What it’s like to have a mid-career crisis (& why it’s perfectly ok)

You’ve spent at least a decade working in the same career field and then one day you realize it no longer brings you joy. What you thought was once your dream job no longer makes you happy and the excitement of starting your day is gone.

What do you do? Do you walk away from a career you spent years building?

There is a chance it could just be a phase and those feelings will pass. But if they don’t go away, you could be having a mid-career crisis.

Which is exactly what happened to me. I lost joy and enthusiasm for my career. So instead of just moving from one job to the next, I chose to start my own business and help people who want to start creating a life that has meaning and has purpose.

I want to share four things I learned from surviving a mid-career crisis and why I think it’s perfectly ok to have one.

1. Sometimes your career just doesn't grow with you.

We all change over time. What you want at the beginning of your career isn’t always what you want in the middle of your career. Your desires and wishes change and sometimes those don’t align with your career anymore. What once fulfilled you, no longer does.

I landed my dream job at L’Oreal in 2006 and the position was everything to me. It seemed so perfect at the time, I could have never imagined there would be a point I was no longer satisfied with it. But 10 years and 3 promotions later, it happened. I outgrew my career. It didn’t match what I wanted out of life anymore and I knew another promotion wouldn’t make me happy.

It was time to move on, even though I had absolutely no idea what to do next.  

2. It’s ok to have no idea what you want.

When I left my job I didn't have a really good plan other than I just wanted to do something every day that brought me joy. So, I spent 2 years randomly trying things that I thought might make me happy. I walked dogs, I sold insurance for my father's insurance company, I learned how to design and build websites, just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Those things didn't work out, but taking action gave me clarity. The only way to figure out what’s right for you is to take action and try things out. Eventually, you’ll find the right fit.

I chose to walk away from my career, not knowing what I wanted other than to be happy and excited about the work I was doing every day. It was important to me to feel like I was contributing to the world, but I didn’t know exactly what that looked like for me.

However, knowing what you don’t want to do can be just as powerful. When I left my job, I knew I didn’t want to travel every week or constantly be in meetings or on conference calls. I knew I was tired of the mundane and I wanted something new and something different. Just changing jobs was not the answer. If I wanted to make a big change, that meant I had to take big action. Even if that action was uncertain, I knew that over time I would eventually figure it out.

3. Your career is not who you are.

Since we spend much of our time and energy working, most of us define ourselves by the career we have. We say “I’m a… or I work for…”, but your career is not who you are. It’s what you do, but it’s not all you are. However, it’s difficult to think about who you are without it. Not knowing how to define yourself can be confusing, but sometimes it takes massive change or action to get to the core of who you are and what you want from life.

In a way, going through a mid-career crisis is essentially having an identity crisis. You don’t have a career to describe what you do anymore. I was always so proud to say I worked for L’Oreal, but when I left I had to figure out my new identity. By having my career identity removed, I learned I could be anything I wanted. I just had to take time to figure it out and learn how to make it happen.

4. When what you’re most afraid of comes true, you’ll still be ok.

One of my biggest fears about leaving my job was my financial situation. Not having a consistent stream of income was terrifying, but spending my time and energy doing something I didn’t love was even more terrifying. The thought of going through life and never figuring out my purpose was not something I was willing to sacrifice. If I had to live with financial uncertainty for a while, I was willing to pay that price in order to discover what I was meant for. I didn’t know what I would be doing, but I did have a plan to handle my finances.

Before I left my job I set aside a decent amount of money in a savings account, so I decided when that account reached a certain amount, if I didn’t have things figured out, I would get another job.

Unfortunately, my account did reach that point and I should have started to look for another job, but I couldn’t bring myself do it. The thought of having to work for someone else's dream and not my own gave me a bigger pit in my stomach than worrying about money.

I decided to embrace the uncertainty, stop focusing on the fear around lack of money and instead focus on what I needed to do to create money. When what you’re most afraid of comes true, you realize it was never all that scary to begin with. All that happens is that it happens. You move forward and life doesn't end. Somehow you just figure it out.

At the end of the day, having a mid-career crisis is scary. Making a drastic change in your life and career can make you question what people will think, wonder how you’ll get paid or feel worried about finding another job. And while some of the “what if..?” questions and scary scenarios you think about may come true, you’ll figure it out.

The most important thing you can do is ask yourself if you would rather live with the regret of not pursuing a life you love or live with the certainty of being comfortable.

I chose to pursue a life I loved.

However, you answer the question, know this - it’s okay to have a mid-career crisis. It’s a normal occurrence, though many people choose to ignore it and continue what they’ve been doing. They live in the mundane and settle for mediocrity because an average life is better than an uncertain life.

I know how difficult change is, but it can bring about many new and exciting opportunities. As humans, we are always meant to be expanding and learning new things. When you are afraid of stepping outside of what's comfortable, you miss out on new potentials. And you have to decide if going through life and never reaching your potential is worth the temporary discomfort.

If you find yourself having a mid-career crisis know that it's perfectly ok. I understand what it’s like. I’ve been through it, but I survived and so will you.

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Ren Burgett