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Breathing Lessons

Breathing Lessons: Redesigning the Midlife Crisis

This project was for a course called design research and strategy at IDEO New York.

While studying design research and strategy at IDEO New York, our team was given the challenge to look at the future of urban retail for a well-known online auction and shopping company.

The midlife crisis, you’ve seen it played out in movies, read about it in books, and perhaps even watched with horror as one of your own parents seemed suddenly “out of control”.  Although perceived to be a pop-cultural phenomenon and often characterized with men abandoning wives and making themselves look ridiculous pursuing younger women, shattering marriages, and buying bright, fancy sports cars, the research uncovered that this phenomenon is real, ubiquitous, and gender neutral.  2 mental health professionals were interviewed, as well as several victims, both men and women deep in the throes, as well as some who considered themselves above the fray.

Along the way some key insights were discovered woven into the dense fabric forming the tapestry of this fully loaded psycho-sexual phenomenon.  The first insight was that “Cliches abound about the midlife crisis and most of them are true.”  The other key insight was “It’s hard to know what’s important until you’re running out of time.”

Emerging from this second insight, the final outcome of the Breathing Lessons research initiative is an intervention called The Midlife Funeral.  This funeral provides you with a framework within which to pause and reflect upon your family ties, friendships, and accomplishments.  Whether initiated by you or by a friend or family member, The Midlife funeral process includes, a psychotherapist guide, consultation with a financial and legal advisor to prepare a will, and a funeral planning kit that helps the individual you’ve designated, if it’s a self-initiated process, or helps the initiating friend or family member through the process of planning this, the ultimate “after-party”.

The Midlife Funeral includes a eulogy prepared by a spouse, child, or good friend, anecdotal evidence of the life you’ve lived in the form of questions sent out with the invitations with answers prepared in advance by your friends and family and to be shared during the funeral.  Questions might include “what’s the stupidest thing ______ has ever done”, “if  _______ were an animal he/she would be . . . “, and “I love ______ because . . .”.  All of these artifacts are recorded into your Midlife Funeral Book that you’ll receive at the end of it all to organize and preserve the learning and reflection.  Your psychotherapist guide will help you process your past accomplishments, filter them through the feedback of your friends and family, and use these insights to build a bridge into the second half of your life and a pathway forward into the future.

Although popular belief seems to see this as a crisis to be avoided, there’s hope in the ashes and a discovery that among all the soul searching triggered by entering the second “half” of one’s life, it could well provide opportunities for all manner of positive growth and change.  If only you can just remember to breathe.