I know quite a few people who seem to be having mid-career crises at the moment. They're all in their mid-30s and worked their socks off in their 20s by regularly doing late nights, not taking time off, and spending numerous weekends in the office. Usually, they have an end-goal in mind: to gain a promotion or to make more money. However, I’ve discovered that, when these people finally achieve what they set out to, they're not always satisfied.
I have a friend who I was at college with who seemed to "have it all." She got a first-class honors at law school, landed a coveted training contract at a prestigious law firm, and was earning an eye-watering amount before I’d even decided what to do for a living. For the next 10 years, she slogged her guts out, and finally made Partner at her firm at the beginning of last year.
You’d think she’d be overjoyed – this is what she’d been working toward for all this time. But, while she was pleased, the overriding feeling she had was emptiness. “I looked at my life, and I had achieved everything I’d wanted to, but I still felt like something was missing,” she said. “It was only when I made Partner I realized that, while I was busy climbing the corporate ladder, many of my friends had got married, had children, or taken up hobbies that they felt passionate about. Yes, I had the designer clothes, the penthouse and the fancy car, but was I fulfilled by my work-heavy life? Not at all.”
She asked her firm for a sabbatical, and went travelling for six months to take stock of her life. This made her realize how what she thought she valued – status, money and material things – didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. So, when she came back, she quit her high-paid job, sold her car and flat, and took a charity job giving legal advice to people on low incomes. And, even though she’s not got the status or the money she once had, she now works for an organization with values in line with her own, and in a job that fulfills her in a way that her previous one never could.
Many of you suggested taking time to reflect on your values, and to think about what it is that you really want from your career. On Twitter, @dcbargabus said, "Look inward and really ask if this is what you want. If not see it as an opportunity." Similarly, @MattCBannister suggests that you "Work out what makes you get up and go into work with that buzz, which says you're going to have a great day!"
On Facebook, Omneya Al-Saied Habaka recommends consulting a career development coach to "reassess your career goals, values, interests, and motivation skills." Omneya also uses the Wheel of Life, which is a great tool to help you identify which areas of your life you devote your energy to, so you can see which ones you need to work on.
Another approach comes from @De_Profundis who says, "Change your perception of what you are doing and how you do it." I think this is a really interesting one, because the way we think about our work has a huge impact on what we get from it. Most people want to know that their work has meaning – that it helps someone else or makes the world a better place. And when they understand the deeper purpose behind their work, they are likely to be more satisfied and productive. Check out our article on finding purpose in your work for more ideas on this.
And, of course, if you decide it’s time for a career change and you want to gain some new skills, you can always take a leaf out of @FulcrumLearning’s book by "getting back into learning: MBA, MA, or something totally unrelated. There is real power in new learning."
Thanks for all of your comments – it was a pleasure to read through them! If you have any personal experience of overcoming a mid-career slump, we’d love to hear from you. Please share your ideas below.
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