We typically chose our career path in early adulthood. Will we be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or nurse, or will we choose to be a stay-at-home mom or dad—to name only a few of the many directions our young adulthood can encompass? Our choice determines how we live the next 20 or so years of our lives. When we make this choice early in adulthood, we typically think that by age 40 or so, we will reach a state of fulfilled contentment. We will finally be “Happy.” Alas, for most of us, that elusive quality of happiness does not magically appear in mid-life, and we reach that time feeling vaguely dissatisfied about our lives. In fact, people often find themselves in a “crisis” of dissatisfaction at this pivotal transition period, and may feel drawn to make major changes in their professional and private lives.
The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung (d 1961), whose model of psychoanalysis is the basis for many modern theories of mental health, explains that mid-life is the time in which individuals begin to examine the undeveloped/unlived aspects of the personality and that a “crisis” can occur which leads people to begin the process of “self” discovery. Jung holds that this crisis is a natural part of one’s growth and healing process and is therefore not inherently to be considered a negative. The trick to making it through the mid-life experience relatively unscathed is to understand that the dissatisfaction of mid-life has to do, in most instances, with one’s own individual process of self discovery. Changing the outside circumstances of one’s life through job change or divorce will not bring immediate happiness, although extreme situations may warrant such change. Jung maintains that each of us must do the inner work of self discovery, which leads to wholeness of the psyche, to find the contentment we are looking for. Psychotherapy is one way that people can begin this work.