The best books to guide you through your midlife crisis

Who am I?

I’m a writer and world-traveler. But in my previous life, I was a media executive. At thirty-five years old, at the height of my career in that world, I felt an emptiness – a lack of meaning in my life. I decided to quit and retreat to a family country house in order to figure out my next steps. I soon realized that I was experiencing a full-blown midlife crisis and started reading a lot of books in order to understand my predicament. I ended up reading for four years before finally deciding to travel around the world. The following books are the ones that helped me the most; I recommend them to others who are entering this crucial period of life.

I wrote...

Destination Earth: A New Philosophy of Travel by a World-Traveler

By Nicos Hadjicostis,

Book cover of Destination Earth: A New Philosophy of Travel by a World-Traveler

What is my book about?

The book is the product of my continuous six-and-a-half-year journey around the world, during which I visited seventy countries on six continents, treating the world as if it were a single destination. While many travelers today concern themselves with destinations solely for amusement, relaxation, and entertainment, I propose a more meaningful, rewarding, and fulfilling way of viewing travel. Enriched with travel anecdotes and some of my best travel photos, the book sheds light on the relationship between Travel and Life as a whole. Ideas and experiences are interwoven into a newly created Philosophy of Travel that is practical and easy to apply.

The books I picked & why

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The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life

By James Hollis,

Book cover of The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life

Why this book?

This is the best book ever written about the midlife crisis. Although only 117 pages long, it is dense with meaning, and multiple readings are necessary to truly get the most out of it. Hollis is a Zurich-trained Jungian analyst whose thought is permeated by Jung’s theories. His writing is very beautiful and often literary. He draws from psychology, poetry, art, his own practical experience, and much more. Hollis elucidates the difference between a job and a vocation, explains the relationship between fear and growth, shows how solitude differs from loneliness, and above all, gives us the best map to transmute midlife misery into meaning. Hollis’s understanding of the human condition is astonishing.


In Midlife: A Jungian Perspective

By Murray Stein,

Book cover of In Midlife: A Jungian Perspective

Why this book?

Stein is yet another Jungian analyst who approaches the same subject from another angle. He sees the midlife crisis as pervaded by the spirit of the mischievous ancient Greek god Hermes, a renegade who suddenly appears to topple our established life before guiding us through a most important transition. The shift is from a persona-oriented to a Self-oriented life, where Self is the Jungian archetype denoting the unification of the Unconscious with the Conscious mind. To clarify his points, Stein uses a lot of Ancient Greek as well as modern literature, always returning to Jungian concepts and masterfully connecting the strands. It’s not an easy book: the language is idiosyncratic, often dense, and it may force you to check out some Jungian terms in order to understand what he is saying – but if you persevere, you will be greatly rewarded.

The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling

By James Hillman,

Book cover of The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling

Why this book?

This is not a book about the midlife crisis per se, but about discovering and following your calling – often the crux of the crisis. Hillman introduces his now-famous “acorn theory of the soul” that stands opposite to the materialistic and reductive modern psychologies. He boldly claims that he is reintroducing the lost psyche back into psych-ology! He states that each one of us is called to express our unique life by becoming what we are meant to become – the acorn must one day become the oak tree. We are not “thrown naked into the world, utterly vulnerable and fundamentally alone.” We are all born with a defining image that embodies our own idea, which is as real as the transcendent ideas of Plato. This inner image/ force/ guardian – which he calls (in Socratic fashion) our “daimon” – is what guides our life. Hillman does not use arguments to prove his theory, but rather anecdotes and references to myths, which to some may seem weak. But it is not. By the time his whole case is presented, without realizing it, you will have become one of his many disciples!

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

By Susan Jeffers,

Book cover of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Why this book?

I know that this is a bestseller written in the simplest language. And that the title is an excellent one-sentence summary of the book’s content (so why read it?). And that it sounds like a typical self-help book. But it is not by chance that this book is still read by millions thirty-five years after its initial publication. Jeffers’s concise language and seemingly self-evident maxims interspersed throughout the book take you on a journey into the deepest recesses of the soul and into the psychology that lies behind our life’s actions. Since multiple fears appear during the midlife crisis, including the major one of creating a rupture between one’s present and future life, this book is the manual for overcoming all fears that lead to inactivity and paralysis. While acknowledging the necessity of difficulties and pain in life, by showing how to transform these to our benefit, the book ends up with the most positive and uplifting message. Most books on positive thinking of the last thirty years have taken many of Jeffers’s ideas without realizing it. Some of her simplest maxims have become classic: “Whatever happens to me, given any situation, I can handle it!” My favorite from the whole book: “You must become what you want to attract. Be the kind of person you would want to surround yourself with.”

Man’s Search for Meaning

By Viktor Frankl,

Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Why this book?

This timeless classic is an inspiration for all stages of life, and it was invaluable during my midlife crisis. The book is in two parts. The first addresses the author’s experience in a concentration camp and the second presents “logotherapy,” Frankl’s psychoanalytic theory that considers the search for meaning to be the primary driving force in our life. During my midlife crisis, the following passage hit me like a thunderbolt: “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.” Most importantly, Frankl’s meaning is not to be found within one’s own psyche, but rather in the external world in three possible ways: by creating a work; by experiencing something or loving a person or a cause; and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. Man is immersed in the world, and finding meaning must be related in some way to that world.

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