Life gets complicated, careers get stagnant, and men need to know what they can do right now to start moving forward again.
Five years ago at the age of 45 I faced an onslaught of events that upended my career and life. This included the death of my brother, caring for an aging parent, my own health issues and a career that wasn’t turning out as planned.
I thought midlife is supposed to be the time when I should have it all. In actuality it’s more like, “My life is more complicated than I ever imagined and my career is not progressing as I had hoped. I’m at a crossroads.”
Perhaps the most difficult part about finding my career in flux was that this was the time when I had the most to give. And yet, I was feeling the most vulnerable grappling with knowing if my employer considers me as a high-potential employee who will continue to be rewarded and given challenging assignments. This state of unease precipitated my desire to bring awareness to my current situation and the truths that exist. Turns out I was suffering from growing discontent. My advertising job no longer satisfied me. What did inspire me was mentoring and developing individuals and teams to be fulfilled, successful and high functioning.
As I transitioned out of my advertising group account director role to executive coach I became acutely aware that many people are suffering through the challenges of midlife in silence. As I spoke to more people I began to see common patterns and issues. While everyone’s situation is highly personal some common themes are consistent with what most people experience referred to as the 7 W.A.R.N.I.N.G. Signs of Distress.
You have put pressure on yourself to succeed as defined by others, but you have never felt completely satisfied in your career choice, instead questioning the benefit you provide. After years of doing something you don’t love, often for companies that held unrealistic expectations, you have a diluted sense of worth. In turn, you are uncertain about your value and cautious about finding the career you want.
What You Can Do Today: Create your own definition of success that highlights your value and the contribution you bring to an organization.
You are no longer learning and feeling challenged. In many cases, your career has lulled you into complacency. You have been a good soldier, performing as expected and, thus, allowing others to control your destiny. In doing so, you have not actively managed your career. But when something (such as a significant management change) forces you to finally look around, you discover your job has become something you never wanted it to be.
What You Can Do Today: Reassess your career goals and ambitions. This may be the time for reinvention by learning new skills or potentially finding a new employer.
Scratching and clawing your way to the top can result in losing sight of who you are. Your eagerness to be successful can be blinding. Without a good early role model you can quickly latch on to how others in status positions behave. You begin to sacrifice yourself in order to fit in and be part of the club.
What You Can Do Today: Clearly articulate the leader you want to be. What are your beliefs? How do you want to be treated? How do you want to treat others?
Have you ended up in a career or job where you no longer feel as though you have any control over how your job is performed? Do you feel as though you are drifting in the swirl of corporate despair, neglected and shunted to the side by your boss? Now, you are struggling to make yourself relevant.
What You Can Do Today: Get reacquainted with your best assets. List your top 5 strengths and the key contributions you’ve made in your current position.
Idling is characterized by the inability to make progress on decisions that affect you. You have become emotionally paralyzed and your life feels stuck. It begins when you lose sight of what you want and others become your focus. You feel the weight of every personal decision and the impact on those around you. But there is a slow simmer that is happening inside. The frustration is mounting, and you feel like you are losing bits and pieces of yourself.
What You Can Do Today: Think of yourself first. Determine what you need for yourself in order to feel fulfilled and energized.
You might experience this if you enthusiastically imagine lots of potential career options but, like a kid in a candy store, can’t quite decide which one you want. Ultimately, you are overwhelmed with all the choices and every day you come home with a new exciting possibility. While this is encouraging because you can see the opportunities, it is frustrating for you and those around you because there is a lot of talk and little action.
What You Can Do Today: Create a checklist of specific criteria for your career. What would you be doing? Why would you be doing it? Who would you be doing it with? How would you be doing it?
By all accounts you have a great job. The title. The money. The office. The prestige of working for a respected company. But still, you are not feeling fulfilled, and it’s wearing you down. During your ascent through the company, you collected all the trinkets of success, but you lost sight of what really gets you excited. Now you know what you want to be doing, but you haven’t yet found the path forward. Something or someone (the organization) is holding you back.
What You Can Do Today: Clearly and succinctly articulate how a change for you would also be a positive change for your company. Identify a champion or mentor who can help support and navigate this change.
If your current situation is not working for you, you do not have to accept it as your fate. You can set forth a new vision. It takes not only awareness of where you are today but self discipline to start taking a series of small action steps to initiate the change you want in your career and life.
Photo: Flickr/DJ Hoogerdijk