My First Mid-Life Adventure (read Crisis) and Career Change
According to Woman’s Day the Bible of all Bibles, there are 13 signs to a midlife crisis, and they are:
- You’re asking yourself deep, probing questions
- You’re making rash decisions
- You feel like you’re slowly losing your mind
- You can’t sleep through the night
- Your vision of the future is dismal
- You’re constantly bored
- You have an overwhelming sense of loss
- You become overly concerned about your appearance
- Or you stop caring about your appearance completely
- You rarely (if ever) have interest in sex
- You think of yourself as an ‘old person’
- You think your best years are behind you
- You think every bad day means you are having a mid-life crisis
Aside from the fact that I want to yell ‘discrimination’ (because this article being aimed at women, does not bring up the motorbike or sports car, the too-tight skinny jeans, the hankering after way too young companions and the late onset tattoos - all things which are ‘typically’ associated with men), I have to confess that a few years ago, I did experience most items ticked on the list.
My story is age old and not unique. Like a good girl, I studied hard at school and university. My only rebellion was to opt for an Ancient Greek & History degree as opposed to a more ‘practical’ one, which my father would have preferred. I left university having loved my degree but hated that I struggled to find a job because it was not as practical as ‘business studies’ or ‘economics’ or ‘law’. However, after a couple of months of searching and accidentally dialing the wrong number, I found myself a job working as a junior analyst at a private client stock broking firm. After 18 months there, I moved to a large UK asset management company to be an equities dealer and there I stayed for nearly two decades. I loved my job even though I really didn’t think I would initially. There were many challenges associated with it but mostly of the growing kind and I thrived. What really made it as excellent as it was, was my team. Each member was just brilliant and to this day, I still miss them. My other colleagues were a great laugh too and today, I still crave the camaraderie.
At the time, it was easy for my to miss the signs listed above, for I was caught up in some internal politics which pretty much took up most of my mental and emotional space. As a result of this issue at work, I started losing bits of myself and I lost focus on what was important – to be a good leader for my team. As I had been performing the daily task of dealing for so long, I was able to continue to work hard and deliver – which was a relief. However, little things that never used to bother me, were amplified disproportionately in irritation levels. I definitely felt like I was going mad and as a result of that, my decision making, when it came to my personal life, was erratic at best. Everything was a trauma and yet I was bored to tears. My coach was a saviour (eternal gratitude to @Jane Thompson) and she was the only person who could really help me see through the mire that was becoming my reality. I guess subconsciously, I had been thinking of leaving but the actual conscious decision to leave was one that was pretty much made in a couple of minutes. I did talk to the board about my intended decision and some attempt was made by me and by them to help place me elsewhere internally, but I knew that was the wrong thing to do.
Who the f**k knows what’s next?
The panic struck the day after I officially resigned. What, where, how, when, who? I was certain I did not want to go elsewhere to do the same job. Why on earth would I do that when I had the perfect set up where I was? I wanted a new challenge. I was beyond stale and bored. I wanted to learn, try new things and have an adventure. So I took myself off travelling for a little bit, climbed a few mountains, attempted to learn a new language, started some new habits and generally took some much needed time for myself. This is not to say that any of it was relaxing for my mind. On a constant basis, I was still petrified and anxious about the ‘what next’. It didn’t help that people in my industry kept asking me that question whilst others assumed that I was lying when I said I didn’t know. The rumour mill was quite hilarious – I had become a lesbian and wanted to be free of City life as a result (not sure the correlation but…), I had a job as the Head of Sales Trading at one of the largest US investment banks and I had gotten that job because I had slept with one of the directors there, I was moving to Australia after I met a sheep farmer, I was moving to Sweden… Don’t let anyone tell you that people in the City lack imagination….
I ended up choosing to do a masters in Organistional Pyschology – mainly because I wanted to buy myself more time. I would have preferred to do an MBA in California (or anywhere in the US) but I’d have to wait for 2-3 years. No thanks. The masters to me was interesting because I was fascinated by human behaviour at work – why some thrive and others don’t. How some cultures really worked and others didn’t. Why some people behaved liked a**holes and got away with it and others were out on their ears very quickly. The course was pretty intriguing especially the focus on workplace wellbeing – something that I observed was sorely lacking in the City and amongst many of my friends in any demanding job. In short, I soon founded my business and became a coach.
Although this account is massively abbreviated, I’d like to highlight some of the lessons learnt and observations made on my journey. It might give you some food for thought, and some of my anecdotes have certainly helped some of my clients.
Some lessons on my journey – in no particular order:
- The journey is never over. If you keep learning and wanting to learn, it shouldn’t ever get stale, but it might mean moving from where you are, or staying but with a different lens or tools
- Try new things – you might as well, and it certainly gives you some perspective. Like I’ve lived in this area for nearly 15 years – I didn’t even know there was a school nearby until I stopped working in the City. People do the most interesting jobs, have the most diverse activities. Partake away!
- Take time out for yourself to make good decisions. I don’t think I would have made a proper change of career if I didn’t buy myself that year off and year on the course. Job offers came for me to do similar roles and I was sorely tempted. But I had to remind myself that I had to respect the decision I made to leave. I have seen many a panicked client jump from the frying pan into the fire job-wise, and they have never been unhappier
- However, it can take far longer than you’d planned or the outcome is not quite as you expected, so do have some savings set aside. That said, enjoy the ride!
- You might not find the perfect job but that doesn’t mean you can’t like and really enjoy it. I am one of these people who likes variety enormously and I do think I have found one of my callings – I LOVE coaching. But I find I miss the banter and camaraderie, something that doesn’t come with coaching. So I find different ways of getting that interaction
- It is all very scary and don’t let anyone tell you any differently. Work can really be awful but what you do have is a monthly paycheck. The question is, is that paycheck enough to keep you there? There are no right or wrong answers
- Trying to go back into industry after time out, no matter how legitimate, is really tough. Especially if you want to go back in, with all your experience, in a slightly different capacity. The number of headhunters who have looked at my CV and said it was ‘quirky’ or ‘unusual’ is beyond high, even though in theory, they say they are looking for diverse experience. When you pivot, do take the time to list out where your knowledge and background are transferrable, and that your ‘different’ knowledge is seen as an advantage rather than an anomaly. Find a search specialist who understands that companies need experts as well as people to ameliorate businesses, ie the world isn’t a box ticking exercise (see the fantastic @Philip Darling)
- Do speak to people – network, ask for advice etc from respected peers and friends. Although I did find that making such a huge decision about leaving a job as well as changing careers was too much for nearly all my friends. Virtually all asked me not to do it for fear that I would never find anything as good. I heard what they were saying and they absolutely meant well but this was something I had to do for myself. Do be careful who you ask – most can’t help but project their fears onto you. It’s perfectly normal but do watch out for it
- It gets easier and easier each time to try something new
If any of the early part of this article resonates with you, take some time out for yourself. Have a sabbatical, speak to someone who has no axe to grind – like an independent friend or coach. Try new hobbies and meet new people. It’s amazing how huge the world is out there. Boy is it frightening and at times, anxiety inducing but that’s why I call it an adventure, not a crisis. I am also pretty sure I will have multiple adventures, not just the one. Stay tuned!
See below two really interesting quotes which reflect some of what I’ve written. Perhaps they will inspire you too.
Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins.
Charles Stanley “What holds true for the individual holds true for a society. It is never static; if it does not grow, it decays; if it does not transcend the status quo for the better, it changes for the worse. Often we, the individual or the people who make up a society, have the illusion we could stand still and not alter the given situation in the one or the other direction. This is one of the most dangerous illusions. The moment we stand still, we begin to decay.”
Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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