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Bicycling through the Midlife Crisis


Chapter 2: In Defense of the Midlife Crisis

"Midlife Moments" with Mike Bellah 
The Amarillo Daily News, March 20, 1999 

Hooray for Mary Schmich, a Chicago Tribune columnist willing to stand up to the new "groundbreaking" study of midlifers that finds, among other things, that there is no midlife crisis (actually, the 10-year study, funded by the MacArthur Foundation and reported in the Tribune just a day before Schmich’s column, found only one in 10 midlifers claimed to have such a crisis). Says Schmich, "I am here to report that the midlife crisis is alive and well and we’re all better for it."   

I’ll return to Schmich’s argument later, but for now, I want to say something about "groundbreaking" studies in general. Just this week I’ve read two such works: one announces that fiber in our diet has no bearing on incidents of colon cancer, and another finds that children of stay-at-home moms are no better adjusted than latchkey kids.  

Come on. Just when we get used to eating fresh salads and when we finally find a way for one parent to get some flex time at work, we’re supposed to think that these things don’t matter. It’s enough to make me want to propose a new rule for "groundbreaking" studies: all of them should have to sit on their authors’ desks for five years before they are published. Then maybe more of them would end up on the editing floor rather than places like the Chicago Tribune.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against scientific research. I've done quantitative statistical analysis myself. I know something about standard deviations, "p" values, and multiple regressions. I’ve also scanned the MacArthur Foundation’s website enough to know that their phone interviews and mail-in surveys followed acceptable polling procedures.  

Yet I can’t get rid of the mental picture I have of some 50-year-old logger in Alder Creek, Oregon talking to one of these researchers over the phone. He has a can of Bud Lite in one hand, the TV remote in the other (the phone is tucked under his neck), and he’s watching a rerun of "Cheers," which is barely audible over a Smashing Pumpkins’ tune coming from his teenage son’s bedroom.   

"Let’s get this straight," he says. "You want to know if I ever have a general feeling of dread that occurs in someone who suddenly realizes that life is half over and that he or she will not be able to accomplish everything he or she set out to do? Uh, (as he watches Woody fill Norm’s mug) put me down as a ‘no’ on that one."  

Back to Mary Schmich. Her point is that every normal midlife person thinks about the mortality issue. "Nothing is more annoying—or less believable," she writes, "than the midlife person who says, ‘I never think about my age.’ What a pity. Life is short. Age is real. Think about it."   

Schmich says all of her friends have experienced midlife crises in response to such thoughts. "That doesn’t mean they’re miserable," she writes. "It just means they’re awake." On this point Schmich and the MacArthur study agree. They both think that our middle years can be the best of all. The difference is that the latter thinks we experience this happiness because there is no midlife crisis; the former thinks we experience it because there is one.  

As Schmich puts it, "Many people have to go through a crisis to figure out the pleasures of the second half."  

 ____________________  
References  
Schmich, Mary. "Some Age-Old Advice: Carpe the Midlife Crisis." Chicago Tribune. February 17, 1999. N-1.

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