The other day I happened upon an article on my MSN homepage titled “How To Have a Midlife Crisis,” by Hugh O’Neil. I invite you to read his article, as it is both enlightening and immensely entertaining. Then, just last night, our local news featured a story on the whole fact vs. myth of the dreaded midlife crisis.

With so much media attention on this issue presently, plus the fact that I am staring 40 hard in the face, I couldn’t help but take a few moments to ponder how I might be affected by a midlife crisis. Yes, I realize that I am a woman, and the midlife crisis is typified as a “male” affliction. Nevertheless, the experts (whoever they are) agree that anyone, women included, can experience a midlife crisis. So, bear with me.

My immediate response was the disquieting recognition that several people I know who, like the men O’Neil characterized as suffering from the “midway heebie-jeebies,” are undoubtedly showing telltale signs of said affliction. I laughed heartily at his references to men in their 40’s who think that owning a Ferrari (or Jaguar, and you know who you are) will remedy all their midlife woes. I actually know men who have succumbed to that very notion. A wise woman once told me that middle-aged men who obsess over fast, noisy cars are somehow trying to compensate for their diminutive anatomy. How sad!

What truly struck me from both the article and the news report was that not everyone who experiences a midlife crisis is the worse for it. In fact, and I was ever so glad to hear this, many people, particularly women, find that midlife is one of the best times of their lives. Indeed, many women seem to revel in the changes they experience and admit that they feel stronger and more sure of themselves than ever before.

Likewise, not all men go seeking extra-marital affairs, have creepy plastic surgery or give in to the hideous comb-over. Some men seem to become more gentile and distinguished as time marches on. What’s more, they are far less concerned about keeping up with the Joneses than younger men and feel no need to embellish the details of their lives, nor do they tout expensive jewelry or “stylin’ clothes’ as evidence of their purported success.

The underlying seminal factor for weathering the midlife storm with grace appears to be an inherent desire for what is real and meaningful, not perceived or contrived. Similarly, people who find at least some degree of contentment in their less than perfect lives are more accepting of the inevitable failures we all experience in life and seem better able to bounce back from times of tribulation.

I have watched far too many narcissistic people fall apart when the superficial bubble of perfection they worked so hard to build bursts, leaving them shocked, angry and bitter. What’s worse, some of them lash out at the world determined to place blame wherever it will stick to avoid having to look within themselves for the root of their problems.

It’s a shame, really, because if these same individuals would somehow find it within themselves to cast aside their overwhelming desire for attention and perfection and closely examine their lives as they really are, they would realize that what they have is more than acceptable.

So what if you are bald, overweight and a member of the middle-class? Is that really all that defines us as human beings? For some, indeed, it does. Sadly, insecurity and envy are nearly always the driving force behind intolerance for the ordinary. Thus, those individuals who will never be satisfied being average or living a simple life will never escape the perpetual treadmill of craving. They will always run after more, bigger, faster and pricier things or, even worse, fabricate outrageous stories or exaggerate their experiences and successes to alleviate their supposed insignificance.

Personally, I think the Shakers had it right all along. They lived very simple lives and abhorred the opulence of modern society. That is not to say, however, that they were a backwards people. They were brilliant inventors and businesspeople and are credited for developing many of the necessary tools we use today, including furniture, brooms and washing machines. Nevertheless, they chose to live uncluttered, unpretentious lives.

My family and I visited one of the still functioning Shaker villages in New Hampshire a few years ago. I was amazed to see such meager furnishings in the various dwelling houses. The Shakers took great pride in tidiness and efficiency. In fact, they are famous for their motto “a place for everything and everything in its place,” as well as for the celebrated song “Simple Gifts.”

The Shakers were a deeply devout people, embracing with great fervor their rich, faith-filled culture and beliefs. They earned their name from their energetic and convulsive movements during their religious ceremonies. Sadly, the Shaker way of life is no more. All the brothers and sisters have passed on, leaving behind a legacy of honesty, simplicity, brotherhood and innovation.

I somehow doubt that the Shakers ever experienced anything akin to a midlife crisis. They were too happily grounded in a simplistic yet fulfilling lifestyle. In my opinion, modern society could benefit tremendously from the lessons learned by the Shakers.

We truly are an overindulgent society obsessed with excess wealth, social status and superficial beauty. No wonder, then, that so many people self-implode when they crest the midlife hill and collide headlong into the brutal reality that they failed to achieve all the unrealistic goals they imposed on themselves in their 20’s.

I must sheepishly admit that I, too, once subscribed to the notion that success was measured in terms of material possessions, one’s professional title and the enormity of one’s mortgage. I was just another rat in an endless maze, putting on airs so I could hobnob with the socially elite. Then a series of unexpected events in my life helped me to see how truly pointless those efforts were.

Now, I focus more on the things that really matter – my health, my family, my spiritual and community values and pursuing my true passions in life despite the disapproval of others. I have never been preoccupied with looks or fashion. One look in my closet will certainly confirm that.

Even in high school when all the other girls were getting up at 5 a.m. to fix their hair, I chose to sleep as long as I could before getting out of bed. Oh, and by the way, I have a head full of prematurely gray hair. I used to color it because I was embarrassed by it. Not anymore. It is what it is. I don’t wear much, if any, makeup. I own a grand total of 5 pairs of shoes and 2 purses (none of which cost me more than $20).

Anyone who knows me at all will agree that I tell it like it is, and what you see is what you get from me. I have no hidden agenda, nor do I put on airs to impress people. I could care less about owning expensive cars or a vast estate. I wear very little jewelry other than my wedding ring. My favorite outfit consists of a well-worn pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. Our home is average sized with modest and comfortable furnishings. That’s just me.

I like simple things. I enjoy watching a beautiful sunset. I love reading the paper on Sunday mornings. I look forward to movie and game night at home, especially when my husband and kids help me make a savory dish straight from the Food Network. I enjoy watching our Boston Terrier, curled in a ball with one paw on my leg, snooze on the couch beside me as I write. I love to hike and camp with my family and go kayaking with my daughter. I love to be creative and spontaneous. I love photography and writing.

I find peace and higher meaning when trekking through the mountains or in the desert. I will never be rich, nor do I wish to be. I will never look like Cindy Crawford, much to my dismay. I value compassion, kindness and generosity. In fact, I have been repeatedly told that I do too much for people and have difficulty saying “no.” And, as already established in a previous post, I am a sap (or, as I prefer to call it, a highly sensitive person).

I like to get things done right and must admit that I am not exactly noted for being the most patient person, though I am working on that. I have no problem admitting my character flaws or owning up to my mistakes – just ignore the red face. Despite all my flaws, and there are many, I like who I am and feel secure in where I am going with my life.

Having realized all that about myself, I am not afraid of midlife, nor of any crisis it may bring. My husband and I have faced our fair share of tragedy and difficulty, which has made us both stronger. My husband, though very intelligent, is simple by nature. He has a delightful sense of humor and is about as unpretentious as a man can be. He keeps me grounded when I start to falter.

The truth is that I have always been a ‘big picture’ person, so I seldom allow myself to get too mired in trivial details. Rather, I like to focus more on the end result. As Hugh O’Neil put it, “At midlife, it helps to start working on what you’ll leave behind.” He mentions that a good natured child is a great legacy. I would have to agree. Thus, I feel truly blessed, as both of my children are good-natured, compassionate and genuine. If that is all I leave behind, then I feel I have contributed significantly to making the world a better place.

So, to midlife I say “welcome.” I’ve been expecting you!

Kim Balsman is a professional photographer, writer and owner of Balsman Photography, LLC. Kim offers real stories, anecdotes, advice and humorous thoughts about life in her personal blog,

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