Quentin Hafner

Leader on the Edge; 5 Ingredients that Lead to a Mid-Life Crisis

Being a leader isn’t for the faint of heart.  It just might run you into the ground.

In a world that idealizes leadership positions because of their perceived stature around power, intelligence, and wealth, few people see behind the veil of leadership and the reality of the tremendous emotional burden that leadership positions carry. As a therapist and leadership coach helping leaders, I have been privileged in working closely with leaders to understand the emotional burden they carry. 

The emotional toll of being a leader can be so emotionally burdening that it often leads to some form of a mid-life crisis. 

Here is a definition of mid-life crisis from Wikipedia: 

A midlife crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45–55 years old.  The phenomenon is described as a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person’s growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly shortcomings in life. 

In working with leaders in the context of personal therapy & leadership consulting in their businesses, I’ve witnessed some really tragic stories as a result of the unaddressed mid-life crisis.  

Things like: 

8-figure businesses imploding because of the mid-life crisis of the CEO….and….
Families disintegrating because of the mid-life crisis.

 

I’ve also walked alongside several leaders through therapy and coaching and helped them steer clear of a most-likely mid-life crisis and catch it early.  So, they were able to make the necessary life-pivots to get back on track and avoid a personal and occupational catastrophe.

I wanted to write something for all the great men and women leaders in the world, all of whom are at some level of risk for a mid-life crisis due to the emotional, psychological, and mental demands that leadership positions place on people.  

Having a mid-life crisis is never about just one thing in your life being out of sync.  The mid-life crisis is a result of a culmination of several aspects of your life being out of sync, all happening at the same time.  If you’re a leader reading this, consider reading it with an open mind, and take an honest assessment along the way and ask yourself if any of these ideas are applicable to your life and your current situation.  Although there are many avenues to get help, therapy and coaching for something like this can be an absolute positive game-changer. 

Leader on The Edge: 5 Ingredients That Lead to a Mid-Life Crisis

#1 You’ve Been in a Transition:

The first ingredient of a mid-life crisis unfolding is being in some transitionary state in your life. The transition might be related to your job, or it might be related to your personal life.  Being in life-transitions are difficult; it’s stressful, confusing, and brings up a lot of difficult feelings.  When we’re in life-transitions, it leaves you ripe for suppressed emotions to come to the surface.  

Different types of life-transitions include: Becoming empty-nesters, leaving a current position, having a new child, getting a new promotion, shutting down a current business, or gearing up for possible retirement.

It’s in these transitionary states that we often experience existential-type crises and start wondering about the meaning, purpose, and quality of our lives.  Going through some type of life-transition often evokes suppressed or buried emotions and gets us questioning the status quo.  This alone doesn’t lead to a mid-life crisis, but is one ingredient that is often present (along with the other 4 below) that lead to the mid-life crisis.

#2 You’ve Been Disconnected from Emotions

 The second ingredient of the mid-life crisis is being disconnected from your emotional state.  The mid-life crisis, in its purest form, is an “acting-out” of your emotion; meaning you are not aware of your emotional state internally, and need to play this emotion out behaviorally through your actions. 

Being disconnected from your emotions will almost always result in an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or some form of substance abuse.  I’ve never met a leader going through a mid-life crisis that didn’t also struggle with alcohol.

Mid-life crises are a result of being depressed, burnt-out, anxious, and stressed out.  It’s these emotions, that the leader doesn’t tend to, that contribute to the mid-life crisis.  Most leaders, buried under a mountain of stress, feel like they don’t have time, capacity, or bandwidth to get in touch with their emotions.  And this is perhaps their #1 biggest error. By not becoming connected with our emotional states, it nearly always leads to some form of a crisis.

 

#3 You’ve Been Unfulfilled & Stuck

The third ingredient that contributes to the mid-life crisis for leaders is a sense of being unfulfilled, and stuck.  Maybe they feel unfulfilled at home, or on the job. Or both.  Either way, whether at home or on the job, there is a hunger pang about wanting something more out of life.  

Gone is the zeal and the enthusiasm for new adventures.  When working with leaders who are in the midst of a mid-life crisis, I often ask them what they do for fun.  And nearly always, the answer is the same; “Very little.”

When enough time goes by felling unfulfilled, and a bit hopeless about what to do about it, the result (combined with the other 4 factors) is often the mid-life crisis. Very often, for people in leadership roles, they have tied their identity, life-style, responsibility for others, and their own self-worth to their leadership position and see no way out or making it better.  It’s this sense of feeling trapped that often contributes to the mid-life crisis.

#4 You’ve Been Successful

Believe it or not, being successful is the fourth ingredient for the mid-life crisis.  Mid-life crises rarely happen when things are difficult, or just barely getting by in life.  They almost always happen when things are going smooth, and when most of life seems to be running on auto-pilot.  It’s part of the peril of being high-achieving and successful.  Leaders come to work themselves out of usefulness and often feel bored, under-utilized, not challenged, and overall discontent.  They might have everything they want materially, but have very little otherwise.

Very rarely does someone blow up their life with a mid-life crisis when they’re just trying to survive week to week.  The mid-life crisis is often a subconscious risk leaders are willing to take once they’ve reached a certain level of success.  It doesn’t make rational sense, I know.  That’s why it’s often subconscious.

#5 You’ve Been Isolated

The fifth ingredient for the mid-life crisis is being isolated.  Being isolated is one of the biggest challenges for the modern leader.  They rarely have places to turn when things are not going well.  Sure, they might be part of a leadership group such as EO, Vistage, or YPO, but in my experience, these groups are rarely an outlet to discuss what’s really going on in their life.  Although these groups are certainly helpful and valuable,  there is still a need to maintain the façade of having it all together.

Because of the societal pressures placed on CEO’s to appear to “have it all together”, they rarely have places to turn to discuss life’s troubles, fears, doubts, drinking problems, or active affairs.  And when we struggle with life’s challenges in isolation, it’s very difficult to pull ourselves out of it on our own.  


Do you, or someone you know, resonate with these 5 elements of the mid-life crisis?  If you do, please know there is so much you can do to change the tide before things get worse. 

I wanted to write this blog to shed light on the typical mid-life crisis experience I have worked with so many times in my practice.  Hopefully it serves as a barometer to measure your own life and gain insight into what might be going on, before it overtakes your life, your business, and your personal well-being.

Believe it or not, going through a mid-life crisis, although it can be very painful to you and those close to you, can be a tremendous opportunity to make corrective changes to your life that can put you on a healthy path toward happiness, peace-of-mind, and healthy sustainability. 

How many of the 5 ingredients do you resonate with?

As a personal therapist and leadership coach to many successful men and women in Newport Beach, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you think I can be helpful to you navigating a hard time in your life. 

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