We’re talking all about the idea of a mid-career crisis this week on Episode 124 of Productivity Paradox, so I want to know… How many of you have experienced a mid-career crisis of your own?
Believe it or not, it’s not a foreign concept and it’s certainly not one that is gender-specific, or specific to any particular career, job, or responsibility that fills up the majority of our days. Rather, it’s a commonality that, research has shown, all of us eventually go through at one point or another.
And while it may sound a bit scary, particularly if you find yourself at the start of yours, it doesn’t have to be completely debilitating, nor does it have to throw us off track when it comes to our goals and other big aspirations.
So keeping that in mind, today I want to focus on exactly what we can do to overcome the discomfort that surrounds the mid-career crisis so that we can get back to focusing on what matters most: our happiness and sense of fulfillment!
But before we do that, let’s take a quick look at some of the research surrounding the mid-career crisis… because remember, it wasn’t always called this!
As mentioned before, the idea of any sort of “mid-crisis” probably brings to mind the concept of the mid-life crisis that we all, at some point or another, have heard about… but here’s the thing:
Contrary to the mid-life crisis, the mid-career crisis is about how you perceive things as they’re related to what you’re doing for your career, or for what you do in your day-to-day job, so to speak. So, whether you’re a lawyer, a student, an entrepreneur, or a stay-at-home mom (AKA the CEO of the home), it turns out that we all have the same thing in common.
Many of us experience life satisfaction in a similar pattern, and research has shown that, on average, what many people call “middle age” is considered to be the most difficult time of life. Couple that with research from economists, David Branchflower and Andrew Oswald, it turns out that our psychological well-being takes on the form of a U-shape through life.
Basically what this means is that life satisfaction over the years has a tendency to take the form of a gently curved U, with a higher level of life satisfaction in both our youth and adolescence, and then declining and reaching the bottom of the U around our mid-40s (give or take a few years), before going back up and leveling out as we get older.
This may seem a bit daunting for a post (definitely tune in to the episode this week for some more clarification!), but the thing to keep in mind about this U-shape as it relates to self-fulfillment is that the U pattern of self-fulfillment tends to be universal, meaning that it affects people around the world in the very same way without any emphasis on gender, career, and so on.
What is important to take away from this is that, no matter where you are in the U-shape of your own life – whether you’re smack-dab in the middle of it, or you’re on the other side – the peaks and valleys, the ebbs and flows of happiness, in other words, are universal. We all experience them!
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at how we can rise above when we find ourselves in the middle of our own U-shaped mid-career crisis.
When we’re faced with feelings of discomfort, no matter where we happen to be in life, it becomes super easy to lose focus on what truly matters most… And if you’ve ever experienced a particular dark or challenging day at work, then I’m sure you know what I’m talking about!
When it comes to navigating your mid-career crisis, it’s important that you remember your values. What are the things that you stand for, and what goals do you have in mind that you foresee as lending you the most success, the most happiness?
Focus on what you believe in, and remember your life’s mission – that is, the mission statement that you have created for yourself. The more you’re able to honor your values, goals and other aspirations and keep them at the forefront of your mind, the better you will feel about yourself, your career, and the direction that your life is going overall, no matter what.
(Don’t have a personal mission statement yet? Check out Episode 004 for some help in creating yours!)
On any challenging day, I will admit that this one can seem like something that is easier said than done… but it doesn’t have to be that way!
I’ve mentioned this old adage before, but it’s important to remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. And if you’re experiencing a mid-career crisis, then this is especially true.
In order to find happiness during a challenging time, it’s important that you make yourself (your happiness) a priority. One way to do this is to focus on activities that make you feel genuinely good about yourself.
Add buffers into your daily schedule and spend some of your free time each day focusing on a pet project (what is the one thing you’ve been putting off for someday?), or give yourself the R+R you need by spending time on a favorite hobby… or, better yet, take up a new hobby to keep your mind occupied during this trying time!
When life gets rough and happiness is something that you crave, reframe the way that you think about the perceived rut you’re in by focusing on the positive aspects of your life and your career that have brought you the most success and satisfaction.
Take stock of your life and focus on what’s working for you in your current situation… and definitely don’t push away something (or someone!) just because it isn’t “perfect”. Remember: Perfection is one of those concepts that we all fall in love with, but that has no concrete basis in reality.
Perfection is a myth, in other words! The more we allow ourselves to accept that perfection is a fallacy, the easier it becomes to find happiness and contentment in life, at any point.
Visualization is huge when it comes to tackling goals, which is often why I have advocated that you spend some time creating a vision board toward the end of the year, so that you can bring some intentionality to how you approach your goals and other big dreams for the brand new year that each and every one of us often looks forward to after December 31 has come and gone.
Don’t be afraid to look at your goals and aspirations when you’re faced with a challenge and truly visualize yourself getting what you want. It’s a powerful tool to use, and it’s one of the driving forces behind finding the happiness you need, whenever you need it most.
We talk about this a little bit on this week’s episode, but this is also a big idea to keep in mind when you find yourself in a rut. Stop putting other people in the driver’s seat as it relates to your own fulfillment… and start pushing yourself to take control instead.
Once you realize that you – and only you! – are in control of your own happiness and self-fulfillment, and once you accept that you have the power to get where you need to go, the easier it is to overcome and to find the happiness that you need to move forward.
Here’s the thing: Change is the one thing that you can always count on. Life, after all, is full of changes, whether we like it or not!
If you find yourself struggling day after day, year after year, in a mid-career crisis, then perhaps it’s time to take a second look at the direction your career is heading. Ask yourself if your current position and the trajectory of your career thus far is truly in alignment with your values and your goals… and be honest!
If you find that you’re struggling more than you ought to, and that your goals are continually falling to the wayside, then don’t be afraid to regroup. What would make your situation better?
If a new career path is in order, or if your goals have shifted significantly since you first created them, then don’t shy away from the (perceived) scariness that such a change can bring. After all, change is necessary to grow… and if you want to continue to grow, both as an individual and as a professional, then you need to allow yourself to be more open to change.
And remember that not all change is bad! In fact, when I consider the trajectory that my own career has taken, I’ll be the first to tell you that most changes are actually pretty darn good. I want to encourage you to keep that in mind as you continue along your own path of happiness and success!
If you’re in the middle of your own mid-career crisis, or if you’ve made it through to the other side, I want to know: What are some of the ways that you have found and maintained happiness when you’ve needed it the most? Share your experiences in the comments below…
And check out Episode 124 of the podcast to learn how you can nip some of the discomfort that a mid-career crisis can bring by learning how to fill your days up with substance instead!