New article from www.midlifeunstuck.com. Summing up research on career happiness. What Lucia calls "superpowers" = the key.
Did you choose your first career or did it choose you? Let me tell you about the advertisement which locked down the first half of my career.
It was Manchester, 1997. I was a debt-ridden final-year student, unsure of what work I wanted to do in my career and even less sure of what I might, God forbid, be good at. What I was entirely sure of was that I needed a job which paid a decent salary pronto otherwise I was on a direct plane back to my peach-curtained childhood bedroom in small-town Northern Ireland.
The advertisement on the notice board in the student careers office (yes, pre-email) announced in large font “Earn up to £26,000 in your first year”. I didn’t need to read more. That line was enough to motivate me through a tedious application form, telephone interview, face-to-face interviews and an assessment day to secure an offer with a FTSE 250 on their graduate training scheme.
I remember actually “whooping” with happiness after I received the offer. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that even at that point, I still wasn’t sure what exactly the job entailed. Of course, I didn't start on anything near that salary either.
I didn’t know it at the time but applying to that advertisement locked down the first twenty years of my career.
Many of us stay in our first career happily for our entire career.
Others wake up around the mid-point in our careers and don’t like the smell of the roses. They want to plant different roses for the second half of their career. They want to plant roses that might bloom in a different environment or produce blossoms of a different colour or rake up the flowerbed and plant asparagus. If this resonates with you, you might be experiencing a career rut.
How do you differentiate between a bad month at work and a career rut?
If you are in a career rut:
- You might use the term “ground hog day” to describe your working life rather than a funny 1993 Bill Murray movie? Essentially you feel that you are living your life on a repeating loop.
- You might have been through the same growth and decline cycle in the same industry (or even same company) a few times but you have stopped getting a kick out of knowing all the answers.
- You might be starting to stick out like a sore thumb within your business as one of the mysteriously ever-disappearing ‘more mature’ people.
- You may have built a successful career but can’t fully understand why you have been experiencing Sunday evening blues, EVERY Sunday evening for a very long time.
- Your dissatisfaction with work has begun to seep into your life outside work – to a level that is becoming more unacceptable to you and your family.
- You might have begun to notice that your organisational culture jars with your natural work style and wonder whether it is the company or you who have changed?
- This one is sad but common…often a career rut presents itself very vividly soon after you have experienced a traumatic event in your life (e.g. personal health scare, elderly parent illness, separation or divorce). These types of events force us to think very deeply about how we are spending our time.
Try this: Read the below three points and note your reaction:
If you work for 40 hours each week for the next 10 years = you will have worked for 17,600 hours
If you work for 40 hours each week for the next 20 years = you will have worked for 35,200 hours
If you work for 40 hours each week for the next 30 years = you will have worked for 52,800 hours
a) If you whooped and punched the air, excited about the opportunity to spend more hours getting paid doing something you love – I congratulate you. You are the envy of the nation.
b) If you sighed and thought “I might need to talk to my contacts in the search firms”, do that…today. It always takes much longer than you think. You are definitely ready for a change of scenery but there's no need to overhaul your flowerbed just yet.
c) If you sighed, stopped, shook your head/held your head in your hands and thought anything along the lines of “I have to do something MORE valuable/enjoyable with my time NOW”, there is a very good chance that you are firmly in the grip of a career rut.
More next time on beginning your escape from your career rut.
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A few years ago, in my last corporate job, I combined a work day in London starting with an 8am meeting in Holborn, a normal work day and a few drinks with my husband before making it back home for the 9pm nanny hand-over. On both train journeys I noted a group of suited and booted gents aged around late 50s-early 60s. They had bought a couple of M&S beers for the journey home and were having a good laugh. These men have firmly stuck in my brain solely because of my husband’s casual comment as we jumped off the train “God, I hope I’m never one of those guys.” I was surprised. My husband is one of the least judgemental people I know. Also, in my opinion, these gents looked perfectly happy with their lot.
When probed, he told me that he sees these gents sometimes on the early morning train and very often on the late train home. So what?
He explained that he would feel like a failure if he felt forced to still be working as hard as he does now at their age, presumably to earn enough money to sustain a lifestyle. A lifestyle, he believed, these gents had chosen when they were much younger.
This floored me. I hadn’t realised he was thinking so far ahead.
However, I had realised that we had agreed our life priorities early in our relationship. (Actually, this was all his doing in the early days but I was a eager student!)
Over the years we had known each other, we have comprised on some life decisions to enable our love of travel. For example, neither of us have many designer clothes. Neither of us have super flashy cars…or at least not since he helped me realise how much money I was wasting on my corporate company car allowance. We chose a house and a mortgage that we can afford if one of us got ill/pregnant.
Before children we would go on weekend breaks around Europe at the drop of a hat gaining me the office nickname “Judith Charmers”, the 1980s TV travel personality. I was secretly proud. When we had young children we carried on with the last minute jaunts until school holidays messed with both our spontaneity and our budget. Now, like many parents we book most of our holidays up to a year in advance.
Each of us chooses our priorities in life. If we don’t make a choice, someone else makes it for us.
My husband is lucky enough to have known early on that he definitely doesn’t want to be on the commuter train when he is 60. He also makes choices every day to do (or not do) things that will allow him make sure that doesn’t happen. You can be sure that you won’t see him in a bespoke Desmond Merrion suit, Patrick Cox shoes and a Tom Ford man bag on any commuter train any time soon…but that image makes me smile.
Ensuring that you take the early train to work and the late train home when YOU WANT TO, not because you have to requires concentration on your future...today.
If you are interested in reading more on this topic, one of my favourite books on this subject is:
Essentialism - the Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
If you are short on time, have a listen to the podcast below which is an interview with Greg - it might be enough to check if it is for you or not.
To get more ideas on how your career and life choices impact your future career and life outcomes visit www.midlifeunstuck.com, sign up to my newsletter and contact me directly at email@example.com.
What happens when you grumble about your job at home or to colleagues?
Historically, I got so sick of hearing unprompted career advice that was irrelevant or so annoying that it made me want to punch someone in the face (oh dear, there's that fiery Celtic temperament again!) that I just shut up.
Mid-life career lows are not uncommon. We’ve all had days where we’d prefer to be somewhere else, anywhere else! But a mid-career rut is a whole different thing that invades areas of life outside work including relationships with partners and children.
Here are a few of the most common pieces of advice on offer out there and (for what it's worth) my opinion on their value:
1. “Stick it out, don’t risk losing it all, it’s bound to get better”: I don’t know where to start with this one. We are not just talking about having a bad day at work. We are not just taking about occasional Sunday night blues.
When I use the term career rut, I am referring to persistent, long-lasting, recurring “don’t know how long I can keep going through the motions” feelings that have also started to impact your life outside work.
Family members are noticing you just not being your usual self. You’ve stopped talking about work at home as you consider it too dull. Or alternatively you can’t appear to find anything positive to say about work or the people at work.
You are likely to be spending a great deal of time doing on-line research on new jobs but somehow they don’t look at all different to your current job. Same job, different faces is definitely not your aim.
2. “Better the devil you know”: This security-centred advice is offered by fearful people who are unlikely to have understood your situation fully nor have taken the time to attempt to. They might perceive you as somehow fortunate or lucky and are surprised that you are not happy with your lot.
Perhaps they come from a background where a stable job was a goal in life. Perhaps they are your partner and are worried about your joint/family future. Perhaps they are simply the type of individual who views change as risky and would rather not let that devil into their house.
And perhaps they simply have lower expectations on life fulfilment than you.
3. “Forget about it, come and have a drink”: Otherwise called “Purple Elephant syndrome”. Temporarily forgetting something that is playing on your mind is extremely valuable…in the short-term.
Sooner or later, it comes back to haunt you. A few months or even a year of career rut avoidance offers you the time to mull over options close to home, in your current company and to consider options advertised in the open market.
Perhaps you have even moved companies during that time but after the initial optimism you realise that the old feelings have returned? The dissatisfaction, the lack of challenge, the boredom and the sameness of it all.
Changing company changed neither your career nor your future.
4. “Just resign and take some time to figure it out”: If you have an endless pot of gold, no responsibilities and are optimistic that you can work it out by yourself, proceed at speed to your personal yacht.
If not, don’t consider this piece of advice for more than a dreamy few hours.
Don’t resign without a plan. Resign with a GREAT plan.
Understand in great detail what you have to offer the world. Analyse how you could offer those skills to the world and what it might give you in return.
Investigate avenues to transform your career without rocking the rest of your world (unless that is also your aim, of course!) and plan the perfect time to make it happen... then resign!
I specialise in helping mid-lifers identify and design career transformations. To learn more about beginning your own career rut go to www.midlifeunstuck.com, sign up to my newsletter and contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Retirement isn’t what is used to be...it’s a great deal better. I keep hearing inspirational life transformation stories from retirees. Take my in-laws for example - after retiring 4 or 5 years ago they are so busy that we have to book to visit them months in advance. What are they up to? This very normal ex-teaching and ex-IT couple are in fact working their way around the world teaching bridge on luxury cruises! They combined a hobby and teaching skills to offer them joint retirement heaven.
They are not alone. Other inspiring stories I’ve heard recently include cycling around Majorca, helping to build a school in Kenya and signing up to an Italian cooking course in…Florence.
In a word, I am jealous!
I totally understand that many retirees have worked and saved all their lives to enjoy their new-found freedom and I can’t help wanting a slice of the action. BUT, I’m not ready to wait about 25 years to get it.
Last year, I wrote an article based on the latest research into how personality might impact retirement enjoyment and in the process I uncovered some global trends:
1. Apparently, the more conscientious and agreeable you are as a personality, the more you are likely to enjoy your retirement (do we get more or less agreeable with age?);
2. Taking part in new activities is very strongly linked to higher mental and physical health in retirement;
3. The one specific activity which has the greatest impact on enhanced well-being, lower instances of illness and lower death rates in retirement is…volunteering.
The last point blew my mind, especially when we consider employment trends in the UK – how will we all have enough time to be volunteering if we are all still working through the supposedly healthy, vibrant, early retirement phase?
Let’s look at the numbers today. According to the DWP, 10% of UK 70-74 year olds are in work (the highest figure since records began). Almost 15% of men over the age of 65 are currently in employment. These figures are forecast to rise substantially given advancing pension ages.
Some might think that talking about retirement to mid-lifers is time wasted. But, if we are all going to be working into late life, then mid-life is the perfect time to deliberately design the second-half of your career which might last another 20, 30 or even 40 years. If we are still working, ideally it will because we are still enjoying our work or have designed it in a way that it fits around the really fun parts of our lives.
Maybe there is a way to re-frame work as a more enjoyable part of your life by consciously designing work that really connects with your life? Work that doesn't feel like the part of life that just pays the bills and allows us the two week holiday to re-fresh and gain enough energy to head back to “the grindstone”.
Designing a new second half of life is possible to do by yourself but it will take time, research, deep thinking and an honesty about your own resources and limiting beliefs that is difficult to access by yourself.
Often, when I work with individuals, they say that they do not have a vision of their preferred future career but through questioning and exercises it soon becomes very clear. To start your own career transformation go to www.midlifeunstuck.com, sign up to my newsletter and contact me directly at email@example.com