Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife

When I was in my early 50s, I became quite convinced I was having a midlife crisis. I was an on-air correspondent for National Public Radio -- with a partly paralyzed vocal cord that left me without a voice for days or weeks at a time and with chronic pain that dominated my every waking hour. I wondered if my career at NPR had reached its peak as I observed the new opportunities going, understandably, to younger journalists. My stepdaughter was in college, my marriage was stable, but our lives were weighed down with the responsibilities of college tuition and a mortgage, frail parents and high stress jobs. We were too tired to have fun. Then my father died and mother – who was my best friend – suffered a stroke. I saw with sudden clarity that my generation was the next to go.

I had a choice. I could stumble along at the edge of a midlife crisis, or I could reimagine my life. The former was unappealing, the latter fell right in my skill set. My job, as a journalist, is to ask questions and find the answers. The question here was: How do you thrive at midlife? I would tackle this problem like a story on deadline: Call the experts, find the anecdotal stories illustrating the big ideas, and explain how to chart a path to an exceptional midlife. 

Happily, the research from psychology, neuroscience, biology, and case studies all points to the same answer. There are concrete steps we can take to make midlife the best time of life. Bring novelty into your marriage, tweak your career to seek meaning rather than mere success, find a new passion, build your friendships -- essentially, engage those things that matter with intention and verve. I made my own life a case study, to sometimes comical effect, as my husband and I rented an RV, I began to cycle competitively, and I decided on a completely new trajectory for my career. When I began the research, I was depressed with my station in life. When I finished, I realized I have never been happier. My sincere hope is you come to the same realization. Read an excerpt → 


Devin & Barb with Sandra

Devin & Barb with Sandra

Sandra in the RV

Sandra in the RV

Barb cycling (photo by Eric Todd)

Barb cycling (photo by Eric Todd)

Some kind words from

Dan Pink, Cokie Roberts, Robert Waldinger, Booklist, Library Journal, and others


Reviews & Articles

David Brooks: The Middle-Age Surge

Amy Bloom: Not for Sissies

Washington Independent Review of Books

Kirkus Review

Ruth Marcus: When Age is a Liability

Smithsonian's Book Dragon

Quit Your Job

The Secret to Midlife

Philadelphia Inquirer

Bookpage

The Best Valentine's Day Present: Reimagining Your Relations

 

National Public Radio: | Barb’s Six-Part Series

 

PART 1 | FORGET THE RED SPORTSCAR. MILDIFE CRISIS IS A MYTH

PLUS: FIVE MYTHS OF MIDLIFE

This phenomenon – the red Corvette, the young trophy wife – is entrenched in American popular culture. But by and large it doesn’t exist. What is nearly universal, however, is midlife ennui. We hear from people with a range of midlife experiences – drawn from hundreds of personal stories submitted to the NPR Facebook page. We look at the U-curve of happiness, and this surprising fact: Your brain naturally becomes happier as you age.

PART 2 | FORGET ABOUT IT: YOUR MIDDLE-AGED BRAIN IS NOT ON THE DECLINE 

Yes, your brain is shrinking, yes, it is slower, yes, you sometimes (often?) forget the names of acquaintances or restaurants. But research shows the middle-aged brain is operating at its peak. Barb attempts to make herself smarter by training her brain under the guidance of two pioneers in brain science. 

PART 3 | MIDLIFE FRIENDSHIP IS KEY TO A LONGER, HEALTHIER LIFE. 

Studies suggest people between 45 and 65 may be the loneliest segment in the U.S. That’s a big problem, and fixing it can keep your body and brain healthy. Our brains are wired for friendship, as Barb found when she traveled to the University of Virginia and had her brain scanned while receiving electric shocks (sometimes holding the hand of a close friend, sometimes not.) Friends take some of the burden of life’s challenges – and thus protect you biologically from all sorts of disease.  

PART 4 | FINDING A “LITTLE PURPOSE (Barb’s favorite story)

PLUS: 8 WAYS YOU CAN SURVIVE—AND THRIVE—IN MIDLIFE

One major secret to midlife happiness is picking up a new pursuit, or resurrecting an old passion. Whether it’s picking up guitar or learning Spanish, researchers found that finding a passion – and purpose – in midlife thwarts the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In this story, Barb profiles an athlete competing in the so-called National Senior Games (for people age 50 and over) – and in fact, and ends up competing in the national competition as well. 

PART 5: BOOMERS FACE A “DIVORCE REVOLUTION,” BUT SOME CAN LEARN FROM HAPPY COUPLES

Baby boomer marriage is in such crisis that researchers now call it the Gray Divorce Revolution -- in which even ostensibly happy couples part ways after years of marriage. Yet, researchers say that many couples are enjoying by far the best marriages in history. We describe the often surprising findings on what helps couples survive, including injecting novelty into the marriage – a finding that prompted Barb and her husband to travel down the Blue Ridge Parkway in an RV with two friends and a dog. We also describe how, for the first time, couples therapy is being put in a brain scanner – and it turns out, therapy can change your brain. 

PART 6: CARE FOR A CAREER CHANGE-UP? THESE STORIES ARE PROOF IT’S NEVER TOO LATE.  

It may sound counterintuitive, but researchers, psychologists and career experts say that midlife is the best time to rethink one’s career. Given that few people can afford to play golf for 20-plus years after retirement, shifting to work that brings you purpose and joy is not a luxury but, in the words of one expert, an “existential necessity.” Please note: Barb is not advising listeners to quit their jobs – but to consider the growing “encore” movement that pivots on people’s skills and brings more purpose to one’s second (or third or fourth) career. 


Selected Radio Interviews

WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane

March 29, 2016

KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny

March 30, 2016

KUER’s Radio West with Doug Fabrizio

March 15, 2016


Video by Breann Schossow

Video by Breann Schossow

Video by Breann Schossow

Video by Breann Schossow