As several people wished her on her birthday, most greetings consisted of “welcome to this side of life?” What did that mean! she wondered. Does crossing 40 have such a big difference in life? How would her life change at 40. She would still be a successful woman managing both her house and work. She did not find herself any different from the year before. Of course she needed to colour her hair and kids around the block had begun calling her “aunty” but what would significantly change?

Similar questions flooded the mind of another as he celebrated with his set of friends. Everyone teased him about finally hitting the “mid life”. “Welcome to the age of bald heads and big bellies”, they teased. Had he become middle-aged?

So is middle age just a change in appearance or a change in lifestyle or a change in the way we think. Do we overnight alter in our appearances and become sagely and wise?

Age may just be a number as defined by many, but the fear of forties has been deeply rooted in our minds. A lot of changes have been associated with 40s both natural and imaginary. A person approaching 40s is considered on the other side of the hill.

A lot of changes are often blanketed under “chalishi” or 40s. Start expecting needing glasses, putting on weight, illnesses and fatigue. So accepting are we of these beliefs that we automatically start looking for white hair and wrinkles every day.

But what exactly is mid-life? When does it officially start? Do all of us go through mid life crisis and of course, most importantly how do I sail through it?

Let’s start at the beginning. It is true that a person changes as he grows older. The wear and tear of the body tissues is a reality. It is probably true that the chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes are first detected at this decade of life. Both men and women undergo biological changes which reflect on their appearances.

What about psychological changes then? That is a more difficult question to answer. On one hand we gain knowledge and our past experiences help us have a wider and perhaps a better perspective at life. It is also true that the changes happening in and around us have a psychological impact on us.

If we were to look at Ancient Indian philosophy, life was divided into ashramas. The fourth and the fifth decade of life signified the end of Grihasthashram (the household life) and the beginning of the Vanaprasthashram (the retirement stage). It was expected of the individual to hand over his responsibilities and his wisdom to the younger generation and move in search of higher knowledge.

The West too has divided the human life into stages based on age. Erikson, while defining the stages of human life, discussed Adulthood (from 40-65 years of age) as a concern between generativity vs. stagnation. The concern basically refers to our perception of how satisfied we are with our lives and our ability to give back to the next generation.

So both the East and West consider this age as a point of life where we “give up” majority of our responsibilities and take up the role of a consultant of sorts. Therein, lies the crux of the matter.

Most individuals find it difficult to accept the change in the equation of power. This may occur both in professional and personal life.  Many people face a change in office dynamics at this stage as the younger generation takes a more active role in the organizations. At the home front too, the family dynamics change. The children start becoming the head of the family and most people start to feel the burden of playing a secondary role. Most families experience the “empty nest” with children becoming more independent and not needing us so much.

This does not bode well with our Indian culture. Parents are traditionally used to having a greater role and say in the life of their children. The father is still the head of the family who makes most decisions and the mother continues to make most of the household decision.

But our value systems are changing. We are unfortunately neither anciently wise nor modernly smart as a society. Our value systems are at a constant collision course. Hasn’t this conflict filled the pockets of the Hindi soap opera makers? The breaking joint family and changing dynamics of the household is a reality though with less gaudy clothes and fewer camera angles.

A son earning more in a month than the father earned in a year and an educated professional daughter in law is less likely to play passive roles. A person in his mid twenties is already in a position of authority at his work place, ready to make decisions and deal with challenges. He/ she may not be open to the suggestions of the parents “who have not dealt with the global world”.

So then how do I deal with mid-life? Does it have to be so messy? Does this hold true today? Did someone not say “life begins at 40!” This is the age when we are at the peak of our career. That our kids are growing up and we finally have some time for ourselves.

So why can’t this be a time to rekindle the romance and take advantage of the financial stability? This age has its own advantages, if only we accept them. I may be aging but doesn’t wine come from aged grapes.

Mid life gives us the opportunity to wide variety of options. The trick is not to insist on doing what I was doing 10 years ago but to do things I wasn’t doing 10 years ago!!

Dr. Gauri Nadkarni Choudhary
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