (Breathe and notice being alive is good) if you need to.
Once you’re clear on your values and your present, you need to choose. How are you going to play the game now that you have this new information?
Wise game players take in new information about the rules, and they adjust their play accordingly. Foolish game players ignore the new data and stick to their old way of playing the game. Fearful game players see new information but are terrified by the consequences of that information, so take no action.
There is only one wise path forward, and that’s to notice the new information and adapt. To thank the universe, god, life, or those you love for the feedback and adjust your play.
But the key here is to choose NOT from fixing the crisis, which is really just the OH FUCK feeling you get when you wake up to the game of life. But instead, choose from the values you declare matter the most to you in Step 4 – Take Stock and Discover your Values.
When you get into action, you begin to play the game again. And this is KEY because you can’t really learn about the game by refusing to play it. You might notice how others play, but in general, the game of life doesn’t work well for observers only. Because as the game goes on, you simply lose chances and resources.
So get back into playing the game and try to remember that even your current strategy is based on limited data. Get used to this reality and learn to love it as part of the game of life.
THE FINAL STEP – STEP X – Get Supported
There is one last and final step. What I like to call. STEP X. It’s called STEP X because you can really take it at any point in this process.
This is the step where you get supported. Support can look a LOT of ways. You can talk to close friends, speak with a doctor about a health condition, hire an attorney, read a book, or take a course.
The key here is to get supported. People who try to play the game of life ALONE and with only their own information tend to lose. Now it’s ok to have a maverick strategy and ignore the common advice about the game, but it’s foolish to not talk to anyone about the game itself.
As a coach, I help people play the game of life better, but not by selling them on the rules of the game that I think are true or giving them strategies for how to play. Instead, I help them notice more and more that they are playing a game and help them be honest about where they are in the game, where they want to get to, and what is and isn’t working with how they are currently playing.
I also have a coach and sometimes a therapist, mentor, mastermind group, etc. to help me play the game. Because I know how valuable this is.
Every year I run strategic planning for businesses and coaches, and at each session, I watch how they wake up to new rules of the game. This year alone, I’ve had clients see they were trying to be things to all people, attempting to control their children, and overcommitting out of a fear of not being enough. Hell, they even asked great salespeople to be CEO’s when they weren’t ready, noticed their leadership style wasn’t working anymore and discovered they simply needed to be patient with a new team.
As I watch them realize the rules of the game, I realize how much of my own game I might be missing. And that’s WHY I keep getting support.
So no matter what approach you use, PLEASE get supported in playing the game. You don’t have to figure everything out alone, in fact, trying to do so will lead to problems. The wisest players learn to play in groups and enjoy the game.
THE GAME IS ENJOYABLE
Perhaps this is the most important thing to remember, this game of life IS enjoyable. You can learn to enjoy it. But it may not be in the way that you think. And winning the game is a lot more about enjoying playing it than it is about any specific goal you might achieve. Because after all, the game ends. For all of us.
And while this truth may invoke a crisis for you, it can also be a doorway into a new opportunity, a new way of seeing life, and playing the game.
Here’s to playing it well.