Professional Development

4 tips for surviving a mid-career crisis

Written by Eric Titner

Most of us experience a wide array of challenges and triumphs across our career journeys—from the anxious rush and excitement of our first forays into the work world, when we’re figuring out who we are and what we’re passionate about, to the bittersweet reflection we’ll likely feel at the end of our professional path when we look back at all that we’ve done.

You’ll undoubtedly have a variety of emotions and reactions along the way, and not just at the beginning and end of your climb up the career ladder—the middle leg of the journey can be tumultuous as well. In fact, recognition of the struggles that often occur during the middle part of a career is gaining attention. It’s even been given a name—a mid-career crisis. And although we often assume that this portion of our journey will be the most stable and secure, it comes with its own set of issues. According to a recent article by Harvard Business Review:

“The ‘midcareer crisis’ is a real phenomenon for many workers; research has shown that career satisfaction bottoms out when people are in the middle of their careers. For many managers, the problem is seeing those employees through to the other side. Many companies and leaders have failed to develop plans for the employee who has progressed in his career but may not see many opportunities left at his existing company. Feeling overlooked or forgotten can be the nail in the coffin for someone who feels he’s given his best efforts to a company and is now grappling with a deep desire to change roles, locations, or missions.”

It’s not difficult to see how the adverse effects of an unchecked mid-career crisis can impact our happiness and level of professional satisfaction, as well as short- and long-term opportunities and aspirations. That said, all is not lost. Consider the following tips and strategies for surviving a mid-career crisis if you find yourself in the midst of a slump.

Appreciate the positives

Sure, things can look pretty bleak when you’re in the throes of a mid-career slump. The rush we often feel when embarking on a new career path often dissipates when we hit the middle, and a level of monotony and fatigue after years of routine is not uncommon—and can be hard for some to grapple with. That said, there’s also likely plenty to feel good about. You’ve made it through the tumultuous early stages and have survived the onslaught of fierce young competition. You’ve paid your dues and have hopefully garnered some measure of respect from colleagues. You’ve likely had some professional accomplishments that you can take pride in and have acquired some valuable skills and experience along the way. You likely have at least a few (and hopefully many) good memories to reflect upon. These are all good things, and redirecting your attention to them can be helpful when you find yourself overly focused on the negative.

Things can always be worse, especially in a volatile and unpredictable economy and job market. Think of your career like a long airplane flight—after making it through the initial takeoff and leveling off in the middle, you get to loosen your seatbelt and relax a bit for the long flight forward.

Design and aim for goals

So many of us only flesh out goals for ourselves at the onset of our career paths, and when we reach the middle and achieve most or all of these initial goals we often stop being goal-oriented. Bad move. Setting new goals allows us to constantly challenge ourselves and prove that we’re capable of learning new tricks, accomplishing new things, and overcoming hurdles in order to do so—which is a powerful way to fight mid-career apathy and doldrums. Start small or go big—as long as you keep pushing yourself forward.

Have outlets outside of work

It’s common for many folks to let their professional identities eclipse their overall sense of self. When this happens, any adverse or negative emotions tied to work have an outsized effect. Conversely, if you have a rich and multifaceted life with friends, family, hobbies, and outside interests, your focus on work won’t be quite so acute and you’ll be in a much better position to avoid a slump or crisis.

Allow for reinvention

If you find yourself in a mid-career slump, and after making several earnest attempts to break free there’s no sign of relief in sight, consider an exit strategy. Yes, even though you’ve dedicated sweat, tears, and years of your life traveling down your current career path, that doesn’t mean you have to continue down it if you’re not content. There’s always room for reinventing yourself and trying something new—even in the middle stages of your career. People take bold risks all the time to find happiness and career satisfaction.

If you’re going down a path that seems bleak and hopeless, then consider forging a completely new path for yourself. What have you got to lose?

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.