Mid-Life Crisis: The Dream & The Ladder

Daniel Levinson studied the lives of hundreds of adult men and discovered that we actually are a lot like children. (No “I told you so”, ladies.) Just as children progress through clear stages of development, so Levinson discovered that men do too.

Every stage is given a name and detailed in The Seasons of a Man’s Life, published in 1978.

I’m turning 39 this month. Levinson calls the stage of development I’m in “Mid-Life Transition.” For most men it’s a “crisis,” Levinson writes. But it doesn’t have to be. Mine isn’t.

What Is A Mid-Life Crisis?

In the Mid-Life Transition a man thinks a lot about his ladder: values, marriage, career….

The ladder was built by the man to reach the Dream. Levinson capitalizes “Dream” as if it’s God – maybe because, to many men it is.

A guy forms his Dream in his early twenties and builds his ladder to reach it. The dream is the man’s quest, his mission, his goal – what he really wants more than anything else. He evaluates the Dream and the ladder in his late twenties and either trashes them and starts over on new ones (very rarely) or he doubles-down on the Dream and reapplies himself to climbing well.

Then, sometime between 37 and 45, the guy hits the “Mid-Life Transition” and re-evaluates the Dream and the ladder once more. This time more intensely.

He asks himself a lot of important questions: Where am I on my ladder? Is this where I thought I would be by this time in my life? And, most importantly…Is this even the right ladder to be climbing?

He’s deciding if he “wasted” the first half of his life on the wrong Dream, climbing the right ladder poorly or climbing the wrong ladder well. He’s making this decision – consciously or not.

Why Is The Mid-Life Transition Hard To Make?

He’s making this decision with a lot of people depending on him. That’s where so much of the man’s stress comes from. He may be married, have kids, be responsible for employees, he may be at least partially contributing to the success of a company. If he’s been dreaming the wrong dream or climbing the wrong ladder making changes now, at mid-life, won’t be easy.

He’s making this decision in light of his mortality. He’s not old, and he knows it, but he’s now certain he will be. This isn’t something he thought about when he first dreamed the Dream and gripped the first rung of his ladder in his twenties. Now he’s not just thinking about a Dream and how to successfully reach it. He’s thinking about the significance of it – of his very existence: When I’m gone what difference will my life have made?

My Story: No Getting Around The Mid-Life Transition

God did me a big favor in my twenties. At 26 I was happily married (out of my league), with a beautiful healthy baby girl, a record number of songs on the radio, accolades. At 30 I was living in my dream house, had three beautiful healthy kids, playing music for thousands of people who knew the words and bought the t-shirts, and I was making lots of money. One night, on stage with Michael W. Smith in the Netherlands, 36,000 people sang along…and I was happy.

I had accomplished my Dream.

Yep. What I’d wanted more than anything else (since I was a teenager) was wealth and respect. I didn’t realize it. If you’d told me so before that night I would have denied it. But I’m certain of it now. That’s why that night in the Netherlands felt like an arrival point, a finish line. Respect and wealth were my Dream – the things that really drove me.

After that night everything was different.

Finally having what I’d always wanted left me feeling there was something else I really needed.

That feeling led Becky and I to pray and God answered us in El Salvador. It was there that I got a new Dream and we started building a very different ladder at age 31.

The bulk of the re-evaluating and tweaking I’m supposed to do now during the Mid-Life Transition was done years ago. (Thank, God.) So I get to skip the Mid-Life Transition right? No such luck. Levinson says I’m still wired to through this crisis transition. No matter how happy a man is, no matter how certain about the quality of his Dream, he will still re-evaluate his life and probably make some changes to his ladder. So, here I go – staying up late pondering, praying, doing the work of the Mid-Life Transition.

Anyway…I know there are a lot of women reading this blog of mine. And some of you are wondering what’s going on with your husband. I hope this helps. Your husband is dreaming and climbing, whether he realizes it or not.

I don’t know what your husband needs from you right now, but I know what I value most from Becky these days: She believes in my ability to make good decisions and believes God guides those decisions. She tells me so. She prays. And she says she loves me. She even likes me. That frees me up to focus on what God wants for us next and not on what it will take to win her over.

Hope this helps you.

Happy climbing, everyone.