Reimagining Discontent

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“Discontent breeds lifelong change.”

(Sarah Ban Breathnach)

Not So Much Midlife, Not So Much Crisis

“I think I’m having a Midlife Crisis!”

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard clients speak those words since I first started in clinical practice in 1999. My first question has typically been, “Why does it have to be a crisis?”

Over time, I’ve come to understand that this awakening process can happen at any stage of adult life. It used to occur most often in midlife, but the entire landscape of human development has now changed. We can hit a wall where we ask, “Is this all there is?” at any age and any stage. Discontent starts popping up like weeds all over the landscape of our lives. Marriage? Disappointing. Career? Unfulfilling. Lifestyle? Boring.

Discontent discontent discontent.

It seems so threatening.

Pop Quiz

My longer time readers are well acquainted with my soap box speech about should, have to and must. Here’s a pop quiz: How many of these limiting assumptions do you see?

  • I have to stay in my current job on these current terms.
  • I need to stay in my industry because this is where I have the best credentials.
  • I have to keep doing the same things I’ve always done, the way I currently do them.
  • I must support my family the way I currently do.
  • I should be content with my intimate relationships as they are.
  • I must live where I live and how I live.

How many more can you spot?

When we accept that there really are no shoulds, have to’s and musts, we are freed up to listen to what our discontent might be telling us. That is the creative force that can push us to recreate our lives in a way that makes more sense with who we are today, and where we want to be tomorrow.

Shifting Paradigms

In the previous century, a lot of people did the things they did because it was what was expected of them:

Go to school.

Find a career.

Get married.

Work at a job for most of your adult life, likely with the same company.

Have children.


Do old people things if you still have the energy and money for them.


Most people did this in the span of 70-ish years. 50-something was old, working toward retirement.

If your marriage wasn't so hot, you wouldn't be around to deal with it much longer. Why rock the boat? If your job was tedious or had gotten boring, you’d do best to suck it up and count your paychecks. If you’re lucky, you'll have a pension that, combined with Social Security, will assure you have a roof over your head. If you aren’t so lucky, you at least had Social Security. While it wasn’t a whole lot of money, it could be enough. Just stick with it long enough. Why rock the boat?

This world no longer exists. It’s time to rock some boats.

Life Now, and Discontent

Recent studies show that Americans will change jobs about 12 times in their lifetimes. We stay with an employer, on average, just over 4 years. Our orientation toward work was entirely different in the 1950’s. Statistics are hard to find, but it seems from the narratives that both white and blue collar workers in the 1950s generally worked for one employer throughout their adulthood, with some exceptions for those who completed a stint in the military first.

The average life expectancy for Americans in 1950 was 68.14 years. This is just over 3 years past Social Security retirement age at that time. Our current life expectancy is 79.25. Full Social Security retirement age is currently around 67 years, (varying based on when someone was born.) Unless the federal government enacts new legislation, there will be a 20% decrease in how much a retiree will receive beginning in 2033. (Lucky me! That’s the year I turn 67.) Most people can't tolerate sitting around waiting to die for 12 years.

This invites us to an entirely different orientation toward living.


Challenging discontent can be scary. What if I tell my spouse I hate our life? What if they leave me? Yes, this is a possibility. The raw truth is that if you stay in the relationship on terms that don’t honor you, your dishonored parts will become fiercely lonely as they are ignored in the relationship. That part of you is already not married to your spouse.

Hungry souls steal their food without regard for consequences. Many people approach the challenge by trying to pretend they aren’t hungry in order to avoid blowing up their lives. It’s not sustainable. Ultimately they blow up their lives anyway, but do it badly, unconsciously, recklessly, in ways that cause devastating harm to others.

Doesn’t it make more sense to have candid conversations with a partner and invite them to think through creative alternatives together? I mean, what if they say yes? What if they say, “Thank you! I’m not happy either! Let’s create something new together!” If they don’t, we will at least have the opportunity to design separate lives in a way that is loving, respectful, authentic and kind. What is more likely is that you will meet one another in the middle and grow your relationship as a result.

What if I quit my job and I can’t put something better together? This is certainly a possibility. If you stay on a job you hate you are highly unlikely to be at your nest. When the winds inevitably change and the layoffs come, you are going to lose that job anyway. How much smarter is it to work out a conscious plan on your own terms and keep moving in that direction?

Is This All There Is?

Only if you believe in should, have to and must. Otherwise, listen underneath your discontent.

Imagine that the message you hear is “I want to live on a boat!” Living on a boat may end up being untenable considering all of your goals. What is it about living on a boat that matters to you? The ability to work remotely? Access to water-community living? Some space that is just for you and gives you some breathing room from your family? The chance to be more outside than inside? I can think of countless ways to honor those desires without actually living on a boat.

Ask the questions. Say the hard things. Be authentic in your answers. Get creative. Embrace your discontent and choose your life!


Looking for some support in embracing the creativity that comes from discontent? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s listen together and come up with a plan.