The New Adolescence

Last month, in one of those little sidebar articles in The Atlantic, I came across an intriguing idea: That midlife needs to be treated as a distinct developmental period in a person’s life, much the way adolescence is. Historically, there was no such thing as The Teen Years. Children abruptly became adults, accruing responsibilities of adulthood until their adulthood apprenticeship ended. When adulthood started depended on one’s position in society or the culture in which they were raised, but until the 20th century, teenagers didn’t exist.

For much of the last century, psychologists have studied adolescence, learning about teenagers’ growing brains, social habits, etc. Meanwhile, despite strong anecdotal evidence that something happens in what we call Midlife, not many people have studied it. That something is The Crisis, and most of us over 40 (or really, 42) are experiencing it.

When you think about midlife as a distinct developmental period, instead of a crisis, it opens up a lot of opportunities for determining its outcome. Instead of impetuously buying a sports car and finding a girlfriend, you can do it in a deliberate way. Just kidding. Like adolescence, midlife is a good time to evaluate what identity you want and who you want to become. I think the “crisis” component of midlife happens when people feel regret that they didn’t become who they meant to be, instead of recognizing the chance they have to shape their own future.

Today is the first day of June. 2018. I decided a couple of years ago, at the beginning of my midlife, that I wanted to a writer (in addition to being a wife, mother, daughter, lawyer, arbitrator). Last week, I got business cards that say “Writer.” This month, I’ve set a number of writing goals. One of them is to blog every day. Because I like to share my experience with friends, I’ve also invited people to start their memoir, and I’ve got a writing prompt for those folks below. If memoir isn’t your interest, then I still invite you to do something that you’ve always meant to do. Take a photo. Sketch something. Write the first paragraph of a story or the first stanza of a song. Take your guitar out of its case and play something. It’s going to be a great month, start it with the first step of your new developmental phase.

MEMOIR WRITING PROMPT: Set a timer for ten minutes (or longer) and write down everything you’ve ever heard about your own birth. Obviously you can write for longer, but don’t let the magnificence of your crazy story overwhelm you. Just put something on paper/computer for at least ten minutes.


  1. Lande Ajose

    First of all, your writing above is especially good, both for its optimistic tone and its clarity while remaining distinctly Andrea. Second, I love the idea of treating midlife as an intentional developmental stage, but would note that I think the sense of crisis may comes from the fact that as we adult we learn to quiet our intuition, ignoring the red and yellow flags that our life is unfolding in ways unexpected and unimagined, and some of those ways are a loss. In the process we end up letting go of important pieces of what makes each of us distinctively us. Maybe the crisis is how we’ve sought to get that back.

    Finally, I love the prompt, not only because it’s concrete and specific but also because it’s pretty fascinating. My first reaction was, “I know absolutely nothing about my birth and have nothing to write.” Then I pretty quickly realized that even exploring why I’d have nothing to say would open up all kinds of memoir doors that would take me far longer than 10 minutes to explore.

    So once again Andrea, thank you. You’ve given me the best end of school year gift: an invitation to start my story.

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