Previously, I've been writing about mid-career crises (see related blogs below) and what researchers have termed the "Happiness U-Curve." There's a dip in life and career satisfaction at middle age, then an increase as we grow older. Ah, there is research to fuel our optimism.
Subsequent research revealed this age-related curve in job satisfaction is part of a much broader phenomenon. A similar midlife nadir is detectable in measures of people’s overall life satisfaction and has been found in more than 50 countries.
The U-curve tells a more accurate tale of what happens midlife and mid-career. It’s not a story of chaos or negative disruption, but of a difficult—yet natural—purpose-driven disruption and transition to a new equilibrium.
Just knowing the phenomenon is common can be therapeutic and fuel for optimism. Princeton University health economist Hannes Schwandt cites a feedback effect: “Part of your disappointment is driven by the disappointment itself.” I find that point so intriguing that I want to delve deeper.
Understanding the U-shaped curve allows us to recognize midlife as challenging, yet ultimately gratifying. We are wise to resist judging ourselves harshly for feeling disappointed. We can avoid making bad decisions that potentially lead to midlife relationship breakups and career catastrophes.
The Other Side of Midlife
Fortunately, most of us avoid upending our lives at the first signs of midlife dissatisfaction. As noted earlier, only 25% of us even admit to experiencing a crisis. I am curious about what happens to the 75% who may feel dissatisfied at midlife and don’t do anything about it? Are they in denial or suffering in silence? Are they more resilient or simply more mature?
Freud described two requisites for sanity: work and love. What happens when work and love lose their sparkle, as often occurs in midlife?
Work carries a large, invisible burden: the presumption and expectation that our work will provide our lives with meaning and energize our spirits. Sometimes it does. By midlife, however, we may find that work is more likely to be unfulfilling and draining.
The ego tends to prefer security over development. Heed ego too closely and you may wind up with neither. Is our perception of "security" real? Perhaps our obsession with security holds us back from enjoying the full spectrum of life.
At midlife, most of us feel the need to rethink our priorities. Unfortunately, we often avoid this task and succumb to fear. Somehow, fear is more comfortable than the risk associated with disruptive action. We may view change in this phase of our life and/or career as threatening and we don’t want to risk losing our hard-earned stability. We may also fall prey to emotional overwhelm that affects our capacity and capability for effective problem-solving and decision-making.
Finding a Role Model
I am fortunate to have two wonderful role models for reassessing work and life in this midlife phase. One perpetuated by a personal choice to let go of the pressures and stress associated with her career track. The other triggered by the onset and recovery from cancer.
- A friend and executive initiated her own disruption at midlife and midcareer by devising a plan to resign from a senior-level position that was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining; sell her executive home; and move to a coastal part of Canada to enjoy a lifestyle that integrated fulfilling work and a healthy lifestyle. Disruption followed by elegant execution of her plan provided opportunities to design the life she allows wanted.
- A successful sales professional reassessed her priorities after cancer treatment and then designed her exit from a toxic work environment to launch her own business that provides self-directed security, fulfillment, and opportunities for professional development that have given her a new measure for peak performance. We now share a strong bond and actively champion one another personally and professionally.
What about you? Are you a role model for midlife and mid-career disruption and transition. Please do share your story as it will add to the growing optimistic approach to disruption and transition at midlife and mid-career.
Finding a Champion.... An Accredited Coach
If you are currently reassessing your work and life at midlife or mid-career, I strongly recommend finding a champion of your own. Accredited coaches who specialize in this transition are great champions. Look for a coach who is certified in Emotional Intelligence. You can find a coach on the International Coach Federation (ICF) website - "Need Coaching?". Or, contact me. I would love to hear from you and assist you in finding the best coach for you. I refer only to world-class coaches who are my trusted colleagues.
- Rinse and Repeat - A Midlife Crisis Narrative
- Mid-Career Challenges - Crisis or Opportunity?
- Set a New Direction: Re-evaluate Your Values and Update Your Identity to Re-Ignite Your Mojo
- When Your Drive is Going Nowhere, Engage Your Values
- Re-Ignite Your MOJO. Make Your Work More Meaningful and Fascinate the World Around You
- Help! I Lost My MOJO