The Career Mid-Life Crisis (yes, it’s normal!)

No, I’m not talking about THAT kind of mid-life crisis.

You know – tossing off all responsibilities, kissing corporate life good-bye forever, opening up a coffee/parasailing shop in Mexico, living on a boat and a Harley, and selling sea gull dung as a sustainable energy source.

No – not that kind.

But, in the many conversations I’ve had in recent years with folks in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, it’s quite common to reach a career juncture and wonder – how did I get here? And where am I going?

And, especially – I’m no longer sure I like here, or the there where I’m aiming.

How does this happen? Here are a few common causes:

  1. The company career ladder dictates that you must move from this role to the next, whether or not you’re really in your sweet spot.
  2. You were once in your sweet spot, but the fast-moving company needs you to wear multiple hats, and now you’re mostly engaged in roles that aren’t a great match.
  3. Your company experienced a management change and/or buyout and/or merger, and the path forward (or present role) became undesirable.
  4. You were once challenged, but now you’re bored, or stuck, with no vector forward.
  5. You took a job because you simply needed to be employed – but it’s not a great fit for your skills and purposes.

Sound familiar? Happens all the time. Let me repeat – this happens all the time! And often, it’s not really your fault.

Career mid-life questions rise up to be asked and answered, not suppressed and buried.

Career mid-life crisis

But here’s the thing – many times, we find it hard to talk about these uncomfortable junctures. In fact, we (especially men) can feel a sense of shame about career mid-life struggles. I don’t know about you (actually, maybe I do…), but here are some thoughts that can go through our heads at career mid-life:

  • I should have my act together by now and have all this figured out. But I don’t. And I’m embarassed.
  • I shouldn’t have made (this, and that, or that, or the other) choice. It’s too late now – I’m hopeless.
  • Follow my passions? I lost those long ago. I don’t even know what I want anymore.
  • If I admit that I feel lost those around me will lose respect for me.
  • Everyone else has their career together. I’m a loser.

Like so many chains of fear and shame, these thoughts keep us from re-considering our direction and taking charge of our career path. It causes some people to just grit their teeth and determine to gut it out until retirement.

To start asking is to risk change. And that, my friend, is the biggest challenge of all – right?

In one blog post, there’s no way I can “fix” anyone’s career perplexity. But, please, take this away – you are not alone. Don’t let shame or fear choke you. Your career mid-life questions are meant to lead you into better pastures. Allow yourself the room to  re-think, and brainstorm, and explore…there’s a whole bunch of us out here figuring it out as we go along! And we’d enjoy your company…

ALSO – See this from @KathyCaprino via Forbes: Six Hidden Assumptions that Destroy Your Chances for Career Happiness


Also on the blog: Sold on You

Do you need career clarity?


  1. Gosh, I’ve been here before – several times. Thanks.

  2. jim Trunick says

    Tough times don’t build character, they reveal it. Steve, thanks for the post and the introspection associated with emotional challenge of mid-life job crisis. The term corporate ladder is as outdated as the term 9-to-5. We don’t live in terms of labor anymore, its talent. And to your point everyone says – find your talent and passion and follow that. Ok, but I have responsibilities. Elder care, child care, my goals, expectations placed on me by others. Love to find my talent and passion, and then I’ll be poor with real stress. Naw, I’ll just plug along and things will be ok. Ok, yes, not happy. don’t quit your job, just do it better – find the few things you like to do – your fun or deepest value, and just do more of it, in your current role. Most organizations aren’t that prescriptive for exactly how you spend every waking minute – that’s a burden we place on ourselves, to have someone else to blame besides ourselves, if we aren’t happy. We all think we are $20,000 away from happiness. And with that, you’ll need more money or power and then ask ourselves – how much money would we give up, to be Truly Happy? Look around, why is it so people we know, of fewer means or resources, are often happier than wealthy us! And your wealthy bosses – how many of them claim happiness as one of their core strengths and traits? The corporate ladder has been replaced by the Jungle Gym. remember as a kid, going from one slide to swing and trying all the equipment. treat our jobs more like a jungle gym, and the rest will take of itself – money , reputation, smiles – you get it !!

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