Techie’s suicide reveals pain of midlife crisis

By Cui Bowen Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/21 21:56:09

Illustrations: Peter C. Espina/GT


Degrees from two prestigious Chinese universities, enviable work experience at two Chinese IT giants, two apartments in Shenzhen, a decent income and a happy family. With these, a middle-aged man is considered successful and his career and life path are the ones that most young people strive for.

However, Ou Jianxin, a 42-year-old programmer at Chinese telecom giant ZTE Corp., chose to end his life by jumping off the 26th floor of the company headquarters earlier this month. He was allegedly forced to resign from his post as a grass-roots leader and sell his shares at a lower price because of company infighting and structural adjustments.

The programmer's suicide triggered a heated discussion on Chinese social media. Some criticized the company for being too inhumane as some senior executives cut down expenses by firing the experienced staff before his contract expired. Others were skeptical about Ou's ability to accept becoming suddenly jobless and even concluded that he was fired because of being satisfied with the status quo and lacking the drive to press ahead.

Stress wrinkles, bloating bellies, receding hairlines, unkempt looks, bouts of insomnia and the love of holding a vacuum flask with hot water are the general characteristics of middle-aged men in China who are passing through a deep sense of anxiety and stress - the hallmarks of midlife crisis that plagues those between 45 and 55.

Compared with young people who have just embarked on their life journey with the luxury to enjoy freedom and singlehood, the middle-aged have a responsibility of supporting parents and kids. China's rapid growth not only delivers enormous benefits, but also increases economic and social pressures on the middle-aged. With the costs of living soaring, housing prices rising and children's education and healthcare expenditure jumping, the middle-aged are under mounting pressure, leading to deteriorating health and a lack of motivation to pursue new things in life.

A change in career development also affects this age group. Unlike young people who just finish higher education and start to walk their career path, glass ceilings and job changes trigger fear and nervousness among the middle-aged. Switching professions, whether willful or forced, is a recipe for life-stress anxiety for the middle-aged.

It is believed that Ou was choked by the unbearable pressure of unexpected job loss and his overwhelming fear of failing to support his family. As a result, he committed suicide to avoid strong anxiety, leaving his parents, wife and children to face the tragedy.

So how does one weather the critical period? My 49-year-old student is a prime example. As a senior manager of a well-established property company, he is pretty busy working every day and often goes for overseas business trips. His abilities and knowledge are now at their peak, but he keeps learning new things. I can feel his positive attitude toward life, curiosity to explore the world, enthusiasm for learning English and modesty in seeking my advice during the class. His dream of traveling around the world with his family after retirement bolsters his resolve to study English harder.

In addition, I'm deeply impressed by his fresh ideas and unique perspectives on some latest hot button issues we discuss during break or after class hours. Subjects such as artificial intelligence, mobile payment and Internet development, which generally might not be in the focus of a professional manager in the housing sector, interest him no end. His unremitting efforts to study something new every day and his way of balancing work and family life have influenced me and are an inspiration to lead a meaningful life.

For those burdened with midlife crisis, never stop learning, improve capacity to keep up with the times, develop new interests and make new friends. Be optimistic toward the outside and inner world to make each moment count.

The author is a postgraduate student of translation studies at Beijing Language and Culture University.

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