Navigating the Mid-Career Crisis

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You hear a lot about the mid-life crisis, right? Well, what about the mid-career crisis? For a lot of folks in their 40s, it’s real. I know this because that’s who I work for. The mid and late career professional. You know who they are. Maybe it’s even you.

You’re not 25 anymore, but your competition is.  You’re not early career, but you’re not ready to retire either.

You still need to be seen as relevant and competitive. And… maybe you don’t even know what you want to anymore.

You’re 45 and you wake up one day and realize that the career you’ve been in for the last 20 years may not have ever been right for you. If this sounds familiar, then this article will be therapy for you.

First, let’s define mid-career in case you don’t know if that applies to you. Generally, if you are in your late thirties and definitely in your forties, with about 15-20 years of work experience, then you are probably mid-career. I generally start to consider people late career when they hit 50. But of course, there is no exact definition.

This is the time in people’s careers where they start to worry about two things:

  1. Whether or not they are still in the right career
  2. How easily they can get a new job (due to age bias)

Once people hit that magical age of 50, or even start approaching it, they start to worry about their ability to get a new job.

Let’s tackle the first concern really quick. It’s very normal and even necessary, I believe, to pause and take stock of where you are at when you reach the midpoint of anything, right? It’s a little progress check. I would encourage you to do this at any point in your career, but definitely when you feel you are at a crossroads or a midpoint. What you want to ask yourself here are some of the following questions:

Am I still happy doing what I’m doing?

Have my priorities in my career changed in the last few years?

What matters most to me right now? Money? Job satisfaction? Growth potential? Location? (Rank these items in terms of their importance to you.)

Does making a change feel right—right now? And don’t worry about the “how” with this question. You don’t have to know how you are going to do something when you start out. All you need to know is if you want to do it.

If you ask yourself these questions and give yourself honest answers, you’ll gain clarity on whether or not you should make a career change at this point. Your intuition is going to be of utmost importance here. And the good news is the older we get, the wiser and more aware of our intuition we tend to be. So trust yourself here. I would highly encourage you to write out your thoughts and responses here. Get it out of your brain and onto paper.

The second big concern that people start to have around the mid-career point is ageism. The older we get, the more we worry about competing against younger job seekers and overcoming biases. So, let me say this: Yes, age discrimination in the job market does exist, unfortunately. I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t. How much it really exists is impossible to even guess. Discrimination of any kind is inherently very difficult to quantify or prove. It generally starts as a thought in someone’s head and that’s pretty hard to prove in court—a thought in someone’s head.

But here’s one advantage, yes advantage, that older job seekers actually have over younger folks. The older you are the larger your professional network usually is and you should absolutely leverage that as much as possible. Relying on your network for information and referrals is going to be key in getting you through a job search or career transition at this stage.

The takeaway is essentially this: The mid-career point doesn’t have to be a rut. Use this time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished so far and celebrate that.  Resist the urge to have a lot of “should’s” in your self-talk. “I should be further along than I am.” Or, “I should be making XXX amount of money by now.” “Shoulds” which are essentially regrets and judgments on yourself, do nothing to help your cause. They only leave you feeling inadequate. Once you’ve reflected on your past, make a plan for the future.

Where you do want to go next?

What goals are still left to accomplish?

How can you take even baby steps towards those things?


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