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Chip Conley: "5 Pieces of Midlife Lingo That Will Go Viral in 2024"

January 18, 2024

An article by Chip Conley. 

With my book "Learning to Love Midlife" coming out and MEA's Santa Fe ranch campus opening, we will have a bigger stage for influencing the societal lexicon on aging. My bet is that at least one of these five words or phrases will go viral this year. Which of these do you think is most likely to go mainstream?

"Midlife chrysalis." The midlife brand is saddled with the word "crisis." Fortunately, a more life-affirming description of this stage of life can be found in the dictionary. Go to the C's, and you'll find "Chrysalis," defined as "a transitional state." When a caterpillar is fully grown, it makes a button of silk to fasten its body to a twig so that it can hang in its cocoon. Within this chrysalis, the transformational magic of metamorphosis occurs. While it's a bit dark, gooey, and solitary, it's a transition, not a crisis. And, of course, on the other side is a beautiful, winged butterfly. The U-curve of happiness shows that, after an early midlife low point of life satisfaction, life begins at 50 (another MEA phrase that might go viral). We get happier with each ensuing decade. Maybe midlife is a chrysalis for transformation. 

"Age-fluid." Denoting or relating to a person who does not identify as having a fixed age or being part of a specific generation. Someone "age-fluid" might have been called "ageless" in the past. However, that definition ("never looking old or appearing to grow old") doesn't fit this context. Today's age-fluid individual is perfectly content to be both younger and older than their chronological age. They look at ages (or stages of life) as identities or costumes that they can don or shed. We can now measure biological, cognitive, and even psychological ages, so maybe we have many ages that define us, not just our chronological age.

"Middlescence." Adolescence, as a word, didn't become popularized until a bestselling book with that name came out in 1904. Before that time, society believed that we became adults at puberty. But we now know the teen years to be a liminal space between childhood and early adulthood. While MEA didn't invent the word "middlescence" (MEA faculty member Barbara Wsxman popularized it - she has a workshop coming up Consciously Curate Your Life Feb 12-17),  it's been stuck in the ivory towers of academia, and it's ready for prime time. This word describes the liminal period between early midlife and later midlife when so many transitions are occurring: menopause, empty nest, divorce, career change, and parents dying. It's time for society to realize that middlescence needs rites of passage just like adolescence does. 

'TQ." My colleagues Kari Cardinale and Jeff Hamaoui deserve the credit for coining "Transitional Intelligence." I don't know about you, but no one ever taught me how to master change in my life. Given this lack of education, it's no wonder we're all so apprehensive about life's transitions. Midlife is a time full of robust transitions, some physical, many psychological or spiritual. And, of course, the longer we live, the more opportunities for transitions we'll have. Navigating transitions adeptly is a form of intelligence in a world where change is happening faster and faster.

"Pro-aging." Fortunately, I was given a big stage at the TED conference to talk about the "midlife chrysalis" and what it means to create a "pro-aging" society. There is a half-trillion annual revenue anti-aging industrial complex that wants to scare you about the effects of aging. And, yet, Yale's Becca Levy has shown that when someone moves their mindset on aging from negative to positive, they gain 7.5 years of additional life, which is more added longevity than if you stop smoking or start exercising at 50. Where are the PSAs for a pro-aging message? The subtitle of my new book tells you where my head is concerning this topic:12 Reasons Why Life Gets Better With Age.