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Is Mid-life Career Crisis affecting your work?

Eminent psychologist Carl Jung said,

”We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning, for what in the morning was true, will become in the evening a lie.”

Mid-life transitioning and crisis can no longer be seen as flaw in character and spirit.

Economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald discovered in 2008 that self-reported life satisfaction follows a gently curved U shape, peaking in our youth, troughing in our mid-40s, and then rebounding as we age.

Job happiness likewise took the shape of a gently curved U, according to a 1996 paper based on a poll of more than 5,000 British employees; however the nadir occurred earlier, around the age of 39.

Why do mid-life crises occur? One undergoes a paradigm shift- a fundamental change in a person’s beliefs, values, and feelings. The very core of one’s reason for existence and going on with their life and career is shaken, and subject to questioning. Where are they in the profession? Are they taking the right chances in that profession? Should they take up additional responsibilities or give some up? These are only a few of the many questions that spiral one into an abyss that is difficult to recover from.

However, transition and crisis can no longer be seen as a flaw in character and spirit, but rather as a norm.

Mid-life transitioning is a 3-step model-

a. Ending- Ending involves the 4 Ds- Disengagement, Dis-identification, Disenchantment, and Disorientation.

b. Neutral zone- This is the phase where the person feels that the walls are closing in in him. He is confused and lonely.

c. Beginning- This starts with taking baby steps towards new explorations, while not losing touch with the old self.

Paradigm shifts, though partly influenced by external factors, is always channeled towards the inner being.

What do people do during paradigm shifts?

a. Learn new skills and ideas

b. Higher education

Robert Kegan gives the concept of ‘holding environment’, which refers to the psychosocial surrounding an adult is held up in. that environment plays a significant role in the development process of an adult. Our psychological, social, physical interactions add meaning to our life. It’s because of the holding environment that a person is an individual and also social.

The holding environment serves 3 functions-

a. Holding on- this gives the person a sense of stability. There are positive affirmations, and no urge to change anything

b. Letting go- it allows outgrowing. When the person is ready, the holding environment must let them explore new horizons

c. Maintaining- it provides continued growth and support. The person is out there forming new connection and exploring new ideas, but the holding environment stays at one place to provide any support that the person may need in the process.

Who are more prone to having mid-life crises?

1. Ones with higher level of Ego development-

Lower levels of ego development have been found to help with more stable relationships, both personal and professional.

Moderate level of ego development made people somewhat question their core values

Higher level of ego development made people extremely embedded in their doubt of core selves. They are deeply involved in paradigm shifting. The higher the degree of ego, the higher the chances a person has of questioning their beliefs mid-life.

2. High-functioning individuals-

If I have to draw examples from writer of literature, Dante, Quixote, Mann, and Eliot would serve as examples. All of them despite being legendary producers of extraordinary work, suffered from mid-life crises so bad that it either killed them, or changed them forever.

Eliot Jaques, who coined the term in 1965, himself, gave the example of Michelangelo to Gauguin who felt dissatisfied by their work.

Creative history is full of examples of artists who were the best in their fields but still had doubts about their purposes.

Does one always successfully come out of the spiral?

No, some people are so pressured that they re-confirm the old paradigm. Depression is a symptom of mid-life career crisis.

A Harvard study found that people in their 40s experienced depression in more severe forms than they did in their teenage years. Turmoil in marriage, ageing parents, teenaged kids leaving for college, all these can contribute to a mid-life crisis, other than problems with career.

Case study-

Dan, an engineer, slaved away at being an engineer for the first 30 years of his life. When he felt that his career as an engineer had reached saturation and finally decided to do an MBA, he discovered that he had been working at a stagnant workplace all along. It was only in is orientation at MBA School that he met people he truly connected with. When he finally started working in the capacity of a business graduate, he described his work relationships as, “much closer, and no bullshit”. He was developing emotionally and accepting himself for who he was.

In Dan’s case, the paradigm shift was positive; he experienced an affirming momentum and developed a deeper sense of self. Others are not so lucky.

As recent studies have shown, Mid-life career crisis is not a question of how good a person is at his job, but a psychological phenomenon. In fact, highly successful people are at a graver risk of experiencing a mid-life crisis than people with mediocre jobs. This will be further elaborated in a later point.

Public opinions regarding mid-life crises are varied. Some attribute it to it mental destabilizations, some to hormonal and biological changes. A fair number dismisses it as an urban myth.

A mid-life crisis entails dissatisfaction with the current profession/ field of work, boredom with their line or work and an extreme urge to change into something entirely new. Most times, after making the desired paradigm shifts, people found themselves more contented and happier that they were in their previous jobs.

Changes happened in all directions; they developed a sense of responsibility for oneself, along with autonomy from having made a successful change. There was a renewed attempt at incorporating their new business into the new paradigm framework and they worked towards with a clear sense of purpose.

What can business organizations do?

Provide employees with 2 kinds of support networks-

a. Formal- for the employees to be able to openly communicate career related fears. Do they see a future at the present position and company? Is their talent being utilized effectively and completely?

b. Informal- Even if it is a work place, studies have shown that being able to communicate about all fronts of one’s life, including personal, resulted in better workplace environment.

The purpose is to tap locked potential, unfreeze individuals and provide growth experiences in a timely manner.

Personal development is not a compulsory consequence of mid-life crisis.

A change in paradigm requires both internal and external changes with consequences that are both internal and external. Sometimes seeing somebody else change creates a ripple that causes other people to experience a mid-life crisis.

A positive outcome is the result of a certain level of competence and ego strength, in addition to learning, both factual and experiential. The ones, who were in too deep in the process, came out better polished.

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