Cheat Sheet: Having a mid-career crisis? Here’s what to do

Everyone’s familiar with the concept of the mid-life crisis. Well-depicted in TV and film, the most usual representation is of a middle-aged man going off the rails as he’s faced with either his own mortality or the mundanity of his existence.

Think Walter White in Breaking Bad or Lester Burnam in American Beauty: both characters began to act radically out of character, tearing up their lives as they went. When it comes to music, Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime perfectly encapsulates the ennui of an existential crisis.

man having career crisis

While the antidote for a mid-life crisis is often a flashy, unsuitable car (that’s waaaay too hard to get out of when you’re over 40), a hair transplant, or an affair, what is the solution if you start to feel the same way about your job or career?

Self doubt and burnout

If you’ve been wondering “Is this it?” or, “Is this all there is for me” when it comes to your job, you might be experiencing a mid-career crisis. Other signs include self-doubt, burnout, excessive stress or anxiety, a lack of motivation and a loss of confidence in your abilities, as well as a sense of wanting to re-evaluate.

This can happen to anyone, and is absolutely not reserved solely for men. In fact, thanks in part to the menopause, women can experience an acute mid-career crisis. According to recent CIPD data, 67% will experience psychological symptoms such as mood disturbances, anxiety, depression, memory loss, panic attacks, loss of confidence, and reduced concentration.

As a result, 17% of women have considered leaving work due to a lack of support in relation to their menopause symptoms, and a further 6% have left their jobs. 

So what is the solution? CIPD’s data shows that for women, support at work matters. As do practical solutions: it identified flexible working and the ability to control temperature as the most helpful measures. 

In a wider context, a mid-life career crisis is really common. In a post-”job for life” working environment, most people have several different jobs, and even careers, throughout their working lives.

As a result, it’s not remotely uncommon to do some re-evaluation, and this often happens when a person is heading into their middle decades With a finite number of years left in the workplace, you may begin to question your professional existence, worry you haven’t done enough, or aren’t where you expected to be at this stage in your career.

Career crossroads

If this is you, then you are at a career crossroads. Burying your feelings won’t help, but taking action will.

Here’s what to do.

First, figure out what’s bugging you about your career, and what needs to change. Ask yourself if the work you’re doing fulfills you, if it aligns with your values, or if it’s getting you to where you want to go, professionally.

Once you know this, you can look at a variety of ways to address any gaps. It may be that nothing about your current career is working for you, so a complete 180 in the form of going back to college, retraining or taking a sabbatical, could be options, depending on your circumstances.

woman burnt out at work

But it doesn’t have to be that dramatic. Some upskilling, a move to a new company or a change in the way you work, such as asking for more flexibility, may also help.

When it comes to skills, consider your gaps and where you can inject some professional revitalisation into your playbook. For example, generative AI skills are among the most wanted by employers right now. 

And they pay: according to a Workforce Insights Report from Indeed, having Generative AI skills gives you an earning potential of 47% more.

“Half of the highest-paid skills in tech are AI-specific, which suggests that job seekers with AI skills can stand out in a competitive job market, and potentially earn more than their counterparts,” the report says.

Additionally, don’t underestimate the importance of soft, or human skills. In its most recent Future of Jobs report, the World Economic Forum flagged soft skills including critical thinking, analytical thinking, creative thinking, resilience and social influence as the most important workplace skills of the future. 

These are all highly valued by employers and developing them can help your career mobility: for example, good leaders listen, have empathy and solve problems effectively. By demonstrating you too have these skills, you can use them to pivot or move upwards in your role.

Looking for more career advice?

Check out our Cheat Sheet series which includes advice on what to never say in an interview and the things you should never do when you leave a company. Or, take a look at how to approach all the various interview stages, or this piece which has advice on what to do if you’ve been fired.

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Author Kirstie McDermott

More posts by Kirstie McDermott

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