that during these last few months, you’d been coping by subconsciously believing things would return to normal… You’ve realised that’s not going to happen, it might never happen… You feel shaken, afraid, lost.
Handling Unprecedented Career Uncertainty
I hear how you’re grappling with this new uncertainty. The prospects for your industry are dire. Your bosses kept you and your team busy during lockdown with current projects. But with no future pipeline to speak of, your higher-ups have warned that posts will soon have to go.
You’re barely sleeping with the anxiety about the mortgage and the bills, it’s unbelievable how much it costs to take care of a family. Thank God your wife is a teacher – at least her work looks secure at the moment…
But it’s not just that. Despite this grim outlook for your work situation, part of you is recalcitrant. Lockdown and in particular working from home has changed you.
I tell you that despite your suspicions you’re not going mad. Let’s get some perspective, we’re living through a period of unprecedented change. Even during the Second World War, schools generally stayed open.
Welcome to the VUCA world; volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. We’ve had glimpses of it in the last twenty years due to the impact of new technologies and globalisation, but Covid-19 has taken VUCA to a whole new level. There’s volatility – infection rates are swinging up and down across the world. We have uncertainty – will there be a second lockdown? This is complex – it’s not just about your industry, it’s whether the eco-system of industries that feeds your industry survives. It’s ambiguous - different people interpret the data about the key measures deemed important differently. I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel in turmoil.
Nostalgia for Career Stability
“I feel in turmoil,” you say. “And there’s something else. I’m wondering if maybe I never had it so good as in the pre-Covid world! No it wasn’t perfect, but my work seemed stable, my life was on track, we went on holiday and away for the weekend. I worked out in the gym, had a pint with my mates… and I took it all pretty much for granted.”
“So perhaps you’re feeling nostalgia for the good times?” I say, and you nod. And we agree that those times feel safe because we’ve lived through them and enjoyed them. And I hear the hopelessness in your voice when you say you feel defeated, but you’d like some answers if there are any.
And I suggest that the old normal has gone and we have no clue about how the new normal of work and the economy will turn unfold. What’s more, spending time on predicting the future environment will likely be a fool’s errand.
Career Hope Alongside Covid-19
And I ask you five questions and wait for your responses.
And I say that’s what I’m doing… and that’s all any of us can do right now.
* This is a fictionalised coaching case based on recent experience. No content in this exchange is directly drawn from work with any particular individual or individuals.
© 2020 Trudy Lloyd & Associates. All Rights Reserved.
"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
I believe that everyone should enjoy meaningful, satisfying and rewarding work - work that fires you up! I am 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.