How to Avoid a Midlife Crisis with Rapid Iteration

Midlife Crisis Symptoms

The ancient philosophers got it wrong. The moral police got it wrong. Many modern day gurus still get it wrong.

There is no ideal lifestyle that fits everyone. 

Everyone has different priorities, wants, needs, and passions. One cookie-cutter lifestyle design will never satisfy the majority of us, let alone everyone.

It’s our desire to live the “good life” that leads to a midlife crisis. The midlife crisis symptoms are common: buy into the 9 to 5 myth, pay your dues for years in an unsatisfying job, surrender to homeownership prison.

Pretty soon, you look around at the life you’re leading and it has nothing to do with what you want out of life.

On a blog like Agile Lifestyle, I try to be crystal clear that there is no universal playbook. The only thing you can do is try different things, reduce your cost of change, and use rapid iteration to move towards the activities that give you meaning and self-fulfillment (and discard the ones that don’t).

What inspires you to take action might not inspire your coworker or your friend. So you can stop comparing their experiences to yours.

When you treat life like a series of experiments, you can avoid the burnout symptoms and midlife crisis symptoms.

Put yourself in an experimental mindset and give yourself permission to fail. Fear of being wrong leads to analysis paralysis. Not making a decision is the reason you live your life on autopilot and head straight for a breakdown.

Every failure has an upside. In failing, you can learn important insights about your personality and your passions.

Learning what you want in life is the key to avoiding a midlife crisis.

How to Fail Like a Champ: My First Experience in Corporate America

In my first entry-level job out of college, I failed spectacularly. I didn’t understand office politics, and I didn’t want to learn either. I couldn’t get on-board with the bland small talk and constant schmoozing. I saw my role as getting the job done efficiently and effectively and then going home.

Big mistake.

When the end came (and it was inevitable), I was blindsided by multiple parties, in multiple directions. I offended the wrong people with my “No Chit-Chat” attitude and it got back to my manager. My manager sat me down and basically told me to get with the program or I’d be fired.

So I quit.

I flunked out of my first stint in corporate America after just seven months.

For someone who was always a high achiever in school like me, that was a tough experience. In school, having the right answer is everything. Not so in corporate America. I felt like school hadn’t prepared me at all for working in a team or navigating the workplace or currying favor with the right people.

I felt like a failure.

Every Failure Leads You Closer to Your True Calling

In time, I realized it was important for me to have that experience because I learned the type of work environment I didn’t want to be in the rest of my life.

I could have toiled away for years in that job before learning that lesson.

Instead, failure allowed me to quit sooner and achieve more by moving on to the next phase in my career.

It’s not easy to resist peer pressure to stick with it. Our culture has a fetish for people who “fight through the pain” and “tough it out” even when the suffering is pointless. I had many friends and relatives who told me to stay at least a year because of “how it would come across on my resume” if I stayed for only 7 months.

When you embrace agile, to all the world it will look like you are a flake who constantly starts and abandons projects. You will be criticized, especially by the baby boomers who don’t understand the mindset of digital natives.

In those moments, you will have to remember the reason you are using rapid iteration to transform your life. The goal is to find out what you are really passionate about. Every day you waste away in cubicle purgatory is another day you aren’t getting closer to self-fulfillment.

The midlife crisis happens because you are convinced that experimenting with your life after a certain point is wrong. So when a typical midlife crisis hits at forty or fifty and you realize you’re leading life according to someone else’s design, you have a nervous breakdown.

You don’t need to have your life figured out at every moment. Learn to love experimenting and don’t let others define your aspirations and desires.


What do you think about quitting as a strategy for lifestyle design? Leave me a comment below or share this on Twitter!

Image by sankai.

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