Laura Ingalls Wilder has enriched three generations of my family...
My wife and I read the Little House on the Prairie series in our childhood and early in our marriage, we bought the whole set of nine books. It is worn and dog-eared now, having been read by my wife to our four children and then by each of them individually. Lately, we have read from them to our grandchildren. But what has this to do with mid-life crisis? Read on…
In our blog, we now are working our way through the Three3rds of Life. We just finished a series of three posts on the Second3rd’s first part: The Age of Realization (roughly, ages 30-45). This post begins three on The Age of Accomplishment (ages 45-60). Our title for the period is optimistic and exultant: the age at we accomplish the aims and purposes of our life.
The age may be different, however, for you or for others whom you know. The age can also be the Age of Mid-Life Crisis: where a sense of mission and accomplishment can be displaced by disappointment, feelings of being trapped, of life passing us by. Which will it be in your life? Will it be a time of mid-life crisis or of confidence?
The question returns us to Laura Ingalls Wilder. Married in 1885 at the age of 18, the next 26 years of her life were filled with difficulty, disease and death: the near-death of her husband from diphtheria, death of a son, loss of several crops, the loss of a home to fire, and several long-distance moves. By 1911, at age 44, we could understand her just surrendering to a very hard life. She did not.
In that year, Mrs. Wilder was invited to write an article for a local Missouri publication. She did, her writing was good enough to remain as a writer with that publication for over ten years. This decade sharpened her writing skill and created a loyal set of readers who would help launch her to prominence when she published the first of her beloved Prairie books in 1932—at age 65.
Her persistence in life, and the sharpening of an unused skill in The Age of Accomplishment left a legacy that has enriched millions of people all over the world, including my own family.
Moving from Mid-Life Crisis to Confidence
You may be at or approaching this crossroad in life. Here are three lessons we can learn from Mrs. Wilder’s life to inform our own:
- Keep moving forward. Life in a broken world creates bumps, bruises and sometimes deep wounds for all of us. In moving toward the integrity of a life well-lived, we must keep moving forward, accepting the difficulty, but with a clear focus on what we will be and what we will become in the later decades of our life. Mrs. Wilder could have quit. She kept moving, despite her husband’s death, severe losses of the Great Depression and the memories of a difficult life. In moving forward, she set the stage for her success later in life.
- Be curious. Keep your mind open to new or emerging life passions. Who changes careers at 51? Maybe more of us should. Mrs. Wilder found a passion and a following from writing at the beginning of her sixth decade of life when…let’s be honest…many of us are starting to think about life being over. Julia Child discovered the joy of French cooking in her late 30s and did her first television cooking appearance in 1962 at age 50. Ray Kroc left restaurant sales and bought the McDonald’s brothers hamburger stand at age 52. What new passions are developing in you that might alter the vector of your life in its latter 3rds?
- Keep this truth in mind: at 45, you likely have another 4-5 decades of life on this earth. Life expectancy in the United States is nearly 79 years—half of us will live longer than that, some by a decade or two. We tend to view the end of our professional career as the culmination of our contribution to this world. This is a grievous error. We will have more to say on that subject in our blogs on the Third3rd. For now, the way to move from crisis to confidence is understanding and embracing the long years we have to achieve integrity in life when we stand at its middle.
Forward movement, curiosity toward emerging passions and the long view of our available years are three good ways to move from mid-life crisis to confidence.
What are your favorite stories of achievement later in life? We would love to hear them.