About ten years ago, Masha Islam, a thirty-something professional, started her career at an esteemed financial company. She was good at what she did but she was not content while doing it. Eventually, she started switching jobs every two years, trying her hand at different industries. In the end, none of the jobs attracted her anymore.
"I was lucky enough to land jobs in different organisations but chose not to keep working for them," says Masha, who recently started working as a freelancer for international clients. Now she works from home and is pretty satisfied about leaving a conventional career.
But not everyone is like Masha. Quitting a career midway to pursue other opportunities might not be as easy as it sounds on paper. Masha could cope with mid-career crisis. What about others?
We all have second thoughts as we make our way into a career. "Am I in the right industry? Am I in the right job? Is this all there is?"- These questions are slow burners for employees in mid-career who occasionally feel the job they are in won't fulfill their dreams.
How should a professional address a mid-career crisis? What actions can s/he take to meet their professional satisfaction? Years into a career, can a person pivot to another direction for a more meaningful role?
Professionals have their say
Mid-career blues runs deep. It would be an understatement to label it as "episodic moment" of frustration or "a particularly gruesome work project" that depletes you, says Gianpiero Petriglieri in a Harvard Business Review article. He is an associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD.
This type of professional discontent is relatively common with middle-aged employees, he says. "Midlife is the time where you lose the illusion of immortality. You know your opportunities aren't endless, and you realize that time is finite," he says.
"10 years into my career, I feel like there is no way to think about alternative professions for me," says Maria Shabnam, a faculty at a prominent English medium school in Dhaka. She believes, the older she gets, the more daunting her career gets.
"If you don't perform per se, you are always replaceable," she opined. "It's not that I don't enjoy what I do, but the constant pressure to be the best version of myself gets tiring at times."
However, Maria believes career is like a battle where the challenge never subsides. "The only way to beat mid-career crisis is that one needs to be primed for any obstacle thrown at them, come what may," she opined.
Atiqul Islam, a Territory Manager at a renowned multinational company, dubbed mid-career crisis as a "one way road" where you cannot possibly look back to pursue other options. "I have already nurtured my skills in one sector for years. Rationally speaking, I cannot think of other career paths so to speak," Atique said.
"Untimely promotion in a job is a key reason behind mid-career crisis," he added.
Reflect on yourself
First things first, identifying the reason behind discontent is imperative. "When you have a sense of malaise, you begin to question everything," Petriglieri says. "But you need to break down the problem and start with the place where it hurts. Is it your job? Or the organization you're in?" Depending on your answer, "the prescription is different."
Seek meaningful work
The unmet desire for impact is another common source of professional unhappiness, according to Petriglieri. You may reach a point where you're working extra hours while wondering, "What is it all for?" Bear in mind that "meaning is not going to knock on the door," he says. "It is like love — you have to keep looking for it, working at it, and you cannot take it for granted."
Challenge your hunch
Your hunch about professional sadness could also be a sign that your job looms too large. Perhaps "you are being suffocated by a culture that wants to keep you in a state of being perpetually obsessed with your career," Petriglieri says. "Maybe your malaise is due to the fact that you have all your eggs in one basket." It could be that you need to seek self-worth and life satisfaction beyond your work — perhaps through your peers or passion, relationship, or a project you adore.
Consider a career detour
If these techniques don't spur a desirable result, it could be an indication that an employee needs to make a prompt move. Perhaps when the job becomes too big a burden, one needs to do some soul searching to pivot to another sector, even if it might be a leap of faith.
Switching careers midlife is frightening. But the positive impacts can also be rewarding. If the popular saying "30s is the new 20s" is true, then why not take a shot at it?