Even smart successful people can have a midlife crisis

Midlife a philosophical guide - book cover art

You might think a midlife low is brought on by a stressful situation or life event.  But that’s not always the case.

From first glance one might think that MIT philosophy professor Kieran Setiya had everything going right in life – a successful, prestigious career doing something he loved, an enriching family life, living in a great part of the world – yet he found himself with a “hollow feeling”, according to this article from MIT News.

“I was doing the things I had always wanted,” Setiya explains.  “I wasn’t wrong to think that teaching and writing and thinking about philosophy was worth doing, but nevertheless, something was amiss.”

Fortunately, Setiya was in a good position to examine what he was going through.  As a philosophy professor, it’s not surprising that what he did was think through what was going on.  And the result is his new book – Midlife: A Philosophical Guide.

One of Setiya’s suggestions for dealing with a midlife low are the pursuit of what he terms atelic activities – things we do for the joy they intrinsically bring us, and not because they’re things we have to do.

“What really matters is that some important things in your life, things you regard as sources of meaning, are atelic,” Setiya says. “Reading, or walking, or thinking about philosophy, or parenting, or spending time with your friends or family are activities that don’t have an endpoint built in”, according to the article.

Another somewhat surprising conclusion he reaches is to embrace the narrowing of possibilities that age brings, rather than view it as a source of regret.  There are too many possible experiences in modern life for anyone to experience them all anyway, so any narrowing of opportunity should not be a cause of worry.

Instead of focusing on a narrowing of possibilities, in my view, midlife can present an opening of opportunities for those ready to embrace them.  The early years of adulthood are focussed on the basics – establishing and building a career, a family, a home.  There is little time there for “atelics”.  But once you’re established in middle age – the kids getting older and finding their own life paths, you have a home and some financial stability – you may now have the opportunity to reassess where you are and where you are going.  And perhaps have the freedom to begin to chart a new path.

In any event, it sounds like this book will be an interesting read.  You can read the full MIT News article here, and buy the book here. (If you buy using this link you will help support this website).

A writer, actor, singer, private pilot and keen traveller. Formerly in banking industry in various head office roles including data analytics and risk management. Love music, art, theatre, film, food and experiencing new places.
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