Are you questioning the purpose of your life? Are you ambivalent about the choices you've made and wondering if you have created a life that is satisfying and self-actualizing? If so, then you may be between the ages of 40 and 63 and in the throes of a midlife crisis (MLC). Though the term midlife crisis has been bandied about for so long that the concept may seem trite, it is not. A MLC is a real, adult developmental stage of life. Neither men nor women are immune to a MLC. A common misunderstanding is that developmental stages are confined to childhood. However, psychology has long known that developmental stages continue throughout an individual’s lifespan.
It is well known that many first-time buyers of motorcycles fit within this age group. The reasons often sited for this phenomenon is this demographic's financial ability to buy bikes. However, this does not tell the whole story. Being in the midst of a MLC is the most viable reason that motorcycles are being sold in high numbers to the baby boomer generation.
Based upon often-questionable accident rate statistics, the media tends to imply that a newcomer to motorcycling who falls within this age group is a bad thing. Contrary to this implication by some hyperbolic, non-riders in the media, psychologically speaking, bikes can actually be a great cathartic channel for someone having a MLC.
The identification of the MLC stage was first posited by Carl lung, a Swiss psychologist who died in 1961. lung posited that the MLC stage is a normal part of adult maturation. While many people manage to breeze through this developmental stage, others have a more difficult time. A few hallmarks of a MLC include depression, extramarital affairs, career unhappiness, boredom, death anxiety, and difficulty adjusting to one's new identity of being middle aged. In short, a MLC is really an identity crisis.
Let's say Bob is in the midst of a MLC. He dreams of things that seem to have eluded him during his life. Bob remembers how, in his youth, he longed for a motorcycle. He recalls hearing motorcyclists who said that riding is real freedom. Now 51 years old, Bob finds himself turning his head each time he hears the roar of pipes. Bob is also tired of being the "responsible one"; he feels he is expected to be at the top of his game at work and at home. Bob has just about had it with the whole suit and tie thing that seems more like a straitjacket lately. He feels a sense of urgency about life, and is afraid it's passing him by. Bob recognizes these symptoms of a MLC, and knows what to expect in terms of psychological reactions. He organizes his angst around what things he could reasonably change, and finally decides getting a motorcycle would seem be a great start on his to-do list.
So he buys a new bike, asking his loved ones to be supportive of his decision. Soon Bob has a new set of friends through the riding groups he's joined, and he takes the time for road trip as often as possible. Though he still must wear his suit and tie, he now has times in which he can don biker clothes. And, when he is on his bike, Bob feels young, free, and alive --feelings that Bob almost forgot even existed.
A desire to return to unfulfilled, youthful dreams can cause some people to completely dismantle their life during a MLC. In the long run this kind of reaction usually does not work. And it can cause havoc to those around to the individual. We've all heard the story about the guy who says he's going to the store and never returns. This behavior demonstrates the actions of a person who is unaware of what is happening to him psychologically and developmentally. If one is aware that what one is going through is normal and knows what to expect, one can change aspects of one's life in a beneficial way. The key is to direct the energy into positive ways to create change. Here's where motorcycling can be beneficial to someone in a MLC, like our friend Bob.
The story of Bob exemplifies how a person can direct his MLC into making positive choices that enrich and enliven his life. Remarks that make fun of people who suddenly buy a bike for the first time in their midlife years are inappropriate. After all, if true freedom exists, then it resides in the freedom to make a choice, to get out and go for it! RB
Brenda Bates, MA, is a psychologist who specializes in posttraumatic stress disorders, especially among motorcyclists who've had an accident. A longtime biker who lives in California, her latest book is Back in the Saddle Again, available at her web site, www.BikePsych.com. She rides a Moto Guzzi.