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Mid-life Career Blues!

Met a former colleague last evening; it was raining in Cochin and temperatures had dropped. Our thoughts gravitated towards something to warm us up … and there was a convenient watering-hole nearby. After we settled down with a bracing drink in hand the conversation veered towards work.

“Boss, I have been thinking about a change for a while now; when I suggested this meeting the idea was to discuss a few things with you.”

“What’s the rush? You have been in this job for just 2 years and I would guess that things are going pretty much okay” I said.

“There is nothing wrong as of now. Things are going smooth – but that is my problem. It’s just too smooth. There is no excitement in what I am doing now. To make things worse there was a change in leadership and the new Head hardly interacts with me. He just tells me to do the usual. The previous man used to call me in for discussions regularly and if there was a lull in my main activity he would ask me to tag along with one of his Junior Managers for some on-the-job training. That was nothing great but there was variety, a break from the drab routine. Now I hardly have to think; am just whiling away my time.”

Career Stall … This happens to many professionals.

- They fall into a rut

- Work stop being energising and challenging

- They find no meaning in what they are doing

- They are convinced that there is no further upside in their present pursuit

- They feel ignored and sidelined

- They fall sick or feel demotivated – reasons to avoid going to work!

This usually happens to professionals who have not been able to reach the levels they had set for themselves earlier. At the same time they see former peers now working at levels above them. And their present job has become monotonous. It’s a self-damning cycle fuelled by one’s own imagination.

How does one come out of this rut, this downward spiraling cycle?

There are two ways to tackle this – either by recalibrating and pushing for more from your present line of activity (low risk) or by find a totally new line (high risk).

Option-1

  1. Assess your priorities
  2. Set goals – maybe after studying options available in the market
  3. Do a SWOT analysis for yourself
  4. Find out what’s needed to plug gaps in your portfolio – get re-equipped
  5. Maybe you need a Coach or Mentor to guide you during this phase
  6. Be bold and decisive about making the change
  7. Network and speak with people about your requirement – be assertive!
  8. Keep yourself in the limelight and get noticed when there are promotions planned
  9. Be on the lookout for opportunities in other organisations

 

Option-2

This is the riskier option – like they say in TV Series Startrek “Going places where no man has ever gone before!” It’s definitely a place where you have never gone before.

This is like trying your Option-B first. It should be an area that has interested you greatly – you are in Sales and wish to become a full-time Musician. Maybe you have been pursuing this line as a hobby (you sang at parties, did couple of gigs with other friends at a local club) and some close friend of yours is in that line of activity and doing well.

I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have proven strengths in the new line of activity or have someone who will actively promote you.

Remember that others have their own lives and careers to pursue and they may not have time for you. There are friends or business associates who promise “in blood” that their support will always be there with you and would disappear when it’s time to pitch in. So do not jump in blindly! Do it if you have the personal financial back-up or an assurance of support from your immediate family – it will be amazing if you have a spouse who is working and can temporarily help in tiding over the period of reduced income. After all the bills will not stop coming just because you decided to make a career change. Companies don’t work that way, unfortunately.

I recommend the following strategy:

  1. Be absolutely sure what line you want to pursue next.
  2. Practice the new activity while you are still in your job.
  3. Get assignments that you can do on weekends or by taking time-off from work
  4. If you can get paid assignments it would be a great confidence booster
  5. Create a portfolio or a body of work that can be showcased
  6. Get recommended by the leading voices in that field
  7. Get trained or coached to become a competent practitioner of that skill
  8. Decide to quit your job only when you have a regular set of clients
  9. Minimise your risk by reducing your financial commitments
  10. Having a nest-egg will be a definite plus – reduces stress.

Mid-career blues happens to most professionals – it impacts the hot-shots as much as it impacts the average ones. It could be due to unhappiness with the current job, a loss of self-worth or a feeling of being stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Stop yourself from plunging headlong into desperation and doomsday scenarios by constantly upgrading yourself, getting involving in interesting assignments, making your a valuable resource. Think and behave like a high-flyer.

During this phase it is important to surround yourself with people who help you focus on the positives and for you to have implicit belief in your capabilities!

Keep the engines of your professional life revved all the time – never permit it to shut down and get you into Career Stall!

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  1. Clifford
    June 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm | #1

    Hi. I have come across some of my friends too with the similar scenario. My perspective is – This type of crisis is more to do with the mindset than the work environment around. I guess you can call it “fatted”. You’ve got to get up and make it happen. “The more you sit in your office, the more useless you become” says Jack Welch. The company that I work in has a very senior person who is the COO. Now you’d expect him to sit in his grand office and call it the shots. Contrarily he is of a different kind, the type who moves around and get things working. You will find him in the Ops area, the IT production room, the call center and just about everywhere his team is spread. Passion!! I guess thats the need of the hour, be it your workplace, the hobbies you pursue or in the playground :))

    • JayadevM
      June 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm | #2

      Brilliantly put, Clifford!

      That’s right ….it’s in the mind. There is nothing wrong with the job per se.

  2. June 7, 2012 at 2:35 pm | #3

    Nice Posting!

    • JayadevM
      June 7, 2012 at 3:22 pm | #4

      Thank you!

  3. June 8, 2012 at 1:26 am | #5

    Good one sir, If I may point out there is one thing every organisation must do to bury carrer stagnation and boredom setting into a job and that is cross train. It is a useful tool to make potential leaders out of your existing pool, a potential long term runner can be cross trained in other departments to understand other aspects of the business, a sales person with tech support or logistics or even manufacture. It will also help one recognise hidden talents, a win win formula all the way.

    • JayadevM
      June 8, 2012 at 4:57 am | #6

      Hi Srikanth,

      Thank you for sharing those suggestions. Yes, organisations can benefit hugely by implementing Cross Training and Job Rotation, but many fail to do it. They don’t seem to care – thinking short-term?

      “Employees are our biggest assets” is a nice quote for a poster in the front office!”, but it won’t get past the door. (If I am permitted to joke here – usually the “T” in Assets is silent!)

      And talent in organisations mostly remain latent …. it is a grievous misuse of resources.

      I agree with your suggestions; organisations which do these actively reap huge benefits: Engaged employees, reduced rework and errors, higher customer satisfaction and Reduced employee turnover …. and the big ones: Higher Productivity and Revenue!!

  4. Jamy
    June 8, 2012 at 2:37 am | #7

    Top-class article Jay! i sort of went through it myself, but managed to come out of it fighting by utilising all my professional relations- goes back to your previous article :)

    • JayadevM
      June 8, 2012 at 4:59 am | #8

      Hi Jamy

      Am I writing your life story by proxy? :)

      Thank you for the support and glad you made it through the tough phase the smart way!

  5. June 8, 2012 at 9:35 am | #9

    Are you a PIG?
    People tend to get frustrated with their life / career primarily because they often do not have goals. Has this person who is looking for a job change achieved the goals he had set for himself? If the answer is ‘Yes’ did he set the goals too low as a result it was easily achieved?

    Set challenging goals that would result in people going out on a limb to achieve them.
    Another reason for the lack of interest (Weltschmerz maybe?) is the absence of passion. Do something that your are passionate about. It could be a hobby or an activity. Passion will dredge up reserves of energy that you did not know that you had. It can consume you in a positive way.

    “A genuine passion is like a mountain stream; it admits of no impediments; it cannot go backward; it must go forward.” – Christian Nestell Bovee

    Employees can also ask their boss to give them assignments that may not be financially rewarding immediately but would pay great dividends on successful completion of the task. It would also give the boss the impression that the employee is a person of initiative and can be depended upon to take on challenges. The employee must not be afraid of failure!

    To sum up if you are a PIG (Passion, Initiative, Goals) you will end up being successful.
    Cheers!

    • JayadevM
      June 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm | #10

      Hi Satish

      Why am I not surprised reading that opening salvo? Because I know you from Escotel days. Still remember those interesting headings you used to have on the slides at the review meetings.

      Thank you for sharing those insights. Am sure it will help the readers.

      Regards!!!

  6. Jei
    June 8, 2012 at 11:15 am | #11

    Hi J, Though I have read most of your article, I feel that this is most relevant to me this time.. I encounter this slugginess in the team quite often and don’t find a way to kill it… I have noticed that when a person in promoted as manager, he doesn’t have the entire qualities of a manager, he still works or interacts in a capacity of an asst manager, in a period of time, ( says 2 years ) he now grows upto a level which is seeked out of a manager and by now he is promoted to sr.manager… so lot of times, we dont justify the quality vs position.. if we prolong the tenure of a person in one level, he gets this slackness or leaves the org… tough time to convince ppl on this..
    Thanks J for your good write up..

    • JayadevM
      June 8, 2012 at 1:51 pm | #12

      Dear Jei

      Thank you for sharing those thoughts. Yes, it happens often that people are promoted and then fail to live up to expectations. Organisations need to promote people based on merit, which would not be based on just performance. They need people skills and the capability of getting things done through his people. He also needs to be aware of business priorities and get people to do the right things. If the organisation had not assessed the person’s skill portfolio well before the promotion they were preparing to fail.

      Am glad you found the article relevant.

  7. June 9, 2012 at 7:56 am | #13

    I like the ‘surround yourself with positive folks’ piece very much.. seems to be a simple thing to do at first but believe me.. it’s a tough task hehee.e.

    • JayadevM
      June 9, 2012 at 10:42 am | #14

      Hi Anish,

      My friend said that 8 out 10 people he spoke (including immediate family) were trying to stop him from trying anything new. They tried to paint a doomsday scenario so that he would get sufficiently discouraged. Meeting me he secretly hoped that I would encourage and talk about possibilities – towards the end of our chat my friend revealed the huge challenges and thanked me for speaking in favour of his line of thinking.

      I sent him away with my good wishes and some inputs on how he can take it forward.

      You are right. Its tough to get enough positive voices around you.

      You are right … It’s not easy to get enough positivity around you.

  8. June 15, 2012 at 1:37 am | #15

    Well written and informative Jayadev.

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