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Mid-Career Crisis: How to Address

By Dr. Nandkishore Rathi | Last Updated on July 31, 2023

“Mid-career crisis is the feeling of being lost; in terms of time, direction, efforts, dreams and aspirations. It occurs after some years of experience (probably when the comfort zone is disturbed). It can also be a state of looking at career in perspective with a consolidation approach. Also, it is an opportunity for a few to play a bigger game in the remaining years of life, aiming for self-actualization.” Dr. Nandkishore Rathi

Mid-life career crisis is a stage in career that everyone encounters. This generally use to happen between 40-55 years of age till late 90s but has shifted to around 32-42 because of fast-paced and uncertain industry environment. Another reason is, wrongly chosen career options (based on external factors). In this stage, employees find it difficult to adjust their life according to present situation. During this phase, one goes through number of experiences, such as:

  • Fear of lost youth and missed opportunities
  • Awareness of aging and mortality
  • Failure to accomplish significant dreams
  • Imbalance between work and family commitments
  • Reality check on illusions that dominated early career decisions

He/she may experience competition from more energetic, ambitious and highly educated younger crowd, and feel defensive and inferior. Some may experience technical or managerial obsolescence. There is a sense of recognition that one has reached a plateau, and the future looks gloomy. But the above is true in case of individuals wherein the education and the work-role has been rightly chosen, and he/she has been in a comfort zone so far.

Also, one was able to do the work irrespective of passion & fitment. For those with wrongly chosen career options the situation is more critical; almost like feeling lost, frustrated, pointless and extremely feared. Highly successful and ambitious ones may feel guilty of sacrificing family relationships for achieving success in career: breaks ups, ignoring children’s development, not spending time with parents etc. (bahut badi keemat).

To address mid-career crisis, most people look for quick-fix solutions by pursuing higher education, online certifications and courses (jidhar scope jyada hai). Some exhibit burst of ambition (I am ready to do any course or amount of hard work to earn Rs.1 Cr p.a.-types) to fulfil unmet ambitions, while others reduce involvement in work and suddenly become family-friendly.

At organization-level, the HR department can play important role in identifying such employees in early stage of crisis and help them with career counselling and adopting other processes & tools. If the employee is willing to change his overall line of work, has required qualifications & experience to do alternate jobs, and if the organization has such vacancies, HR can encourage employees to take new challenges. Many times, employees are unsure about their future in their organisation (as the organization itself is in a shaky boat), and this results in mid-career crisis.

At individual level, one can address this crisis, based on identification of the real issue. Look at the following situations (determinants) of mid-career crisis:

  • 1. Job Fitment: In case you are experiencing a misfit with the work that you are doing. The misfit may be due to past mistake of ‘accidental degree’ and ‘available job options’. If you feel that you actually don’t like your work (and you have been adjusting or compromising with it so far), then you need to seriously identify your right Job-fit options and correct yourself; earlier the better.
  • 2. Culture Fitment: If your values are confronting with organizational culture, and your personality with the specific industry environment (e,g. media vs retail vs manufacturing), then a different kind of correction is needed. May be like same role but in a different industry.
  • 3. Opportunity Fitment: In case you have been satisfied with the current role but feel that there is fast emerging and better sector that you are sure you are good at, then you can think of changing to such industry/role with appropriate transition strategy
  • 4. Lack of Expert Identity: If you feel that the work experience you have undertaken so far has not shaped you as an expert, then you need to get serious about identifying the right role & industry, with which you intellectually & emotionally connect. This will make you an expert and grow faster. Don’t take courses/certifications to adjust with wrong work role (or address the panic). More certifications & courses in CV means ‘over academic’ and probably ‘diluted focus’.
  • 5. Self-development: If you have been doing well as an individual contributor (IC), and started facing issues after becoming a manager, then you need to look at whether you are trainable in the required areas, or you can’t change yourself much from what you are. Managerial responsibility involves people management, accountability and inter-personal sensitivity. There may be other developmental areas as well as per your specific profile.
  • 6. Self-assessment: Most researchers & experts recommend this to address mid-career crisis. The crisis, according to them, is basically a result of lack of self-awareness (who you really are) or industry-awareness (how things happen in industry). One needs to undertake self-assessment on values, interests, personality, talents etc using psychometric career test . But more importantly, all the energies in you need to be understood and connected. It answers almost all mid-career issues in terms of career direction and self-development. One can seek an expert help for the same (I consider myself as one) :

People considering mid-career change also need to look at the following factors:

  • Impact of the change on family
  • Short-term salary set-back for long-term gain
  • Identity crisis among friends, relatives and others
  • Time required to build the image in the new area
  • (v) Psychological setback for a short duration

Lastly, whether you want change in career or not, you need to keep in mind, that the ‘Industry 4.0’ wants a smaller number of highly productive people, who can handle uncertain situations in their work with an ease, effectiveness and perfection; basically experts. You need to identify the expert in you sooner than later, to not only remain in the employment market, but also to fulfill your dreams & aspirations.