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Why a mid-life career crisis can be good for you

by Shannon Walsh


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Rather than ‘staying safe’ and potentially feeling unfulfilled in your work, a career switch – however late – might give you the spark to achieve much more.

It wasn’t long ago that you chose your profession, found a job, inched your way up the career ladder and stuck with it until you retired 40 years later. Times have changed and the idea of a job or career for life is increasingly anachronistic. 

If you feel like your job has become a chore and you need a change, you’re not alone. Two thirds of baby boomers and Generation X-ers are thought to be disengaged, turning up only to get paid, and feeling utterly unfulfilled. 

So why is a mid-life career switch more common now? 

You’ll find employees of any age who are unhappy with their jobs but mid-lifers seem to feel it more acutely. There’s no doubt that the loyalty once experienced between employer and employee has been eroded. Having worked through one, or maybe two, recessions they may have been made redundant or seen their colleagues leave them due to restructuring. And the slow extinction of final salary pensions has also diluted the financial incentive of staying with one employer. 

After working their way up the career ladder, they may feel that patronage to one employer is no longer the rewarding option or even that they want to embark on an entirely new career direction. 

Added to that is the simple fact people are living longer, wanting more and are willing to change their entire focus to achieve it. Disruptive factors affecting the job market, such as globalisation, zero-hours contracts and the ever-present risk of redundancy in a volatile economy, have also made change inevitable.

Consequently, people are more likely than ever to make a career switch. According to Scottish Widows, today’s workers will make, on average, two career course corrections during their lifetime. 

People are also healthier than ever before and therefore able to work far longer. This, combined with the increase in state pension age, means many 20-somethings will be expected to work until they’re in their 70s. 

Why it’s good to step back and evaluate your career 

You probably started out in your career with youthful enthusiasm and relishing the challenge. But as we grow older work can become more routine which can take its toll. Before you know it, the career you once loved and lived for can become something you dread. Taking time to evaluate where you’re at and where you want to go can breathe new life into your career or make you you realise it’s time to alter course. For some people, you might even decide upon a total career change. 

Is your job and ultimately your career still making you happy? Why are you doing the job you do? Are you learning, are you progressing? Does it play to your strengths? Do you enjoy what you do any more or do you feel like you’re going through the motions? These are all really good questions that you should ask yourself when looking at what you do. 

Same career, different direction or complete transformation? 

Many of us have dreamed of dramatic mid-life career changes – the city banker who becomes a holistic therapist, the bus driver who becomes a barrister. And there are plenty of famous examples too. Former US president Ronald Reagan was originally an actor, Elvis Costello was a computer programmer and comedian Harry Hill trained and worked as a doctor. 

But in reality, when there are bills to pay and families to look after, making a dramatic change is not always possible. Sometimes your mid-life career change might be more of a pivot. 

As a seasoned professional, you’ll have a good idea at this point what your strengths and weaknesses are and can plan accordingly what you want to do, making sure it plays to your strengths. A shift from a permanent job to an interim management role with lots of variety can be all you need to inject new life into your career. It can give you: 

  • Wider variety and better job satisfaction 
  • Greater flexibility 
  • More control over career direction 
  • New challenges 
  • Better remuneration 

Why it can be good for you 

If you’re in the throes of a mid-life career crisis, or even just a little bit of mid-life ennui, don’t despair. 

You could be happier – If you have fully reflected upon what you’re currently doing and what you’d like to do and decided you want to change, then it could be a great move. Doing what makes you happy rather than sticking to a safe job can give you a strong sense of fulfilment and purpose. 

Cognitive health – As we grow older Mother Nature, rather annoyingly, makes it tougher for us to learn new skills and adapt to new working cultures. But studies have shown, despite the pain of learning something new long after you’ve left school, it can help preserve brain cells in the area associated with memory. 

Wellbeing – Workers who are not engaged are more likely to experience stress which can affect health. In one report, 54% of disengaged workers said stress was having a negative impact on their health and wellbeing compared to 17% of people who were engaged. 

Longevity – Enjoying your job can give you a sense of purpose and research has shown those with a sense of purpose are more likely to live longer and avoid a number of degenerative diseases. 

We may all be living longer and working longer but life is still short. Make sure you’re doing something that matters to you. 

This article was originally published in The MJ.

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