We humans are terrible at preparing for the crisis
It seems to me that many people tend to ignore their needs in mid-life. We tend to be very good at reacting to a crisis, but terrible at planning for one. I think this is the root of the problem. For example, many people stay in mundane, unfulfilling jobs because, in many ways, this is easier than confronting the unhappiness of a work life that is empty. Only when a crisis hits — and it usually will after 40 (a divorce, a layoff, an illness, children going off to college, money problems, and/or emotional problems) — do people finally start to spring into action.
Why does it take so long?
While many people over 40 no longer feel contented with their work, they may still be challenged just enough so that they are not driven to make a change. As a result, their moods and their responses to their work tend to go up and down depending on the day. They may be very negative at one point or another, but then the next day is a little better, and they postpone making a change yet again.
It also can be easy to escape the need to change — people become so busy each and every day that busy-ness itself becomes the escape and the excuse.
Beware of the simple tasks
Some will suggest that mundane jobs are good. Mundane and boring work gives you time think about other things, and perhaps even allowing time to work on other things. People feel trapped by the promise of reward, and the threat of punishment at work. This too becomes a trap hard to escape from.
There is a lever in the cage of work
Early experiments by B. F. Skinner involved placing animals in a cage without an escape route. Then later, he placed a lever inside the cage, and eventually the animals figured the way out.
Humans are very similar, except that the lever is there all the time. It’s just that it takes a crisis for us to be able to see it. It is much too easy to become trapped by what is comfortable and routine until we suddenly find the secret to escaping.
Our self worth gets damaged when we are JUST working
Since we tend to carry our self-worth around with us, if we experience any failure in life, and especially in our work, we hesitate before trying anything new because failing again will, of course, hurt even more.
People over 40 who have built their lives to this point are very risk averse. Any new venture or idea must be checked with others to make sure they will approve. If not, then surely we must not take a chance.
And discussing with co-workers that you are no longer finding joy in your work doesn’t help — this subject causes more discomfort than discussing sex. They don’t know how to respond. There doesn’t seem to be an immediate solution. After all, work is work, isn’t it?
The problem: WE live our lives
YOU are the person who has to live with yourself. YOU have to look at yourself in the mirror each day, go to work, be active, and be comfortable with your decisions. Regardless of what others think or see in you, it is your own perspective of you that matters most.
Your work determines who you are
I see so many clients who initially come with their arms crossed. I see right away that it is not THEIR arms that are crossed, but perhaps their parents’ arms, or their spouses’ arms. All of us carry a huge set of beliefs passed down to us from others.
To prove the point, take a piece of paper right now. Write down the following:
“I believe the following about myself:”
Under this line, make your list.
Now examine your list. How many of these beliefs have come from you, and how many came from those around you? Now go through your list and change those beliefs that are no longer useful.
For example; perhaps you realize that you had parents who taught you never to take a risk, try anything silly, or impractical. Reflect how this has kept you from changing your work — is it fear of failure?
Change those beliefs on your list that are no longer useful. It is as simple as this and as difficult as this. I believe change can occur in seconds. It’s all a matter of acquiring a new perspective about your life and your work.
It’s time to recreate
If you are a mid-life adult who no longer finds meaning and joy in your work, you must make a change now. The changes you make now will impact the rest of your life. If you don’t, you will simply work until you retire, spend a few years wondering what you COULD have done, and then well; you know the rest of the story…
Traditional approaches to career development do not work
Traditional career coaching focuses on assessments to figure out exactly what you should do.
The problem with this approach is that, while these systematic methods may recommend that you should be an engineer, for example, only you can determine whether you would actually find joy and passion in this work.
Most traditional job searches are done backwards. A job gets posted and people look for jobs that match some of their requirements. The problem with this approach is that these jobs were not designed with YOU in mind. They were not designed around what — exactly — would be just perfect for YOU.
Don’t ignore your inner needs after 40
What becomes most important after age 40 is: Do you find your work meaningful? Is the purpose of your work clear to you? Is it clear why YOU are doing this work?
Does your work bring you joy and happiness?
Only you can answer these questions.
It starts with an honest assessment of what you want out of your life and your work
Self-discovery and work renewal will result in more passion and joy in your life and in the lives of all those around you. You will wonder why you didn’t start earlier.
Maybe you didn’t take the plunge before now because you did not experience the crisis until right now — that is, the crisis of your mid-life — and what you plan to do now to make the second half of your life even better. This can start with your work. You have the wisdom and maturity now to make this change.
The only permission you need now is permission from yourself — I’ll be cheering you on as you do!