For the last several months I have been experiencing something, first in the background and now very much in the foreground, and that thing is what many people would describe as a midlife crisis, although it doesn’t feel so much like a crisis mode and is in fact both exciting and exhausting, and fun and terrifying, and lots of other things.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about it, because I sort of thought I had already had my midlife crisis when I dramatically quit my career in my early 30s to TAKE A PRINCIPLED STAND and CHANGE THE WORLD and that from then on I would be sailing off into the sunset.

But life doesn’t work that way, I guess.

It feels like there is a default picture of a midlife crisis (or I have one in my head) as something experienced by a Straight White American Man™ turning 40 or 50 who goes out and buys a red sports car because he’s balding and gaining weight and society has told him those are Bad Things that he has to compensate for.

I don’t see myself in that picture… but I do relate to the underlying feelings of inadequacy and a dull sense of slow impending doom about not having accomplished enough by XYZ milestone in life, and feeling like my body is changing without my approval.

What my midlife crisis looks like:

Feelings of inadequacy and a dull sense of slow impending doom

This is a very different feeling than the insecurities of my teens and twenties, which was more about worrying what other people think. I mostly got over that in my early 30s (though I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to worry about what people think, I’ve just narrowed it down to worrying about what the important people in my life think and forgetting about everyone else).

Maybe “inadequacy” isn’t even the right word for it, because it implies a deficit or something missing. On the contrary, in many ways I feel like I have everything I thought I would have wanted at this point in my life, even having surpassed my wildest dreams in some ways, and I am grateful every day for what and who I have in my life. I have family and friends who I care about and who care about me, and a partner who is my ride or die. I have a job where I get to do things that I do well and actually enjoy, that pays me money (in American dollars!) to do things I do well and actually enjoy. (I can even do it in my pajamas from home at times. How lucky can one guy be?!) If I have a need for some physical object or product, I can pretty much get it fairly easily. I have time to pursue hobbies and interests outside of work.

And yet!! I feel even more pressure to do something Great with a capital G and that something is missing but I am not sure what. I also have been ingrained from my childhood and upbringing to believe that I should always be grateful for what I have, but that wanting more means that I am ungrateful and don’t deserve what I have (we can talk more about that later but spoiler alert, I was raised by immigrants), and there’s an inner voice somewhere saying that I am being both boastful and ungrateful but having these thoughts.

In recent years I have been teaching myself to embrace and reframe such conflicting feelings. Seemingly opposite feelings can coexist in one brain, and sometimes just changing the BUT to an AND makes it feel more kind to myself than conflicting: I feel lucky for what I have, BUT I still want more versus “I feel lucky for what I have, AND it’s valid for me to want more in some areas of my life and to continue self-improvement.” It can also sometimes be paralyzing.

I admit I may be a bit histrionic in characterizing this feeling as one of slow impending doom. Speaking of conflicting feelings, it is both that (scary) AND also kind of exciting. I guess the unknown is often scary and exciting.

Feeling like my body is changing without my approval

At my most recent annual doctor’s visit, my primary care physician notified me that I would need screening mammograms starting next year after I turn 40.


(Pan to the protagonist, who looks directly at the camera with wide eyes, “mAmmÔgRam” echoing and repeating at 0.25x speed on the audio track)

We also talked about menopause (“mENopäu$e”) and routine colon cancer screening (“c0LonóScoPy”), both of which are also on the horizon for me, and it was all kind of overwhelming. I believe there’s a trope about previously healthy adults starting to complain about health and health problems after a certain age, and I have to say (agnostic of me previously working in healthcare and caring for sick people, which I think is a slightly different beast than what Im referring to here)… I get it. It’s all true. You young people DO take your youth and health and good looks for granted and my lower back DOES hurt at baseline now and I AM farting more for no reason and get your damn skateboards off my lawn!

My lipid panel and hemoglobin A1c were also the worst they’ve ever been, though when I say “worst they’ve ever been” I mean they were still within the normal range and as a friend very astutely put it, it’s like my blood work has always been an A+ and now that it’s an A–, that’s what’s really bothering me… but it did scare me enough that I hard pivoted to an entirely plant-based diet. For about four days. Then I realized that I enjoy all types of food too much for that to be sustainable—but in the past few months I have been more intentional about consistently eating more plant-based meals (at least one a day), and while I still indulge in my favorite comfort foods (I did not write a whole love letter to sandwiches just to break up with them a month later!!!!), I definitely try to savor them more and make it more special than just “hey, it’s Tuesday, how about a fried chicken sandwich and a hot dog to round out the day?”

I also learned, in an internet research black hole, that it turns out that dietary cholesterol does NOT really meaningfully affect lipid levels for most people, or at least in the ways that doctors used to tell patients (and the ways that I remembering being taught in medical school), which added insult to injury because then I was like, “Great, I’m so old that even SCIENCE is different now.”

Anyway, reckoning with my health and overall wellness1 has also been especially weird for me because I happen to look significantly younger than my age due to my Asian ethnicity, compounded by a mild obsession with sun protection for the past ~15 years, and a penchant for backpacks and sweatpants. So it feels strange to feel “old” internally but be clocked as a “young person.” I went to a basketball game at Barclays Center a few months ago and ordered an $18 beer and two equally overpriced water bottles and got carded2 and when I showed him my ID he kind of did a double take at my birth year and said “wow… you’re… doing really well” and I said thanks, but in my head I was thinking “Sir. I need two waters to offset the effects of this ale, I am paranoid about my cholesterol and I am going to need a mammogram next year.” When I was in Copenhagen for leisure checking into a hotel and the Danish Gen Z’er behind the front desk checked my passport, she also did a double take and said “Wow! You are from 1984?!” and I was like “(well I didn’t time travel in a Delorean or anything but) yes, I’m turning 40 next year, can you believe it?” and she said “No! That’s sick!”

I’m definitely not complaining about looking younger than my age especially because in Western culture it is more of a benefit than a disadvantage, that I will milk for as long as I possibly can, but I do also have a particular fear as a woman that I will be forgotten and ignored because I see it happening to women (in broad strokes as a culture, not necessarily totally pervasive in every scenario). And I also have a particular sadness as a queer Asian woman that I have never really had role models for what older versions of me look like, both literally as in do they exist and in the sense of what do their lives look like.

If you relate to any of this or have crossed the threshold over 40 and have any perspective to share with me, especially if you also don’t see yourself in “traditional” pictures of midlife crises, I would really welcome it! I’m reachable on Mastodon at @rjkwon and via email at

  1. I started seeing a therapist earlier this year too, and believe it or not this novel I’m writing now is a FRACTION of what I talk with him about) ↩︎

  2. …and before you tell me that he was carding EVERYBODY, he was not, he was definitely profiling, although I wasn’t mad about it because he was just doing his job ↩︎