Being bored, feeling undervalued and burned out is inevitable.
A common mistake people make is to believe mid-career burnout is not curable.
Photograph: Gabrielle Lurie/Reuters
You are in the age group of 35 to 50 in a mid-level position in your company.
The job, which looked so exciting earlier, is now making you drag yourself to office.
On most days, you feel you are running faster and faster on a treadmill, and sooner or later you just can't keep it up. And, you panicked during the recent job interview when the person on the other side of the table spent a little bit time on the date of birth in your resume.
If all this looks familiar, you are certainly not alone.
What is mid-career burnout?
Being bored and burned out is inevitable for most, sooner or later. There are actually many out there who go through such mid-life or mid-career crisis, a phrase first introduced by psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques and used extensively by Freudian psychologists like Carl Gustav Jung.
This is the stage when individuals make the transition from young people to older adults, and suddenly feel a sense of emptiness -- the corner office looks distant and you feel you do not belong to the “crowd” outside.
You are seeing a vast plateau around -- full with professionals, like yourselves who are stuck and have nowhere to go. In short, you feel undervalued and demotivated.
It’s not restricted to those who haven’t been able to reach the top in their career or suffer from financial insecurities. This can happen to those who have enough money to cover mortgage and life.
Even many successful people in that age group stop looking at what they have achieved in their professional life and start wallowing in self-pity about what they have missed out on in life -- not having the chance to relish life by spending more time with their loved ones. Then there is the bigger philosophical question of whether the hard work was worth it.
The most common mistake people make is that they resign themselves to the (false) idea that there is nothing they can do about it. You actually can.
HR practitioners say it’s not a bad idea to consider speaking to an independent career consultant to get an objective view, as well as a thorough personal assessment of the careers to which you would be best matched. Having the guidance, and outside perspective of a professional advisor can be a huge help in overcoming a mid-life career crisis.
Sometimes, a mid-career crisis could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you as you get an opportunity to know things about yourself you didn’t know.
They may help you discover new dimensions of the self -- things you may consider your weakness may actually be your biggest strengths as you explore ways to jumpstart your career.
What you can do
Psychoanalysts say it may be a good beginning by asking yourself some simple questions:
What was your best job ever? Why?
When was a time you felt really energised in your work? Why?
That will give the career counsellor some perspective about you.
Companies have a big role to play here. By not doing much about it, they risk losing some of their best people, who may opt for early retirement or seek more exciting work elsewhere.
After all, no company can have only super-talented people at work.
While it’s understandable that not all can get an entry into the boardroom, there are surely many ways of offering a more interesting and challenging job profile to someone who is good but can’t see any near-term possibilities for advancement.
Research has shown that career satisfaction bottoms out when employees are in the middle of their careers. But ignoring them means companies lose valuable knowledge and experience.
A well-planned mentoring programme or a lateral shift is thus necessary for every company’s HR manual. Mentoring can be an informal, private arrangement between two people, but a formal programme, overseen by the employer, can ensure that nobody gets left out.
In their book, Escape the Mid-Career Doldrums: What to do next when you’re bored, burned out, retired or fired, Charles A Buck and Marcia L Worthing say people in mid-life crisis don’t have to completely reinvent themselves. They just have to get over their preconceived notions about what is possible.
The worst thing is to feel “It’s too late now, I’m too old” or “I don’t have the right personality to do what I would really like to do”.