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My five step plan for coping with a mid-life crisis

Is 40 the new 30? No - it’s still mid-life crisis territory. Here’s how to cope
A new beginning at 40: Gareth Johnson's five step guide to surviving a mid-life crisis.

Sometimes it can feel difficult to make your voice heard, to have an impact, to feel like you’re making a difference to the people and the world around you.

You can feel lost, overwhelmed and a little powerless as the millions of people around you busily go about their daily lives, politicians bluster about things that seem important but remote, and the media constantly reminds us how bleak the outlook for everything is.

I was recently on a flight from Melbourne to Auckland, watching the movie Step Up 4 (surprisingly good), and in a small but powerful cameo, contemporary dance choreographer Mia Michaels said to one of the main characters: ‘Emily you are being blown like a leaf around this dance studio - take control.’

Wise words, and it is important to try and take some control of some of the key pillars of your life - it may not be possible to control everything, but even the process of beginning to take control of those things that you can will be an empowering first step.

This is what I’m telling myself anyway.

2012 has been a year of change for me:

  • I’m single for the first time in many years
  • I’ve turned 40
  • I took voluntary redundancy from a company that I’ve worked at for 10 years

None of those are necessarily negative developments in my life, but for me it feels as if some of the major things that used to be stable and constant are now no longer quite so certain.

The job thing is interesting. For the last 10 years I’ve worked in an in-house communications role for a large international bank. They decided to down-size their operations in London and were offering voluntary severance. I was ready for a new challenge and they needed to reduce head-count, so it was a win-win situation.

I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy from friends and family - concerned that I’ve 'lost' my job, worried that I’m now 'unemployed'.

Being single is slightly more complicated. When I was younger I struggled a bit with what a successful gay relationship would look like, if I’m honest I’m probably still struggling with that. What’s different now is that I’m feeling a bit more self-content and not worried so much about not being in a relationship.

Sure I’m dating, sometimes more successfully than others, but I guess I still have a background concern about what happens as you get older.

I recently made a quick visit to Australia to see my friend Jenny who has been diagnosed with cancer. She was in good spirits but in hospital and not responding to treatment. I felt helpless, this was something I couldn’t put right. I sat with her, we talked, we laughed. I went home and cried.

It’s not difficult to accept that turning 40 is the point where you really start to question what you’re doing, where you’re going. Maybe it’s a bit more real because you have a lot of experience of life behind you. Here’s my five step plan to help me cope with my mid-life crisis. I’m making no assurances that it will be right for anyone else, but take from it what you will.

Step 1 - Work

I’ve set up my own company, I’m working on a number of freelance and contract projects and I feel in control - nervous, excited and challenged by not having a comfortable permanent employer, but I feel accountable and in control.

Step 2 - Relationship

I’m dating. The genius of online services such as Gaydar or location-based apps such as Grindr is that these days it seems much easier than ever before to meet guys - guys that want to have sex.

I’ve been on good dates and bad dates - some guys I’ve seen more than once, some guys I never want to see again. The good thing about dating (apart from getting some regular sex) is that it does make you realize that there are plenty of guys out there - finding a boyfriend isn’t actually that difficult. Finding the right boyfriend though continues to be a numbers game.

Step 3 - Health

I’m getting full health screenings through Preventicum - a specialist health service. Every two years they do a full test and scan of everything. The earlier that any problem is detected, the more chance you have of being able to treat it effectively and recover.

I’m also spending a lot of time, energy, and money in the gym - I have a personal trainer, I follow a fairly rigid diet, I take a lot of supplements.

I feel good and I’m happy with how I look.

Step 4 - Family

My family are a bit spread out so contact can be a bit sporadic. I recently spent five days with my parents who live in the town of Echuca in South Eastern Australia.

My mother is concerned that none of her children live close enough to visit regularly (my younger brother is the closest - three hours away in Melbourne; my sister is in Perth - a four hour flight; and I’m in London - the other side of the world).

I tried to explain that this was actually a credit to them both - that they had given us the confidence and sense of empowerment to make our own way in the world, secure that we had the love and support of our parents.

My mother didn’t see it like that.

‘I want you home for Sunday lunch - not half-way around the world!’ she said.

Step 5 - Community

Possibly the most intangible of the pillars of your life, ‘community’ is important in the sense that you need to feel some sense of engagement or connection with the world around you.

That doesn’t necessarily mean saying ‘good morning’ to all of your neighbors, or volunteering at the local cat shelter, but it’s important to find something that’s meaningful for you - that you can commit to, invest in, and feel part of.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with gay sports. It started with a tentative attempt to play water polo with London’s gay water polo team. I quickly realized that I’m not much good at water polo but I loved being part of a team, hanging out with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met, feeling a real sense of camaraderie.

This year I’ve built on that by becoming the chairperson of the aquatics club of which water polo is part - slightly ironic as I don’t like swimming, but the club plays a really important role in the lives of its 400 members and I can see the positive social and health impacts that we can have by getting people to participate in sport.

I’ve also got involved in the bid to bring the 2018 Gay Games to London. The Gay Games is one of the world’s largest sporting and cultural events - often attracting more participants than the Olympic Games. To have the event in London would be an enormous amount of work, but an incredible opportunity to showcase my adopted city and it’s something that I would be proud to be part of.

I am in no way kidding myself that 40 is the new 30. There is no denying that I am officially 40. But it is not the end of the world - far from it, in many ways it feels like it’s the beginning.

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