The Sour Smell of Success

In my fiftieth year, my career came to a screeching halt, and I started to obsessively contemplate my own mortality.  To say that it was a midlife crisis would only make sense if I expected to live to a hundred.  It was more of a half-life crisis—I had spent half of my life working in my unchosen field, and my wagon, having rolled up a certain modest hill, had somehow unhitched itself from its flickering faraway star and started rolling backwards. 

A midlife crisis is only interesting if it leads to something—a new career, a journey of self discovery, an escape from a stifling relationship.  Mine led me to a complete dead end in terms of a potential new career, a journey backward in time, and a bleak realization that I am living a life I was never meant to live, yet cannot recapture the life that was meant for me.  I still haven’t figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up—in my fiftieth year.  I did not need to discover myself—I knew myself.  I just did not know my place in this weird world. 

Through a glass darkly, it looked like I hadachieved something.  I arrived at a certain level of executive standing in a corporate field.  I hated it.  The paradox was that this well-planned life seems to have just happened to me.  Oh, sure, I set goals, but did I really—or were they set for me, by my socio-economic background, by my academic and professional accomplishments?  Success was snowballing—I never questioned that I had to take the next step up, and up, and up, until I found myself standing at a precipice, realizing that there is no path further up, and wondering how to get down.  Because I sure as hell did not want to either plummet, or keep standing on this stupid cliff. 

Professional success brought me no joy.  It is difficult to enjoy something you never consciously wanted.  Sure, the economic indicators were great, but they turned out to be insufficient.  I was buying a lot of cool experiences, but as my time on Earth passed the halfway point, I started to resent spending any of it doing things I did not want to do.  I discovered that my career is not—gasp!—my life.  It is just a job.  It is a paycheck.  A means to support my “real” life. What did that make me as a professional woman if not a failure?  Well, no, it just made me realize that after a quarter of a century of following a certain path, I wanted to follow a different one.

Left to my own devices, I would just read, go to the theater, and travel.  I am afraid I have realized that my true calling is to be the idle rich.  And so I started thinking—well, I was prompted to thought by some friends much wiser than me—that maybe it is possible to try to get back to the person that I was meant to be before I became someone else.

How does one live a purposeful life, in a sense that one takes every step deliberately and intentionally?  How does one capitalize on moments of joy and multiplies them, and discards moments of unpleasantness and avoids them?  How does one successfully battle ennui? And when something robs one of joy, how does one say, I will not go back there, I will not do this again?  I would like to learn.  It is not too late, even post-midlife crisis.