COVID-19: A Well-Being Wake Up Call for Midlife Men

Sam Ushio
6 min readMay 12, 2020


Photo: Kelly Sikkema

If you made it this far into the article, then congratulations are in order: The other fellas didn’t make it past the title. Maybe you’re looking for reinforcement on a workout routine, confusing physical fitness with well-being. Or skimming tentatively, ready to pull the rip cord if this turns into a bunch of fluffy stuff. Regardless of why you landed here, we need your help, because midlife men need to level up in a major way.

For those well versed in sports: We’re limited by the turf toe of life. A seemingly minor injury that keeps us out of the game.

For those well versed in business: A bottleneck has disrupted the entire supply chain. We’re operating below maximum capacity impacting every critical KPI.

For those well versed in life: We’ve got more to offer.

Since starting this post, I’ve encountered the following:

  1. Yelled out the window to tell my 7-year old son to put on clothes while outside.
  2. Got interrupted by multiple negotiation breakdowns over hot chocolate between my 4-year and her 85-year old grandmother.
  3. Put on headphones and turned on Tribe Called Quest to focus.
  4. Turned off Tribe because I got too caught up in the lyrics
  5. Set a timer for 10-minutes, turned on a white noise app, and closed my eyes to reset.
  6. Three minutes into the mindfulness attempt, got sneak-attacked by my daughter Face-Timing a friend. “Is your dad asleep?”
  7. And the final stop on the distraction tour: My wife asked if I’ve seen her lost phone. We’ve been in quarantine for a long, long time: “It’s somewhere in the house, Dear.”

In the words of Carl Spackler, “So I’ve got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

Photo: Getty Images

Bill Murray’s line, used too often by that co-worker, is more than just a punchline: it contains depth and wisdom. “The Lama” tells Carl his tip for caddying isn’t money, but total consciousness while lying on his deathbed. We’ll all have some version of the “life flashing before our eyes” moment. What’s in your flash so far?

What do you want to be in that flash at the end?

At the midpoint stage in life, many men (and women) float in and out of days pushing the boulder up a hill; Occasionally pausing to hit the gym, snag a drink with a buddy, or grab a game to root for the home team. But then it’s right back to the grind, pushing the boulder up that never-ending hill until you hit the cliff and see the flash moment.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why the boulder is so damn heavy and where the hill is leading you?

Ikigai is a Japanese phrase that can be interpreted as “your reason for being.” When you think about purpose, your mind may drift to the boundaries of Existential Crisis Canyon. But it doesn’t have to be that way. How would you approach the question: “What’s your reason for being today?” Suddenly, a path emerges with more clarity.

We’re living in a time-dazed world right now. “Normal” seems like a lifetime ago. Punchlines about “what day is today” stopped being funny months ago. This COVID-19 time warp unlocks a unique view into purpose, drawing clear boundaries between things you miss/don’t miss about the “old normal” and things you enjoy/don’t enjoy about the now.

Want to find your path toward purpose? Write down your immediate reactions to these questions:

A. What do I miss about my pre-Covid-19 life?

B. What do I NOT miss about my pre-Covid-19 life?

C. What do I enjoy about my present-COVID-19 life?

D. What do I NOT enjoy about my present-COVID-19 life?

Your Ikigai Roadmap should be a future filled with more of A and C and a lot less of B and D. Will you have the courage to place your bets accordingly?

Photo: Andy Li

The challenge that many midlife men face is self-awareness: We’re so emotionally-armored up that we can’t effectively show up. We were cruising down the road and an unmarked turn has suddenly appeared.

If you’re not paying attention, then you drive into the ditch.

If you’re slightly paying attention, then you slam the brakes risking a pileup behind you.

But, if you’re fully aware, then you navigate the unexpected turn with the right amount of positive stress to steer the wheel, gas, and brake accordingly. COVID-19 is an unexpected turn with many middle-aged men going into the ditch or slamming the brakes because personal well-being hasn’t been a priority.

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Ferris Bueller says, “Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.” Midlife has the potential to morph us from a Ferris into a Cameron.

Which one are you?

Right now, if you have a job and your health, then you have a choice. Many of the “barriers” exist between the ears because we’ve constructed our own limitations. The good news is that overcoming these hurdles or re-engineering the destination doesn’t require a grand declaration of life changing behavior; When we identify our path toward purpose (A/C and B/D) we’ve cleared the way to take simple, daily steps with intention.

But beware of the three well-being excuses that will attempt to knock you back to that suspiciously heavy boulder:

  1. “I don’t have time.” We have busy, demanding lives, but it’s not a time thing, it’s a priority thing. Improving personal well-being helps the people that we care about most by unlocking the ability to give them our best. A better version of you creates a better version of them which requires an alignment of actions with priorities.
  2. Well-Being isn’t “me.” Growth requires smart trade offs. At the midpoint in life, those trade offs demand a hefty toll that can tax the ego more than expected. The incentive to take action is that our timeline gets shorter with each passing year. We may try to rationalize our avoidance, but deep down we know…The biggest barrier to overcome the “that’s not me” hurdle isn’t our boss, partner, kids, or anything else: It’s us. Finding a better version means embracing well-being one step at a time.
  3. “Alright, I’m scared.” Showing vulnerability as a midlife man isn’t easy. The paradox is that courage is placed atop the midlife man’s trophy case but is grounded in raw, vulnerable authenticity, the kryptonite for many midlife men. True courage is taking a righteous step into the unknown without the confidence of knowing where it will land. And if that step is miscalculated, admit that it was wrong, learn from it, and embrace the new knowledge to take another courageous step. Listen to the people that you care about and tell them how you really feel. Find the powerful connection between courage and vulnerability. These gateway tools can chip away at that gut-wrenching feeling that may occasionally hit throughout the days.
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc

In Hoosiers, Coach Norman Dale tells the ref, “My team is on the floor” and continues play with only four players. It was crazy. Fans were livid. By keeping Rade Butcher on the bench, Coach Dale crystallized the guiding principles that served as a foundation for the team’s eventual greatness. Recognizing and committing to your guiding principles provides the confidence to take action when departing the comfort zone. It may seem crazy. Your inner critic may be livid. But the victory is worth the effort.

This is our wake-up call. Let’s take the first step.



Sam Ushio

Meaning & Money + Health & Wealth | Founder, Chief Ikigai Officer, Connect3x | Principal, Ikigai Lab