stuck in career

What does a 21st century midlife crisis look like?

Does it exist? Is it a male phenomenon? Has it changed over the decades? Is it just about blowing a load of cash on a Porsche or is there something deeper?

About 5.30pm on a Tuesday, a few weeks ago, whilst standing half way down my garden (the only child-free zone I could find) I ended up chatting on the phone to the amazing journalist Zoe Williams about the modern midlife crisis.

An old-fashioned midlife crisis used to involve the purchase of a fast car.

An old-fashioned midlife crisis used to involve the purchase of a fast car.

It might have been a normal day for Zoe but not for me.

When she opened the conversation with “Hi, it's Zoe Williams from the Guardian”, I smiled one of those smiles that starts in your toes and ebbs towards your earlobes at the speed of light. “Hi, Zoe Williams from the Guardian!” I squeaked in reply.

Apparently I squeak when I meet someone I’ve admired for a few decades - who knew?

When I first came to UK, I remember reading her articles in the weekend sections of the broadsheets - often hungover after an expensive night drinking cheap wine in London. We were similar ages and she spoke to my generation as if she was inside my head.

So, 20 years on, she was still a journalist and a great writer and she was calling me!

To be fair, it was a bit of a mad time. I was two weeks away from publishing my first book X Change: How to torch your work treadmill, when I saw a request from her on twitter looking to talk to someone who:

  • identified as female; (yes)

  • knew something about the midlife crisis; (yup)

  • and ideally had experienced one of her own (Hell yes! I created a business because of it!)

My hand shot up faster than a five-year-old trying to impress Miss Honey.

In our half-hour chat, Zoe probed my mind like the experienced journalist she was. In return, I tried so hard to impress her that by the time I got off the phone, I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT I’D SAID.

A nail-biting few weeks followed.

Imagine my stomach churn when, my whatsapp friends got in touch to say they’d been reading about my midlife crisis in the Guardian!

Holy hell! What had I done? What had I said?

They forwarded me the article and my blood pressure returned to normal as I read Zoe’s brilliantly-researched, cleverly crafted article several times to allow it to sink in.

Sure, I had been probably a little too open about my own melt down around 43. But I’m always honest about that and talk about it regularly on video, in talks, in this blog and in my book.

Zoe had very kindly mentioned my new book so people started getting in touch that day. So many new people checked out my website and signed up to my “It’s not too late and you’re not too old” newsletter that I almost wept with joy.

Please do read Zoe’s article in The Guardian:

But, if you’re stuck for time and just wanted to know what I said, here it is:

  1. Sometime in our 40s or 50s we have to start working a heck of a lot harder at liking our bodies than we used to. Probably due to the impacts of metabolic slow-down, illnesses or sheer bloody exhaustion! Some people view this as their midlife crisis but it’s much bigger than that.

  2. Midlife crises of the Porsche-buying variety are old hat for most of our modern society. Midlife men in Lycra is the modern form but, let’s be honest, some men just love cycling fast in tight clothes talking about power-to-weight ratios. My lovely husband is one of them so I need to tread gently here!

  3. In my opinion, the new midlife crisis manifests itself as a career crisis in our 40s/50s which has become comfortable to talk about in recent years. The timing of this seems to also coincide with the modern 50-year-old corporate toast phenomenon which I’ve written about a great deal.

Midlife Men in Lycra don’t signal midlife crisis any more than buying a Porsche. Some men (my husband for instance) just like wearing tight-fitting clothes while cycling and discussing power-to-weight ratios. Other men (my younger brother for instance) just like Porsches ;)

Midlife Men in Lycra don’t signal midlife crisis any more than buying a Porsche. Some men (my husband for instance) just like wearing tight-fitting clothes while cycling and discussing power-to-weight ratios. Other men (my younger brother for instance) just like Porsches ;)

Here’s the article again - have a read and let me know if you agree or disagree.

If you couldn’t give a monkeys what we name this feeling of dissatisfaction that you’re experiencing and want to crack on designing your way out of it, why not book in for one of my “Light at the end of my tunnel” calls? In 30 mins, after hearing your story I guarantee to give you at least two personalised suggestions to kick-start your career overhaul so that you can stop wasting time doing work that you don’t love.

You might also enjoy these articles:

50 year old “Corporate Toast”: the silent career trend that we all know about but don’t talk about…and what to do about it.

I’ve written many articles on how to change your career in mid-life but I realised recently that I’ve made a mistake.  

I haven’t made it crystal clear why professionals in their 40s and 50s NEED to start taking action if they’d like to continue working beyond their next few birthdays.  

This mistake became very clear when one of my clients asked my opinion on career options post-50 within big corporates.  I drew breath before responding “If you are in your 50s in a big corporate, get ready to be toast!”  Not my most eloquent moment but a typically truthful one nonetheless.

After nearly 20 years of watching silently as big corporates did everything in their power to recruit “high potentials” whilst at the same time doing everything in their power to negotiate quietly with the 50+ contingent to leave, it felt exhilarating to say out loud what I knew to be the truth. 

That whole truth is that 50+ year olds are an endangered species in big corporates. Ageism has simply not been tackled by big corporations.  These endangered 50+ year olds are usually positioned in general leadership and/or very specialist roles where they have been shrunk-to-fit.  Both positions are extremely time-limited.   No matter how “high potential” you were considered in your 20s and 30s if you are facing or have already faced the “BIG 5-0” birthday within a big corporation…your days are numbered.

4 varieties of 50 year old corporate toast

4 varieties of 50 year old corporate toast

Continuing the corporate toast analogy, in my experience, there are four dominant varieties of 50year old “Corporate Toast”:  

  1. The “Golden-toasted” variety: The luckiest of these rare creatures have amassed a pension fortune for when they decide that they’ve been perfectly toasted. They can press their own eject button at any time if the company starts to turn up the toaster’s heat setting. They have almost full control of the toaster. This allows for a speedy and relatively burn-free exit as long as they are self-aware enough to pop themselves out before the company does.

  2. The “Almost-toasted” variety:

    These self-aware leaders have their fingers crossed that they’ll be able to keep working until a pre-set point when they can afford to release themselves. There are two different pairs of hands on the toaster setting so anyone could press it at any time.

    These “almost-toasted” varieties hope to have enough time to leave the toaster with a lovely glow and a bag of either pension/redundancy/exit treasure. While all fingers are crossed for a hopeful lucrative exit, their impact on the business is very slowly declining.

  3. The “I’m-in-the-wrong toaster” variety:

    These leaders have a long-term focus and often enjoy work for its own sake. They are clear that their future lies in smaller businesses (or their own business) and have already begun to think through options and perhaps even test those options out.

    They have always been great at serious networking and taking actions so that it won’t be a shock when their toaster’s heat setting is turned up. They fully understand the toasting game. Often they very proactively position themselves for their future, long-term career and many have job offers before the toaster pops them out.

    Many forgo possible redundancy packages as the long-term benefit of 10+ extra years of an enjoyable career (almost) on their terms is so attractive. Time on the golf course is not their goal.

  4. The “Almost-burned” variety: The trickiest situation is that held by the 50+ leaders who are keeping their heads down so that they can continue to be amazing at what they do for as long as they can. The short-term looks fabulous, doesn’t it?

    They feel valuable and valued. They enjoy work but have no time to have a serious look beyond the toaster to see what’s happening. But someone else is controlling their career toaster setting and has been turning up the heat without their knowledge.

    When this variety of toast burns, it will scar deeply and will take a great deal of time, effort and support to recover from.





I write this article not to instil fear but to highlight the CHOICE element in our midlife careers. 

I feel so strongly that we, as individuals, cannot change the realities of the corporate world today. But we can start to change the realities of our personal career situation today. 

We can choose to either accept our special variety of toast, to change to a different variety of toast, to swap our toaster or to design our own toaster.

If you are planning to retire in your early 50s to your yacht to sail the Caribbean, I have nothing to offer you…I make a great Negroni though!  

However, if you are in any of the other toaster situations please consider taking a long, hard look at your career longevity and work enjoyment from a different angle.  

In my humble opinion (based on insights gained from over 1500 leadership interviews over the last 10 years plus intensive psychological research into the ingredients of a fulfilling career), taking time to evaluate how you could purposefully re-design your career to fulfil more of your life goals is time well spent.  

Choose not to be toast. 

Choose to let your midlife be the jam years in your career.

Here’s my personal story of how I chose not to let myself be toasted by a corporate career.

If you’re not sure where to start, download this free guide that will give you my recommended first steps to taking control of your career.  



If you need help getting started, sign up to the You’re not too old and it’s not too late career change newsletter and download my free Beginner’s Guide to Successful Career Change in your 40s and 50s - Where to Start eBook.

I’ll send you twice monthly articles, how tos and real-life successful career change stories to inspire you.  If you’re impatient and would like to fast-track your success, book in for a 30min (Free) Light and the end of my tunnel conversation to kick-start your happier career.