“Look, this is how many days I have left until retirement!” He held up his phone to me and showed me the app. I had just run into an old friend from school who was on his lunch break. The app he showed me was counting down the days and hours of the next 20 years or so that he had left to work in his job before he was finally free.
When we parted ways I told myself that I never wanted to feel this way about my job.
In fact, I made a plan then and there to work beyond the official retirement age, because I would love my job so much that I wouldn’t want to leave. (I’m not saying that I’ll never retire, but I like the idea of doing it on my own terms).
I felt sad for my friend and at the same time worried that I might end up in the same mind frame. I realised that I didn’t really have a clear picture of how my working life would become so awesome that I wouldn’t want to leave.
When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to grow up and make my own decisions. I had a clear picture of what my life would be like when I was a grown-up (at the ripe old age of 25). I was going to have a job, my own place and a car. Added bonus: a boyfriend.
When I was 25 I had a good idea of what I wanted to achieve by 35: I wanted to upscale, have a career and get acknowledgement for my genius (spoiler: that didn’t all come true).
In my 30s I had a career but wondered if I was missing out on having a family. So when I was 35, I got married and had a baby (I’ll readily admit to succumbing to the power of the biological clock).
But after I went back to work things started to change. Pretty soon my main aim was just to manage my energy between my job and my family. I was chasing work-life balance but I was moving in the wrong direction. My focus went more and more to all the things I didn’t want: I didn’t want to be so drained, I didn’t want extra responsibility and most of all: I didn’t want to feel so stressed…
Welcome to the mid-career crisis
People often talk about a mid-life crisis and I probably had that, too. But most of all I found myself in a mid-career crisis. I was pretty happy with my private life, but not with my job.
I had stopped dreaming about some awesome career I would have beyond my 40s. It just all felt so tiring. Instead, I was looking for ways to scale back. And it wasn’t because of my family. I had enough time to do my job, but I was missing meaning and motivation.
Overall the 40s and 50s don’t seem like the most glamorous times in a woman’s life, right? So is projecting our lost hopes and dreams onto our kids the only thing left? (“I couldn’t make a difference in the world, my son, but you are young and strong and you still can! So please do your homework and be good at something!”)
I noticed that once I turned 40 I was trying to hold on to old achievements. It was all about staying fit, staying relevant and staying young. Well, in the long run, that’s a losing battle, because we still get older and there inevitably comes a time when you just don’t pass as 39 anymore. (And the looks you get if you try can be a bit embarrassing. I tested it for you. You’re welcome!)
Beyond lack of time and low energy
The problem goes beyond that period when you feel overwhelmed holding down a job while taking care of young kids at home.
Companies don’t tend to focus on how to develop their middle-aged employees. If you haven’t made it into the talent development program by the time you’re 30, it’s probably not going to happen. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on yourself.
Back in my corporate job, I was surprised one day to receive a job application for a team lead position from a woman in my team. She was in her forties and I knew her as a dependable “worker-bee” but hadn’t pegged her for a leadership role at all. I was intrigued to find out more about her motivation. She said she felt there was a new chapter to her life. She was looking for a new purpose and a new challenge. She felt she was just too young to say she couldn’t progress anymore in her career. I never regretted hiring her for the post and I’ve often thought of her as a good example for myself.
It’s okay to have ambition beyond the images we see everywhere of young, dynamic and successful people. Where are the role models that show us how to have an awesome life at 45 or 55? They’re not that easy to find.
A new purpose
Well, maybe we need to become those role-models. The people who discover a new set of strengths that they can bring into their work lives, who gathered some wisdom along the way, can set priorities and aren’t scared to ask for help with tech. (I know I’m going out on a limb with some clichés here, but bear with me on the principle.)
When I first started as a coach, I focused on career mentoring and helping my clients find new jobs. And I heard so many times that “it’s impossible to find a new job once you’re 50”! So the race was on to find the perfect “final resting place” (pardon the pun), the job that you could stay in from 50 until retirement without dying too much inside every day.
But how sad is that? How low are our expectations, if that’s the best we can hope for? No wonder we’re downloading apps. But is that really what you want to look at for the next 7 689 days (and counting) to cheer you up?
I’m happy to report that despite the rumours, I know plenty of people who have moved into new jobs well beyond the age of 50 and some even started totally new careers. I know people who found new meaning and new motivation in the job they already had.
So whatever your age, if you find yourself stuck and unhappy in your work-life, make a plan. Develop a vision, create pictures in your mind, add a soundtrack, feel into that new awesome life you’re going to have one, five or ten years from now. And then start making some moves in that direction.
Don’t give up on yourself.
If you’d like some help with making your new awesome life happen, feel free to get in touch. I’d love to work with you.