Career change or career development is difficult and stressful. …And that’s on top of my heavy workload in my current role.
I hear you. You don’t like your job, some days you’d like to pack it in. But you can’t allow yourself to think that… There’s the mortgage to pay, perhaps you’re supporting children at school or university. You tell yourself to ‘knuckle down’ and just get on with it.
You feel that your job sounds good (on paper). You’ve got a great job title… Some people would kill for such a job… And yet this job is killing you; slowly, relentlessly, devouring your soul…
I Hear How You’re Feeling Conflicted
I hear you. I hear how you’re feeling conflicted. I hear how you’re exhausted by the demands of your job. The commutes feel harder than they did 20 years ago. Some days you’re not even sure if your organisation values your years of experience. All those bright young things seem to bounce round the office – fingers flying as they text, working at a frenzied pace.
It’s a tantalising idea to change or develop your career at midlife. But surely, you feel, working on changing your career will just further overload you and your ‘to do’ list?
Psst! I’ll let you into a secret. Midlife career change CAN be joyful. That was the exact word that Sarah* used to describe her midlife career change journey. Sarah had become increasingly unfulfilled with her senior role in business development. She’d led a team for the last few years and they’d delivered their targets. Now things were getting tougher. Their targets had been increased in a declining market, and though she’d fought hard, she’d not been given a penny of additional promotional spend. Sarah kept up her good work… developing new strategies and tactics… She continued to give her all. She was no shirker.
Exhale Ahhhh, Relax and Play…
But then Sarah took her summer holiday. She reclined on the golden sands of an Italian beach, and marveled at the azure sea. She felt herself exhale, ahhhh, relax, and let go of all thoughts of work. She laughed with her husband and had play fights with him in the sea. And she realised she’d forgotten how to play in the last few years.
When she returned home, we met and she told me she was up for ‘playing’ with the idea of changing her career. She was up for dreaming of new possibilities of how she could work and live. I helped her to look at the world of work with ‘fresh eyes’, and notice just how much it has changed in the last fifteen years… And how there are now many new ways to work, earn a living and contribute. During our time together Sarah got excited and inspired… And now she’s arrived at a place where she’s talking to a charity about using her skills part time to support them in fundraising. She’s also planning to set up an interior design business with a friend. But most importantly, she tells me she’s rejuvenated and excited about the next 20 years of her working life.
And now I see YOU. I see all you’ve achieved in the last 15 or 20 years; the way you’ve shown up consistently in your role; despite crises at home, bad weather and ‘off days’. I acknowledge how you’ve contributed hugely to leading and developing your team, how you’ve kept your skills up to date, and dealt with the office politics and conflict along the way.
And in this summer holiday season, I wonder, could you make the space, to exhale - ahhhh, and relax, and in your own time to get playful again… About life and your career?
* Name and some details have been changed to protect confidentiality
© 2018 Trudy Lloyd & Associates. All Rights Reserved.
“I have to change my career,” Rachel insists, her eyes burning. “I know I’ll regret it if I don’t at least try and do something where I can be more active; like becoming a personal trainer.
If this was the first time I’d coached Rachel it might make sense for us to start to explore exactly what type of ‘more active’ role might suit her. But it wasn’t the first time we’d talked, and in truth Rachel was already pretty clear that for her new career, she wanted to help people improve their health and fitness at midlife so they can have a long and happy retirement and old age.
Indeed Rachel had already developed an excellent action plan for her new career. Unfortunately, she was making little progress implementing it. I asked Rachel a few more questions and things became clearer.
The Problem of Being 'Identified' With Your Professional Role
It seemed that Rachel was ‘identified’ so strongly with being an HR Director, and also with working in a large corporation, which was what she’d been doing for the last 18 years, that deep within her it felt impossible that she could be anything else. She’d had an ‘idea’ and made a plan to become a personal trainer. However, it was as if her internal ‘space’ was under monoculture to ‘HR Director vegetation’, and there was no ‘open ground’ within her, where she could plant and nurture the seedling for her new career.
If we’ve been in a role for 10, 15 or more years it’s easy to become ‘identified’ with that role. When this happens, our role is not just what we ‘do’, but it can seem that we ARE that role… and it can hard to be anything else. Our tendency to identify with our professional role may be exacerbated if we have worked long hours at it, and also perhaps if we enjoy the professional status that role gives us.
It’s easy to identify with any role. A ‘mother’ or ‘father’ who takes a career break can become identified with their caregiving role, and then find it hard to make the transition back to their career. Being identified with a role can also make us feel alive and focused, and that we have somewhere to channel our energy.
However, identifying with a role, any of our roles, ultimately limits us. Because when we are identified with a role we are not in control; instead we are being driven by unconscious urges. This means we will likely overlook and be unable to tap into our other talents, interests and traits. This could mean that we miss out on career and life opportunities, miss out on what might make us happy at midlife. When we are heavily identified with a role and try to make career choices, there is a risk that we will make a sub-optimal choice.
Dis-Identifying from Your Role Can Help Your Midlife Career Change
Even if you don’t want to make a career change at midlife, you could benefit from ending a strong ‘identification’ with, or dis-identifying from your work role. Dis-identifying from your work role will give you a new perspective from which to make decisions. It can also release more energy as you reclaim parts of you that you might have pushed aside. Another risk of being overly identified with a job role is that, should you lose that role, perhaps through redundancy, retirement or ill health, then you could feel ‘quite lost’. It might even bring you to a crisis.
“We are dominated by everything with which our 'self' is identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we dis-identify ourselves" Assagioli.
Even if you’re working 60 hours a week at your job – you are much more than your role identity. Your role might require you to be for example organised and pro-active and ‘results driven’ among other things. But what about those other great talents you have; perhaps your creativity, your playful side, your athletic side. Is there space in your life for these aspects of you to 'show up'? By identifying so strongly as an HR Director, Rachel’s view of all the other parts of herself was blocked.
How to Stop Being Identified with your Career Role.
Ending your identification with a career role is a journey. It’s a journey where you discover your ’self’. The ‘self’ is a still, but dynamic place inside you, from which you can observe and direct the various aspects of your personality.
Only when Rachel can stand back from her identity as an HR Director or dis-identify from it, will she feel less attached to the idea of herself in that role, and realise she has more ways of ‘being’ in the world.
To begin this process I asked Rachel to practise a couple of exercises. You can download the full instructions here.
Here's a quick summary of the role dis-identification exercises.
It’s not just our work roles with which we can become overly identified. We can also become identified with our minds, our feelings and our bodies. By identifying with any of these aspects of ourselves we limit the choices we have in life.
The process of dis-identifying from our roles, minds, feelings and bodies, is something that we can work on regularly. This will not only enable us to change our career when we feel the need to, but it can enable us to open up more options for our whole lives and for us to use more of our talents.
Ultimately when we are in touch with our ‘self’, we are best placed to plan our career change or career development and most likely to succeed with it.
© 2018 Trudy Lloyd & Associates All rights reserved.
You work on your skill set, right?
Of course. It’s a must for you as a 21st century professional; to keep up with your field, with work technologies and relevant legislation. …So when did you last upgrade your skills in handling the pressure at work?
Professionals often tell me that earlier in their career they might have experienced short bursts of high-intensity working, but then things always quietened down again. However, now they feel the pressure at work is relentless.
Such pressure left unchecked can lead to workplace stress and wreak havoc on health; weakening the immune system, upsetting the digestion, disturbing sleep and more. Stress can damage relationships inside and outside of work, making people feel miserable and no longer able to enjoy life.
How Can I Combat Workplace Stress?
Clients struggling to cope with workplace stress, often ask me if they should leave their role or change career. I tell them : “You have three choices – and leaving to find pastures new is only one of them”.
Here are the other two options.
Explore with your boss or colleagues options to reduce pressure and combat stress; these might include deferring deadlines, getting access to extra resource from inside or outside the organisation, doing some work from home and cutting back on the scope of a project. Brainstorm as many ideas as you can and try to make a case.
And yes, I’m aware that speaking out at work about how you’re experiencing pressure and even stress may carry risks as to how you’re perceived, and may even affect your career progression. However, if your current job with less pressure would still suit you, then maybe it’s worth a try?
How to Grow your Capability to Handle Workplace Pressure and Stress.
Ultimately though, option two may be more fruitful: Change yourself. This means growing your capability to handle the pressure at work.
I imagine you’re already familiar with what I call ‘Level One’ stress management techniques. They include ‘self-care basics’. However, it’s easy to break these positive habits when we’re under pressure.
Advanced Techniques to Handle Workplace Pressure and Stress.
OK, but what if you’re still feeling the pressure? That’s where what I call ‘Level Two’ techniques come in.
‘Level Two’ techniques can bring about a step change in how you manage pressure and stress at work. E.g. They’ll enable you to ‘get away’ from work when you’re not there, so that you’re not recreating your 'stress response', and the attendant risks to your health, by thinking about work at home. You may need to work at mastering these techniques, but if you’ll do, you’ll reap huge quality of life rewards.
Here's a brief introduction. If you’d like to learn more, we've got an online workshop where we’ll be getting into more detail. bit.ly/2DtUHAw
Are You Too Attached to 'The Outcome'?
Are You 'Too Identified' With Your Role?
Handling pressure and avoiding stress is a key life skill in the 21st century. Perhaps it’s the MOST important professional skill - because it’s fundamental to your ability to keep on working and to enjoy your work!
If you'd like to learn more about advanced techniques for handling pressure and stress at work why not join us for this online workshop bit.ly/2DtUHAw
How have you learned to handle pressure? Share what's worked for you in the comments below!
"Karen, an account manager in a software company complained to me that she’d grown tired of her role and found it unfulfilling. She wanted work that was more ‘meaningful’.“Trouble is,” she went on, “doing something more ‘meaningful’ isn’t going to pay the mortgage or enable me to support the kids through university, is it?"
I've found it’s common for professionals in well-paid but unfulfilling roles to believe that a career switch to work that’s more ‘meaningful’ will cost them dear. However, I also know it doesn’t have to be so.
What is ‘Meaningful’ Work?
Findings from studies defining ‘meaningful’ work, point to concepts such as ‘the amount of significance people perceive to exist in their work ¹. There’s the idea of a ‘calling’ which has deep historical and religious roots and which might lead people to choosing a role within the church or a healthcare environment. Nowadays the phrase ‘calling’ is often more about an inner drive to do fulfilling or self-actualising work².
There’s also the related concept of ‘meaning in life’³. Which suggests that work is meaningful not only when it is judged to be significant, but also when it is viewed as having a distinct purpose or point.
Some argue that you don’t have to have ‘meaningful’ work, as long as you find meaning in other parts of your life e.g. through family and relationships, a hobby, using your creativity, or through your faith.
The late Susan Jeffers, renowned author and psychotherapist, encouraged us to set the bar high. If your work isn’t ‘joyful’ she encourages us to ditch it.
Ultimately, ‘meaningful work’ is a ‘career value’ which any individual will rank somewhere on a continuum from high to low, according to their own make-up.
The Midlife Crisis and Your Career
Your interest in your career may wane gradually over several years. Or, having been made redundant, you may experience a sudden realisation: ‘I can’t go back to doing that! Either way it can feel frightening when the career that may have paid you handsomely and have reinforced a positive sense of self no longer ‘fits’.
Such experiences are consistent with what renowned psychotherapist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung labelled as the ‘midlife crisis’. Jung believed such an event to be driven by a ‘search for meaning’, and attributed it to the need to ‘individuate’ at midlife, self-actualise and develop further our unique selves.
If you made your career choice in your early twenties, perhaps twenty years ago. And since then you’ve changed and grown, and the world has also changed; is it really surprising that you, your career and the world of work no longer fit together like freshly sawn jigsaw pieces?
How to Get a Better Money-Meaning Balance in Your Career
There’s no quick fix. However, by starting with these three strategies you’ll be on your way to a better balance of money and meaning in your career at midlife.
1.Update Your Understanding of YOU
Trudy believes that everyone should enjoy meaningful, satisfying and rewarding work - work that fires them up! She is fascinated by human potential and the life journeys people make to find work and careers where they can channel and develop their skills and talents in meaningful and satisfying ways.