superpowers

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.

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If you are reading this you are likely to be a mid-lifer (or my slightly deluded dad who has been known to call people “elderly” when they are exactly the same age as he is).  

You are likely to have been earning a crust for roughly 20-30 years.  You’ve been around a few workplaces and seen the good, the bad and the ugly of work life.   If you are anything like me, you might also to be sensing a slight down-turn in the perfect functioning of a few body parts - just this week I visited a physio, a podiatrist and with my GP for 3 separate body malfunctions which I am convinced can be attributed to my mid-life status.   

Whatever your gender, the average mid-lifer often spends more time avoiding accidental glimpses of their (gracefully?) aging body rather than throwing admiring glances in the bedroom mirror.    More mid-lifers are responding to the inevitable onslaught of grey hairs and their naturally slowing metabolism by taking up a new sport. 

According to Sport England, the age-group with the strongest growth in sports participation over the last decade is 45-54year olds, with an impressive 25% increase over the last ten years.  More specifically, we are taking to lyra-cladding our aging bodies to still the passage of time.  33% of participants in the London Triathlon last year were in the 40years+ age group in comparison to 25% just five years ago.

Whatever your age, if you are lucky enough to still have your parents in your life, you might also be involved with the medical problems associated with the even more rapid aging process experienced by late-lifers.   

It’s complex being a mid-lifer.

One of the simple elements of mid-life should be eking out a little happiness from your work life…but it’s not, is it?  

We, as human beings, don’t appear to be very good at finding happiness at work.  Why not?

These appear to be the most common reasons offered by the mid-lifers I come across for their inability to lock down their own happiness at work:

1.     proximity to the problem

2.    too little time

3.    lack of perspective

4.    persistent and recurring energy depletion from performing work that drains us

5.    fear of change

6.    financial situation concerns

7.    worry about loss of security and stability

8.    no idea how to begin to change the situation

Sometimes we resign ourselves to the (false) idea that there’s nothing we can do about it – apparently “No one really LOVES their job anyway”.     

Let me tell you a well-kept secret:  Some people really, really LOVE THEIR WORK.  But, these people only communicate this openly when they are with other people who also REALLY LOVE THEIR WORK.   

These are good people.  They have no wish to make less fortunate individuals feel bad or open a can of worms that they don’t have the skill/time/inclination to re-pack.  

But, how do they instinctively recognise that we are not a member of their secret HAPPY AT WORK CLUB?  This is a work-in-progress from a www.midlifeunstuck.com research perspective.   But, it appears to have something to do with the stress we hold in our faces and bodies when we/someone else around us talk about work.     

These lesser-spotted lovers-of-their-work avoid childishly prodding you with ‘Na Na Na Na Na…I’m enjoying my job more than you’re enjoying yours!”   Unless, of course, they are sadists who get kicks out of the misfortune of others.   

These lovers-of-their-work are, of course, not happy at work all the time (happiness is not a life-time state but an accumulation of moments.) But, they enjoy many, many more of these moments than the average Joe/Jolene.

How do they become part of this secret lovers-of-their-work club?

First of all, the easy bit – they start with a “decent career” that they don’t hate.   Here are, what I believe to be, the four components of a decent career.

1.    Satisfying a human need to help people to do something that you believe to be valuable. This one is pretty obvious but here are some examples from my clients: 

  • helping sell higher quality wine to people who love wine but don’t have a big budget;

  • helping companies make better decisions by having great future-focussed financial information;

  • helping customers design great advertisements to sell more of their products;

  • helping making all employees within our business create long-term relationships with customers;

  • helping people improve their fitness to enable their lives to be more fun;

  • helping banks keep their systems operational so that 1000s of people get paid;

  • helping clients design their perfect building/extension to allow them to live happier lives;

  • helping charities to raise funds to enable more and better assistance to be offered to those in need;

  • helping parents to build resilience in their children to take the stress out of life transitions.

 

2.    Basic life needs can be satisfied

  • enough money to cover mortgage and life;

  • a commute that doesn’t make you want to pull your eyelashes out one by one over many hours

  • in general, working the hours of work that you signed up to - even if sometimes it is a bit crazy

  • a safe working environment – not just hard-hat wearing but emotion safety from excessive and prolonged stress

 

3.    Satisfactory freedom to work how you like to work. I don’t mean you like to get paid a fortune for doing a few hours work.  This one is more to do with personality style and values matching your work (the majority of the time).

  • if you are an introvert that you have time to think before needing to perform/give your opinion;

  • if you hate details that you are not required to fine-tune everything in your work life, all of the time;

  • if you like to do the right thing that your work allows you to operate within your own moral compass guidelines;

  • if you thrive on creativity that there is enough requirement/time available to satisfy that itch;

  • if you enjoy managing a team that you have time and space to do just that in your own style;

  • if you have children whom you like to see regularly, you have the flexibility to satisfy that parental need.

 

4.    Some regular feedback to allow you to feel satisfied that you are doing a good job.

Rarely do people LOVE THEIR WORK from a deep, dark, lonely cave – emotionally or physically.  To feel satisfied at work, we humans require some feedback on how we are doing e.g.

  • linked-in “likes” to an article you wrote;

  • a pat on the back from your boss;

  • winning a significant contract;

  • verbal praise for doing something specific really well;

  • an informal recommendation to speak to you about something you are great at;

  • a bloody good appraisal; and of course...

  • let’s not forget…a decent bonus.

The more detail-focussed of you might notice the multiple use of the words “satisfied/satisfaction” in the above components of a “decent career”.

Let me be clear, ticking all 4 boxes above will NOT lead to “career happiness” but it usually leads to “career satisfaction”.  

If this is your first time reading any of my articles, I’ll let you know now that “career satisfaction” isn’t a driver for me.  I aim a great deal higher.   

So how can you raise the bar to focus on finding “career happiness”? 

The absolute key lies in finding your superpowers, understanding what is stopping you from using more of your superpowers at work and designing possible career options to do just that.   That’s it. That’s the secret behind my work.  It’s as easy as that.

So, why don’t we all know what our superpowers are?

It's hard work searching for your superpowers.

It's hard work searching for your superpowers.

 

We do…but most people don't think about our career in this way.  It requires some deep searching.  It takes a little time and a giant dose of honesty which is difficult to do by yourself.  It's incredibly possible though.  

Soon, I’ll give you a step-by-step approach to how to find your superpowers for yourself.  

If you can’t wait and would like to get started immediately on uncovering your personal and unique superpowers to unstick your career, drop me an email at lucia@midlifeunstuck.com.  If you are not quite ready but want access to a growing body of free resources including articles, book recommendations and an up-and-coming selection of client transformation stories, signup to my newsletter at www.midlifeunstuck.com.