12 Nov 7 Proven ways to Deal with a Mid-Career Crisis
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates
Mid-career crisis – that oh-so familiar feeling when you feel like you’ve not just hit a dip, you’re at rock bottom. From all sides, you may feel hemmed in.
Your manager doesn’t see your true potential. You are doing far too many uninteresting things at work.
You can’t seem to keep with the flurry of ideas and projects that the younger people on the team are coming up with. Your family life doesn’t stay on an even keel for more than 24 hours at a time!
The secret of change when you experience a mid-career crisis of this sort, is not to fight the old, but to look for the new and embrace it.
Experiencing a mid-career crisis is par for the course. There will be times and stages in our careers, where we feel listless and unanchored. When a crisis like this starts rearing its head, it’s smart to do some thoughtful reflection followed by energetic new action, to get the better of it.
Here are 7 proven ways to deal with a mid-career crisis.
1. Find your mojo : Too often those stuck in a mid-career crisis keep hitching their hopes on work alone to give them that zing that they are missing in their lives. True, things may not be great at work. You may have lost out on a transfer to a project team working on something exciting, the company may be going through a rough patch, and your career growth may be collateral damage of this. But does this mean that you keep trying and focusing all your energies to make things better only at work?
What energizes you? Do more of that – even if it’s not related to work
Quite counter-intuitively, you may find that pursuing an interest or engaging activity outside work, can do wonders for your spirits and energy. Mid-career crisis can be the start of a lifelong love affair with a sport like long-distance running or cycling. Anything which can give you the ‘happy hormone’ rush can be your mojo. And once you find your mojo, your ability to tide over the mid-career crisis goes up manifold.
You could even find your mojo through something related to your workplace too, but with little immediate connection to your KRAs, like say mentoring a junior or voluntarily working on an innovation task force.
Pro tip- Before you get into a full-blown mid-career crisis, start paying attention to the things that get your mojo going.
2. Job Crafting : It’s a myth that you have to be happy at work, only doing things that you love. Even among the most passionate of entrepreneurs, who are making a living out of pursuing things they enjoy and care deeply about, they can’t be doing only the things they like 100 % of the time.
For the majority of us, when we feel like we are hitting a plateau during mid-career and not doing enough of the exciting and challenging work we would like to, the answer lies in thoughtful job-crafting.
Redesign your work to make it more fulfilling and meaningful to you
Job crafting is about taking proactive steps and actions to redesign what we do at work, essentially changing tasks, relationships, and perceptions of our jobs (Berg et al., 2007).
The main premise is that we can stay in the same role, getting more meaning out of our jobs simply by changing what we do and the ‘whole point’ behind it.
Job crafting can take many forms. First, there is task crafting, which involves altering the type, scope, sequence, and number of tasks that make up your job. Next, you can relationally craft your job by altering whom you interact with in your work. Finally, there is cognitive crafting, where you modify the way you interpret the tasks and/or work you’re doing.
To illustrate, one mid-career individual who I coached, was not quite happy with the content of his work at a large, global bank. He wanted to move into a more intellectually challenging role, while the role which he was offered required him to be more relationally oriented, which was not a natural strength for him. He liked writing and had superior presentation and communication skills. One of his secret wishes was to author a book on his experiences in the financial services sector.
Coaching him around job crafting, we arrived at a plan to put his writing and presentation skills to greater use in a way which could also help him with finding more allies and helpful relationships at the workplace. He volunteered to help colleagues, peers from other functions with their presentations – earning him relationship capital and giving him a chance to put his strengths to use.
3. Learn about the Dip and Accept It – Renowned blogger, bestselling author and marketer Seth Godin says of the dip, “At the beginning, when you first start something, it’s fun. Over the next few days and weeks, the rapid learning you experience keeps you going. Whatever your new thing is, it’s easy to stay engaged in it. And then the Dip happens. The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.”
The Dip is exactly the feeling we experience during a mid-career crisis. Knowing that you’re facing a dip is the first step to getting through it. If you can get through the dip, you will come out on the other side of the mid-career crisis. But getting through the dip requires consistent action, even turning the dip on its head to look at it as an opportunity, because only a handful of people survive the dip. All the other ways we discuss in this article are in some forms, ways to push past the dip, including finding your mojo, job crafting, pumping up the positive emotions, forging new relationships, getting coached and building a runway.
Read more about Urja – a workshop for mid-career change, a workshop specially designed to help mid-career professionals push past the dip.
4.Forge new relationships – A mid-career crisis can be shortened by actively seeking out and forging new relationships. Who is in your tribe? Who are your advocates? Who can you learn from and learn with? Who can you turn to on a bad day for advice, inspiration and a patient ear?
Contrary to what you may believe, these are not people who you’ve known for donkey’s years. Rather, you will be surprised by how you can open the floodgates to new perspectives, new mentors, advocates and advisors, if you invest enough time to seek out new people. These new relationships could be a mix of people you get to know through work and through other interests – the key is to put yourself in places where you can engineer serendipity and chance encounters with interesting and diverse people.
In fact, according to the Weak Ties theory by Mark Granovetter, Using and maintaining your socially weak ties can bring far-reaching benefits outside of your normal relationships. A strong tie is someone you know well, who shares similar interests as you do and has similar connections and friends as you have. However weak ties are people with whom you share infrequent interactions, you do not necessarily know them well. But these weak ties bring circles of networks into contact with each other and give you access into many new networks which can bring you many new perspectives and opportunities.
Find new people and networks to expand your perspectives
For instance, I coached a mid-career individual from the hospitality sector who wanted to switch out of it and into the technology domain. He did that via weak ties – by hosting a number of events where he invited people from different domains including technology to interact around a common theme. Through those events, his visibility and connection to people from the technology sector and soon he was able to tap into opportunities in that sector.
5. Get coached – Seeing what is keeping you blocked is a vital part of the strategy to beat a mid-career crisis and coaching can enable this. Working with a career or life coach, you uncover patterns of your behaviours and mindsets which may need to change if you want to get past the mid-career crisis.
One client I worked with came to me experiencing burnout at mid-career. She had a few ideas to work on afresh but had far too many doubts and misgivings about acting on them. As we worked through the coaching, her high need for perfection came to the fore as a limiting mindset which was preventing her from trying out new things and also making her set unrealistically high standards of performance of herself, causing burnout. Becoming aware of this mindset and practicing tools and techniques to let go of the perfection trap, helped her to overcome her mid-career crisis.
6.Build a runway and nurture side projects – Often a mid-career crisis is not as bad as it may appear. You still have the comfort of a stable albeit somewhat unexciting job, and you may have built up considerable career capital through the years, in the form of relationships, expertise and skills. All these can be used to build your runway – as you taxi off, this runway helps you to pick up speed and stability.
Alongside building your runway, nurture a few side projects or ideas for what you would like to do more of professionally. Don’t despair if they are not yet full-time income generators. Your mid-career crisis will come to a pass, if you can leverage your runway and side projects to launch into something new, exciting and meaningful.
7. Pump up the positive emotions – Any crisis can lead to despair and to counter this, pump up your involvement in activities which generate positive emotions. These could be wide ranging – from spending time with your pets, pursuing your hobbies, getting a good daily dose of exercise, watching comedy or mood elevating shows, spending time alone in nature….the possibilities are endless. Turning your attention away from the work related mid-career crisis to these other things, can surprisingly often revive your energies and put you in the path of attracting new and interesting opportunities.
A mid-career crisis may feel like a crisis with no solution, but most of the times, it is a portal to a better career and better future if you can approach it with the right mindsets and tools to go past it.
Kavita, an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad, brings 18 years of experience in Experiential Learning, Coaching, Personal Growth & Change. Her forte is Career Transition Coaching and Leadership Development for mid-senior individuals, helping them find success and fulfilment at work . She also teaches Career & Self Development courses at leading management institutes including IIM Kozhikode, IIM Udaipur, IIM Indore and at the IITs.