Let’s say you’re 44 and have been in you profession for over a decade. You have risen to the management ranks and by most reasonable standards are a professional success. You and your partner have a family, a home, a mortgage, car payments, the usual monthly bills, hefty family health insurance payments, one child in braces, another in music lessons, and are beginning to think about setting some serious money aside for the fast approaching higher education needs of your children.
Or, perhaps you are single, have your own version of life responsibilities and burdens, and are feeling rather cemented to your profession and job.
Unfortunately your job is beginning to feel like a bit of a drag. Not that you hate your chosen profession but there is routine to any occupation and yours is beginning to wear on you. So you start to think about your realistic options and realize at your age, level of seniority, position in the organization’s pecking order, and accumulated responsibilities, they are few in number. You feel like you are in a rut and realize that if you do nothing about it, your emotional state will turn dangerously negative with undesirable impacts on both your professional and personal life.
While the above scenario does not unfold for everyone, it happens often enough to constitute a legitimate life-challenge for a great many of us. I have seen it often in colleagues, have counseled many of them, and have reflected often on my navigation through the “professional mid-life crisis”. Because the core emotion often described by victims is one of being “trapped” or “stuck”, I believe the most important step in getting “unstuck” is simply to BEGIN DOING SOMETHING, anything that creates a sense of some positive, forward momentum.
Obviously there are a wide variety of strategies for getting unstuck. I offer the following few suggestions not as the answer but as a stimulus to get you thinking just in case this article happens to hit home at this moment in your professional life.
(1) Step back and look carefully at your current job. Many jobs offer opportunities for expanded responsibility; new avenues of endeavor that can lift your mood and expand your interest and skills. If you need permission to take on new responsibilities, ask the boss. Most bosses love this sort of initiative.
(2) If your organization is large enough, consider a lateral move to something sufficiently different to stretch you in new directions. While more pay and status which generally comes with upward movement is always nice, a lateral move is equally compensatory because it often provides the intellectual and professional stimulation required to rekindle your enthusiasm.
(3) If returning to school for a complete skill and professional retooling is unrealistic, consider your more limited training options that can add new dimensions to your current job and professional skill base. Learning something new and being able to apply that knowledge to your professional life can prove powerfully exciting and motivating when we are feeling stuck.
(4) If you conclude that your current employer is the real problem — “I just don’t want to work here anymore” — and wish to seek your employment options elsewhere, start with an honest look at your skills, strengths and weaknesses. If you find that difficult, seek professional assistance. Then open your imagination as widely as possible regarding fields of endeavor where your skills and talents have potential application. Unless the pay and benefit differences are extreme, do not let money alone be the decisive issue. I have seen some remarkable career shifts in my time but almost all involved the individual’s ability to envision themselves operating in a variety of professional fields.
(5) Finally, look beyond your job for opportunities to enrich your life experience. Although we spend a great deal of time at work, we are free to fill our personal time with activities and avocations that can more than compensate for the tedium that often accompanies a job. Feeling that we must invest all our energy, loyalty and commitment in our work is a personal decision WE make, not a necessity regardless of the organizational culture we join. Protect and enrich your free time; it can only make you better at your work.
Getting up each morning for work requires eventually removing both legs from your bed. So when you find yourself hitting that snooze button more than once and when that second leg just doesn’t want to budge, that’s a pretty good indication that something is professionally amiss. The only wrong remedy to a “professional mid-life crisis” is no remedy at all. So do something — your choice — or risk the painful toll emotional and personal stagnation can inflict on almost every aspect of your life.