Milestone birthdays often serve as a reminder of the persistent passage of time. Whether it’s turning 30, 40, 50, 60 or beyond, reaching each decade threshold is a time to take stock of where we’ve been, what we’re grateful for, and where we still want to go.
And these milestones can either bring about dread or light a fire under us. For example, there’s a huge increase in the number of first time marathon runners who are age 29, 39, 49 and 59. Perhaps for many people running a marathon is an early bucket list item to check off before entering their next decade.
As I wrote in a previous post, happiness often increases after we reach middle age. This U-bend curve of well-being suggests that our happiness quotient continually declines from our early twenties until our mid-forties whereupon it then begins to rise well into old age. Little wonder since the mid-forties is when people are often heavily invested in demanding careers, raising teenagers and helping their aging parents.
By the same token, many people reach a career slump in their work when they are in their mid-forties and about halfway through their most productive working years. This slump can be attributed to many factors such as individuals are not seeing as many advancement opportunities, they no longer have the right level of challenge and satisfaction in their work, or they are no longer stimulated and simply working for a paycheck.
In the same way buying a sports car or starting an affair may not be the best choice in a mid-life crisis, so too might simply finding another job may not be the best choice if you’re in a mid-career slump.
Whether it’s entering a new decade of life or simply reaching a crossroads in your career, it helps to first take stock of where you are. This could include assessing what you’ve accomplished so far, how satisfied you are at this point in your life, and acknowledging what—if anything—is holding you back from reaching more of what you want.
Warren Buffett suggests when you reach such a mid-life slump, it’s worthwhile to make a list of your top 25 goals for the rest of your life. Then look at this list and circle your top five that are your absolute highest priority. Next, immediately begin planning how to achieve those top five goals and don’t even look at those other 20 until you achieved all five. By focusing on and achieving a few important things well is far more likely to move you out of a slump of many half-hearted and/or half-completed projects.
Daniel Pink, in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, suggests other ways to combat a mid-career slump. These include:
• Develop a mid-career mentoring program in your organization. This is a recognition of the U-bend curve of well-being that is something we are all likely to encounter. Making this a formal program will enable more experienced employees to offer strategies for dealing with the inevitable slump. Peers can provide camaraderie and support. And having others share how they were able to inject purpose into their lives can be inspiring and motivating.
• Mentally subtract positive events. To do this, you first think about something positive in your life—your marriage, birth of a child, major achievement. Second list all of the circumstances that made that possible, such as a seemingly insignificant decision of where to eat dinner one night or a class you enrolled in on a whim or the friend of a friend who happened to tell you about a person or job opening. Then remind yourself that life did go your way. Serendipity happens.
• Write yourself a few paragraphs of self-compassion. By nature, most of us are overly hard on ourselves. We are all too likely to focus on our faults and where we fall short. Scarcity rather than abundance. But we should also take time to acknowledge our strengths and be compassionate in the fact that—as human beings—we are all perfectly imperfect. By writing this down and owning it, we are more likely to internalize it and accept it in a healing manner.
No matter where we are in life or in our career, we are on a journey. And on this journey we celebrate accomplishments and suffer setbacks. How we respond to the inevitable mid-life and mid-career slumps depends on our resilience and our ability to remain mindful of our long-term goals and priorities. The remedy for these slumps is within your grasp.