At the Crossroads

Turning points in life: midlife crisis and retirement

By Barbara Pierce

“I absolutely can’t stand this job!” I thought to myself as I drove home from work, racing down the interstate in my red Toyota convertible. “Maybe I’ll have an accident so I don’t ever have to go back!”

That was my midlife crisis. It woke me up. Big time. If I hate this job so much that I’m hoping for an accident so I don’t have to go back, it’s time to quit. Right now.

And I quit. Though I didn’t have another job waiting, and I was a single parent, I walked out for good.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I leaped off that administrator’s perch and got a position in direct contact with people I could help. I loved my career change, leaving as an administrator in a social service agency to become a psychotherapist, learning new skills. It didn’t pay as well, but was so much more fulfilling. I now looked forward to going to work each morning.

Now that I’m retired, I miss that work.

Becoming a single parent was another midlife change I made, a consequence of looking at my life and knowing it needed to change. I was a childless single woman in my early 40s, and I knew that I did not want to go through life without a child. Adopting a 9-year-old troubled girl was the best decision I’ve ever made. After a few tough years adjusting to each other, it’s all been good.

Midlife crisis is a term that’s been thrown around. Maybe it’s more like a midlife evaluation; it’s a redefining, recognizing that we need to go in a different direction.

This kind of redefining is not unusual during our midlife period, which occurs between 45 and 64 years of age for most people.

In our teens and early 20s, we made major decisions about our life and career. In midlife, we take a good look at those decisions. Some of those decisions were right for us; others needed tweaking, while others may have been totally wrong for us.

Midlife is like the second big phase of decision-making. Our identity has been formed: We know who we are, we’ve built up resources, and we have the chance to take risks because our foundation is already secure.

Middle age ‘surge’

Some experience a creeping realization that life is not going in the direction that we want, and we have the opportunity to redirect it, to alter our course to give our self a different future, to break out of routines.

This shift can be exhilarating. A middle age “surge” some call it. I like that.

Another major shift comes as we prepare for retirement.

We’re living longer today; we’re healthy and energetic into our later years. Presidential candidates in their late 70s are running for office. This ability to have a vital, active life for many years is another huge opportunity to again take stock of your life and determine where you want your path to go.

Your life after retirement can be anything that you want it to be. I like that I can do more of what I want to do, less of what I don’t want to do.

It’s another chapter opening up to you — maybe even a whole new book! You can discover what allows you to work in ways that are satisfying and fulfilling. You can carve out a new place in the world.

It’s inspiring. Yes, some of life’s possibilities are now closed, but so what? The remaining possibilities can be seized more bravely, and lived more deeply. What will support you thriving in your later years? What is really important to you?

It takes time to find what truly matters in our life and how to achieve it. It takes being patient until the new path becomes clear.

I found a new career in writing. My love of writing has led me to teach classes in writing to other senior citizens. It is a thrill to me, and to the student, when he or she comes to class, having no experience in writing, only the desire, and finds his or her voice in writing about his or her life. I love helping people unfold to find something inside them that is a wonderful surprise.

And I do a variety of volunteer work, appreciating the opportunity to learn new things and get to know new people.

Transitions in life are inevitable — transition during our 40s and 50s, and then again as we plan retirement. There are so many possibilities and so much to discover. The opportunity is there to take an intriguing new path that calls to us.

After decades of work, learn to renew, explore, travel, inspire and relax. Embrace life with energy, creativity and passion. Do what calls you.

• Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at