Mid-life crisis or mid-life wake-up call?

I was talking to a lovely person recently who described the fact that her husband was thinking of following a completely different career as a “mid-life crisis”.

His plans sounded pretty exciting to me so I wondered whether we should start thinking of our changes of direction in our 40s and 50s less as a mid-life crisis and maybe more as a mid-life wake-up call?

The Office for National Statistics declared that, in 2010, average life expectancy at birth across the UK, for both men and women, rose by four months to 78.2 and 82.3 years respectively. Between 2004 and 2010, life expectancy for both men and women rose by a year, calculated both at birth and at age 65.

We are living longer than ever so most certainly have time to have second, or even third, fulfilling career and here are some reasons why your mid-life wake-up may lead you to even greater happiness and success than your first life.

In your second life, you really know what you want to do.

Think back to how you made your career decision when you were at school. What options were you offered? Did you follow the same career path as a parent or sibling? Or did you think a law degree was a good idea and have been practising law ever since? As we grow older, we start to understand and realise what our true passions are, and what options are available to us. My sister had always wanted to be a teacher but had been talked out of it by my mother because she worked in a school and saw how hard the teachers worked for how little financial reward. In her early 30s (hardly mid-life but still…), my sister realised that throughout her 20s, she had been constantly thinking about teaching and was not fully embracing the events management jobs she had. She took the brave step of retraining as a teacher and has never looked back.

In your mid-life, you can discover what you are really good at.

Our 20s and 30s are most certainly times for climbing the corporate ladder, trying to buy a home and building some savings. This sometimes clouds our thinking and we choose careers to support these objectives as opposed to considering what we really enjoy doing. I recently learned of an investment banker who had always wanted to design kitchens. In his mid-life, that he is what he is doing and has never been happier. Another former fund manager friend is living her dream as a yoga teacher. Of course its easy to say that these people can afford to pursue things they really enjoy but that is one of the benefits of mid-life for many.

On that topic, in true mid-life, which would now be our 50s and 60s, people often have more disposable income.

That’s not to say, everyone suddenly has a massive windfall but many people have paid off their mortgage and have seen their children through school or university. This gives them options to change what they do. Income becomes less of a driver from a day-to-day perspective, or from a need to show people how well off they are – which can drive us in our earlier careers.

In our second or mid-life, we also develop a clearer sense of our values and what is important.

I find this is particularly true of women who have children and return to work but not exclusively. We can find things that we did in our 20s to climb the corporate ladder no longer palatable. We are less willing to spend face-time at work in order to get promoted or to put down others for our own gain. I know a number of people who have adopted a strong sustainability and responsibility approach in their mid-life and who have set up firms with an environmental bias. Many bankers want to spend less time on the road away from their children. We are brave enough to leave behind the “Bad Boss” who has been tormenting us. We do not have to “suck it up” as we do so often in our 20s.

On a similar note, in our mid-lives aspects of our personality may change subtly.

We can become more self-confident as we understand who we are and what is important. We also tend to become less ego-driven as we understand that power, fast cars and designer bags are not the keys to happiness. This can free us to leave behind a career which is no longer fulfilling and to start doing something we really enjoy. Just think, at 45, you will have worked for more than 20 years but you could start a second career that lasts just as long. Your life is not over and you are not pigeon-holed.

Some people actively decide to change up their career or how they do things in their mid-life and some people have change forced upon them following a redundancy or a divorce, for example. Either way, our mid-life is the ideal time to reconsider how we live our lives and whether we can shoot for the goals we always dreamed about.

A big difference between a mid-life crisis and a mid-life wake-up call is the way you approach your decision making. To walk in one day and say, “I’ve quit my job, I’ve bought a sports car and I’m off to tour Europe!” sniffs of a mid-life crisis.

However, to sit down with and brainstorm thoroughly, to arrange meetings with key people in your network and to complete a thorough analysis of your life and your options is much more considered and more likely to lead you to the second life you dream of.

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