I was twenty-five years old when I first became aware of how temporary my youth was. Someone had asked me when I was graduating from university and I answered: "in three years". In that single moment I realized in three years I'd be twenty-eight years old. As ridiculous as it sounds to me now, I felt a cold wave of fear wash over me, engulfing my entire body. Twenty-eight years old sounded so old and so the end of the road to me back then.

Three years later, when I celebrated my 28th birthday I could hardly remember that scary feeling from three years prior. I didn't feel old at all and could hardly understand why I had thought it would be the end of the world. From then on my advancing age didn't bother me as much. I felt young, I looked younger then my real age and I expected everybody to treat me as such. If here and there people felt differently about my age I didn't know it, or didn't want to know.

Unfortunately this didn't last forever. Although I was proud of
my youthful appearance, the passing years started to show,and people who tried to guess my age didn't think I was in my twenties or thirties anymore.

When I reached the age of forty-nine, the place where I was working shut down and I had to start over in a new place of employment. Everyone around me was a lot younger then I was: Most of my co-workers were in their early twenties, and even my superiors, who were older, were at least five years younger then me. For a while I was able to ignore this age gap and the fact most of my co-worker weren't even born when I had started my career. Until one day one of them said: "You know, we are very fond of you, you are like a mother to us".

I knew he meant well but at the time I wanted to kill him. I didn't feel motherly toward any of my co-workers and I don't think I ever behaved like one around them. I regarded myself as a part of the team. Apparently they felt differently. I guess knowing I was a lot older put me automatically into the 'mother' position. They regarded me as an old matron to respect but who isn't quite relevant to their world or capable of doing what they were doing.

At the time it didn't discourage me. I kept struggling like everyone else, while ignoring a growing sense of discomfort and dread. It took me five more years to realize I had to leave. Gradually there was too much evidence proving my age wasn't appreciated anymore. Rather then regarding it as an advantage it became an obstacle. No one really appreciated my competence and nobody regarded me as a promotion material.

Deciding to leave and take a new path wasn't easy. The changes involved were huge and frightening. For awhile I was going through what many call: the "midlife crisis". It was very painful at the beginning but extremely rewarding later on.

When midlife crisis struck

The term "midlife crisis" is relatively new and has a lot to do with the steady growth rate of life expectancy in the 20th century. Midlife crises can happen anywhere between the ages of forty to sixty-five, and although we read a lot about it, many of us find it difficult to cope with and surprised when it strikes.

Going through a midlife crisis usually refers to going through a period of self-doubt related to the passing of youth and the imminence of old age. Triggers for such a crisis are usually transitions experienced during these years, such as aging in general, menopause, the death of parents, children leaving home, losing a job after forty and/or retirement. The result may be a desire to make significant changes in the core aspects of our day to day life or situation; career, marriage, or romantic relationships.

The first to introduce the concept of midlife crisis was Elliott Jaques, a Canadian psychoanalyst, who in 1965, claimed that once we reach our late forties, we begin to grasp our mortality and limitations - a realization that causes mental crisis. Jaques himself, in spite of his dreary realization, didn't live as a limited person in his old age. He reinvented himself and wrote twelve books till his death at the age of eighty-six.

Although not all of us are going to write successful books after fifty, and although there is a slim chance we will become great pianists, exceptional athletes or famous ballet dancers (just as most young people aren't either), there are still many new roads open to us all around. There are as many achievable targets at the age of fifty as there are at the age of twenty-five. Hell, in some fields a fifty year old has a better chance to succeed than someone in their twenties.

The first thing to do if you reach a midlife crisis is to count your blessing. Remember: older people have many advantages that our society tends to ignore. When we are older, we are less prone to stress. We already know our strengths and abilities and how to use them wisely. The fear of failure doesn't stop us as it used to. We are no longer in a hurry to achieve or prove ourselves, we are more attentive to ourselves and we have the time and patience to create our new ventures.

All in all, older people are much more capable of experiencing freedom and happiness. People in our society believe young people are more carefree and happy. But true freedom comes from knowing who you really are. Young people often have limited self awareness and are busy trying to please others - they are far from being free and it may take many years before they can reach this level of freedom in their lives.

The ability to experience real happiness also has a lot to do with knowing who you are, and what life is all about. This is where an older age has a real advantage over youth. You may have more wrinkles on your face or less hair on your head, but your understanding of who you are, what you really desire and what makes you happy, is a lot greater.

How successful you can be?

Since life expectancy nowadays is growing steadily, it's about time we get used to the idea we can and should start over at the ages of forty, fifty and sixty. In order to make our second or third life a success, we need to let go of some negative myths we grew up believing. The first one is the notion that growing older means our body and mind start deteriorating. Another one is the belief that older people can't learn new things or that they can't change.

It isn't easy to let go of these beliefs. We live in a society focused on youth. We are led to believe that only young people have access to opportunities to turn their dreams into reality. We hear of young people who are doing great things or older people who did great things when they were young, all around us. We rarely hear about older people gaining recognition for achieving greatness late in life. But older people can and always have achieved greatness. What they lost in terms of their youth and good looks they gained in experience and self awareness. Here are some prominent famous people who climbed their way to fame way after their forties:

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, sold his first hamburger when he was already in his fifties. He tried his hand at a number of trades, traveling across the country, but only in 1955, at the age of 52 did he buy a fledgling restaurant chain and develop it into the largest, most influential fast food chain in the world.

Ronald Reagan, a not so successful movie actor in Hollywood, was first elected as governor of California at the age of 61. In 1981, at the age of seventy, he became US president and served in office for a full eight years.

Winston Churchill was 65 when he first became prime minister and led England to her greatest victory in World War II. And Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa at age 76, after 28 years in prison, that didn't do any harm to his intellectual abilities.

Politicians and business men are not the only ones who have achieved greatness at an old age. Geoffrey Chaucer, an English author, poet and philosopher, best remembered for "The Canterbury Tales", wrote it between ages 54 and 61. And Goethe, a German writer who is considered one of the key figures of German literature, accomplished the first part of his greatest book "Faust" at age 59, and the second part at age 83.

Let's not forget Frank McCourt, the author of the bestseller "Angela's Ashes" who began to write in his sixties, Leo Tolstoy who was writing novels into his seventies, or Michelangelo who was sculpting in his eighties. As you can see, old age is far from being the end of the road. As a matter of fact, it's only the end if we say so.

Author's Bio: 

Ilana Shoval is a single mother who became a journalist and editor in chief in two leading Israeli newspapers. Three years ago she became a web entrepreneur and advisor. She has written many articles about life coaching, self improvement and how to lead a successful life. Her website, life-coach-magazine.com, is aimed towards people who want to make life changes, and those in the process of transforming the way they think and take action in their lives.