Mid-Life Crisis: How to avoid getting age fright as retirement looms ahead

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Here in the penultimate act before the final curtain falls, the auditorium is starting to empty, and many of the anxieties that kept us awake at night are exiting stage left; the spectre of death no longer stalks us in quite the same way it did when we still had everything to live for. For men, old age officially begins at 66 (although this is likely to rise). Many of you will still feel like sprightly midlifers in your sixties and may struggle to believe you have crossed a line but, according to the law, you are now officially a senior citizen, meaning you can retire and claim a state pension. After decades of worrying about whether you were good enough, rich enough, attractive enough, popular enough, competent enough and just plain enough, you will gradually let go of the egotistical flagellations that kept you in a state of high alert. This profound period of reflection is where we discover whether we really have lived a meaningful life. Did we make a difference or merely get by?

All those things we thought would give us meaning – foreign vacations, sexual encounters, luxury purchases, extra hours spent on work projects – will barely even register as we rifle through a lifetime of memories.

You will find yourself asking profound questions: did I do good in the world, did I live an honest life and did I help others?

Here in Act Six of our lives – legacy is the seventh – we have time to pick through our past, searching for a thread of meaning to tie the whole messy business together.

Remember, you have nothing to fear. It’s natural to be anxious about death, but consider the alternative – would you really want to live for ever? Stay active, keep laughing, have regular check-ups, and try not to become too set in your ways. When your time is up, bow out with dignity and gratitude.

Older Person

You will find yourself asking profound questions such as; did I do good in the world? (Image: Getty )

Welcoming the next generation

Some have described becoming a grandparent as akin to experiencing a kind of rebirth. Here you are in your twilight years, enjoying the excitement of a newborn baby all over again, only this time with the benefit of accrued wisdom. Whether you are a hands-on grandparent or live on the other side of the world, you are now in a unique position to offer comfort, fun, reassurance and continuity.

There is something profoundly moving about the first time you hear your grandchild refer to you as “Grandpa” or “Grandad”. For decades you have been plain old “Dad”. Now that weight of responsibility has been lifted, and you can enjoy all the fun of parenthood without the stress of being a parent.

Grandchildren are great for mental wellbeing. Whenever you visit, they will always be overjoyed to see you, and their youthful exuberance can help fight depression and ward off dementia.


The death of a friend won’t have such a traumatic resonance as you get older (Image: Getty )


However much you enjoy your job, there will come a time when you need to slow down. It can feel like a step backwards, but there is plenty of meaning to be had outside work life. For those worried about a loss of income, the state pension provides a safety net, although this probably won’t be enough to live on without savings. Removing yourself from the daily grind may come as a shock at first, but like every act of life, how you spend your time will ultimately determine if your retirement has meaning.

The next few years will be about slowing down rather than stopping. As long as you remain active, the world has plenty left for you to explore. Retirement involves major readjustments, monetarily and psychologically. For years your life has been about dressing appropriately for work and sticking to schedules. Now here you are in your pyjamas at 3pm, sipping a glass of wine, thinking, Is that it?

If this is the case, you need to start planning for the future; after all, you could live for another 30 years.

As you adapt, you will experience a range of different emotions. There will be times when you feel disconnected from the outside world; boredom and despair may set in.

You might even feel guilty because you are not enjoying retirement as much as you hoped. Keep expectations in check and remember that nothing in life is ever as good or as bad as we imagine.

When you were working, you probably had a strict routine. You might find you are missing the security of a busy schedule, so build a daily routine to stick to at home.

If you are a morning person, continue setting your alarm for 7.30am and then begin your day with a few stretching exercises.

You could structure the rest of the day around mealtimes, as you probably did when you were working, then set aside slots for enjoyable and meaningful activities.

Don’t be too rigid. You are your own boss now – but setting yourself goals will give you something to work towards.

Old Age

As you adapt to being older, you will experience a range of emotions (Image: Getty )

Coming to terms with old age

When we are young, we tend to look upon old age with fear and trepidation. We struggle to understand how anyone could bear to continue living knowing that the end is in sight. But something kicks in when we enter the final acts: outlooks shift, and we become more philosophical.

Perhaps we feel there is nothing left to learn. But there is always more to life than we think. We must never become complacent and should keep striving for purpose and meaning.

The Greek philosopher Epicurus encouraged his followers to find meaning in simple pleasures. “Do not spoil what you have,” he wrote, “by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

For those of us who might be worrying about what happens next, Epicurus reminds us “death is nothing. When we exist, death is not; and when death exists, we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death, and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the belief that in death, there is awareness.” He encourages us to celebrate the here and now, rather than allow nostalgia to dominate.

Coping with the death of friends

The sudden loss of a close friend earlier in life would most likely devastate us, whereas now that same death won’t have quite the same traumatic resonance.

When we are young, death seems like a distant, unfathomable effrontery. In old age, we become almost accustomed, if not resigned, to the idea of mortality as we start to lose the people we hold most dear.

Many of us will have to cope with the death of a spouse or sibling. One by one, friends of 50 or 60 years’ standing will start to leave us. If you happen to be the youngest of your peer group, you might be the last man standing, which can be a blessing or a curse.

Touchingly, many of us will continue to delude ourselves into thinking that we can somehow cheat death, that for us the end will be different, less final, less deadly. At the same time, pragmatism gradually takes over and the end no longer has the power to shock.

Old Person

If you live alone, you might feel like retreating from the world (Image: Getty )

Beating loneliness

Most of us will experience two types of loneliness during our lifetime.The first is that gnawing terror of knowing we are essentially alone in the universe, and it stalks us at every age. The other, more visceral kind of loneliness is particularly prevalent amongst older people who may feel they have been forgotten about. The fracturing of families has only compounded what many see as a growing epidemic.

Up until relatively recently, generations tended to stick together in tightly knit communities. Care homes were only ever a last resort. These days offspring tend to go where the work is, meaning families are often spread across counties, countries and even continents.

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The same study found loneliness can be worse for us than obesity; and lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression.

Don’t rely on your family to make the first move. If you live alone, you might feel like retreating from the world, but this may prove to be your downfall. Get involved with community life. You have plenty to offer. Don’t keep all that wisdom to yourself.


At some point, you will want to have a major clear out. Sorting through a lifetime of personal effects can trigger all sorts of emotions, some happy, others touching or sad. You may struggle to part with the detritus that has followed you around for so long, but it’s important not to become too attached to possessions that are long past their sell-by date.

You might feel guilty or even traumatised by the thought of throwing away broken appliances, mismatched china and half remembered electrical cords.

Be ruthless; hold on to valuables and anything with genuine sentimental value. Once you’ve taken the plunge, it will be as though a great weight has been lifted from your shoulders and you will have done your children a great service.

  • Extracted from The Seven Ages of Man: How to Live a Meaningful Life by James Innes-Smith (Constable, £16.99). For free UK delivery, call Express Bookshop
    on 01872562310 or order via

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