The Breaking Point How Today's Women Are Navigating Midlife Crisis

Sue Shellenbarger

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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Provocative, insightful, and resonant, The Breaking Point is an important, unique, and controversial work in the tradition of The Second Shift. Indeed, this groundbreaking study both identifies and explains a phenomenon poised to redefine our culture—namely, the generation of middle-aged women now radically changing their lives in search of greater fulfillment.

In an extension of her award-winning Wall Street Journal Work & Family column, Shellenbarger here charts and captures this trend by combining original research data and interviews with more than fifty women who have navigated their own midlife crises. Long stereotyped as the province of men, today the midlife crisis is actually reported with greater frequency by women. What brought this paradigm shift about? Emboldened by the financial independence to act on midlife desires, exhausted by decades of playing super-mom and repressing the feminine sides of themselves to succeed at work, women are now shedding the age roles of the past—as The Breaking Point accessibly explains—in favor of new pursuits in adventure, sports, sex, romance, education, and spirituality.

This study goes beyond defining a new phenomenon to show how and why the various options women use to cope with the turmoil of midlife—from playing it safe to dynamiting their lives—profoundly affect their families, careers, and our culture at large.


Praise for The Breaking Point

"[The Breaking Point] suggests that the national conversation is about to have a hot flash."—Time
"Every once in a while you read a book that transforms you. Like the shift of a kaleidoscope, it reconfigures your view of life's journey. This is such a book. It may stimulate you to change directions, perhaps even enable you to find life's greatest joy: fulfillment. An invigorating read."—Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love
"When Shellenbarger wrote about her midlife crisis in one of her Wall Street Journal 'Work & Family' columns, reader response was overwhelming. So she decided to investigate those 'psychological and spiritual upheavals [that] have been mistaken for menopause symptoms and reduced to a biological phenomenon.' Relying on interviews with 50 women between their late 30s and mid-50s and four studies of aging—and heavily indebted to a Jungian perspective—this catchy work is tailor-made for the '36% of women who will eventually have what they regard as midlife crises' (and it's right up the Oprah and Dr. Phil alley, too). Shellenbarger delineates six archetypes: the Adventurer, the Lover, the Leader, the Artist, the Gardener and the Seeker, who meet the crisis through six modes of transition (Sonic Boom, Moderate, Slow Burn, Flameout, Meltdown and Non-Starter). Contrary to popular wisdom, Shellenbarger says, 'the vital juices of joy, sexuality, and self-discovery are bubbling within, more powerfully and compellingly than ever' at midlife. The Artist might rediscover her creativity; the Gardener, who 'focuses deeply on the elements of the life she already has,' might look for ways to revitalize old interests. The road to personal growth can be bumpy, Shellenbarger writes (and sometimes it's hard to distinguish it from 'the path to perdition'), but her book offers an illuminating guide."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Careening down a mountain on an all-terrain vehicle, I struggle for control as my ATV bounces off ruts and roots. A teenage friend leading the way on his dirt bike waves his hand in a "Slow down!" signal.
I ignore him. At 51, I am hell-bent on adventure.
Grazing the trunk of a Douglas .r big enough to halt a speeding Humvee, I make a turn on two wheels and hit the throttle. I am invincible. Ageless. Mindless, I might add, of the fact that with scant experience on mountainous terrain, I am like a grenade with the pin pulled, moments from certain
Read the full excerpt


  • Sue Shellenbarger

  • Sue Shellenbarger is the creator and writer of the Wall Street Journal's Work & Family column. The former chief of the Journal's Chicago news bureau, Shellenbarger started the column in 1991 to provide the nation's first regular coverage of the growing conflict between work and family, and its implications for the workplace and society.



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