Some people age gracefully, some don’t. A good example of one of those that don’t is Bobby Petrino. He was a highly successful, and highly paid head football coach at Arkansas University. In many ways, he could be considered at the peak of his football coaching career. Earning several millions of dollars a year as a major university football coach is a dream only a very few achieve. But that wasn’t enough. He had an affair with a woman, Jessica Dorrell, who was less than half of his age. He paid her tens of thousands of dollars. He gave her a peach of a job. These were the type of actions Petrino knew would get him fired if he got caught. So why did he take such high risks? One clue is his age: 51 years old.
In their 40s and 50s, people frequently experience a midlife crisis. During this age, individuals are starting to come to terms with their own mortality. If death is close anyway, why not take some risks and live a little? There is this search for a deeper meaning to life. And with the midlife crisis comes a new source of stress that must be relieved.
Many people will engage in new adventures, reaching out in their search for answers. Often, this will result in great satisfaction and a more meaningful life. A change in career may do this, or travel, or learning a new language can all become positive expressions of a midlife crisis. But others will take a more dangerous, and ultimately empty road. Instead of searching for meaning, there is a search for a quick fix, a mindless release of stress. Take for example the middle aged man who has a high risk affair with a woman less than half his age. The illicit affair may bring a thrill, and the physical contact may relieve stress, but the result is disaster. Instead of finding meaning, the result is a painful emptiness.
A better path to resolving the midlife crisis is to take it head-on with deep, personal reflection. Recognize it when it arrives. Accept it. Embrace it. Then intentionally funnel that renewed energy, that desire to take some risks, into a positive direction. Learn a new skill, take on a more satisfying job, or travel somewhere exotic.
Petrino didn’t have the insight to understand he was going through a midlife crisis. Instead of recognizing it, he simply released his stress through physical intimacy. No insight. No personal growth. Rather, his response to the crisis was psychological regression and cheap physical thrills which destroyed his career. Maybe now the newly unemployed Bobby will take time to examine his life, and find some answers. I’m sure he will find this search to be infinitely more exciting than a reckless college fling.