Surviving mid-life jolts, some people bounce back stronger than ever

AARP-Magazine-Cover-April-2014v1Midlife is prime time for unexpected life jolts. It’s the season for sudden job loss, divorce, the deaths of loved ones, and all manner of unexpected health issues, disasters, and near-misses. Hollywood may love a good story about the stereotypical life-changing “midlife crisis” brought on by the emotional turmoil of getting older, but research shows that most such crises are triggered by these kinds of external events.

Midlife jolts can derail us—or they can propel us into reclaiming and remaking our lives. They prompt us to ask questions about our values and purpose.

Some experts refer to it as  “post-traumatic growth. It’s not just about being resilient, bu a kind of life transformation that can incite profound and lasting personal changes: After their jolts, some people become more compassionate toward the plight of others, move into new careers, remake their world-views and their personalities. Their relationships with others grow deeper and they may find new spiritual meaning in their lives. The question is, why do some of us crumple in the face of stress, while others emerge stronger than ever?

I explore these questions in a feature story in the April issue of AARP The Magazine.