Second, we need to make an adjustment in our heads by retiring the idea that after we pass our physical prime, it’s all downhill. That misconception sparks anxiety and malaise (and, yes, sometimes crisis) in middle age; too many 50-year-olds think the best part of their life is already behind them, when in fact it is just beginning.
The false assumption that we peak in middle age also leads to the stereotype of the burned-out, bitter elder, which in turn fuels rampant age discrimination that leaves vast reservoirs of experience and creativity underutilized. Americans aged 55 to 65 are more likely to start companies than those aged 20 to 34, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; older workers (as The Economist reported last year) are just as productive as younger ones and often bring experiential and temperamental skills that increase the productivity of those they work with. But you would never guess from the way we think and talk about aging.
Finally, we need to rethink and destigmatize midlife transition. Because we see middle age as the peak years for achievement, successful 45-year-olds who find themselves experiencing malaise and dissatisfaction feel embarrassed and ashamed. No one wants to confess to a midlife crisis and be exposed to the mockery it brings. (“Hey, when you gonna buy your sports car?”)