February 22, 2016

Plan for Your Midlife Crisis Like you Would Retirement.

Mikael Kristenson medium

I followed the well-worn professional path laid out for me from, well, about birth.

I was born into a family where college was mandatory for us children of working class parents who wanted better for their kids. So, I did it. And, at the ripe old age of 24, I was a licensed attorney.

Like all young attorneys, I fully expected that I would practice law for at least the next 40 years. I had everything I needed to gain and maintain a stability my parents could only dream about.

But something happened about 20 years in…a restlessness with work that I could not shake.

I think I first tried to quell it by getting an arm sleeve and chest tattoo. That didn’t do it.

I was even diagnosed with cancer and successfully completed treatment. But that didn’t give me some new lease on life and make me any more appreciative of the here and now at work every day.

And so, on January 15, 2016, I quit traditional employment.

I will never forget two months prior to my final day when I told my boss that I was going to leave. It was like an out-of-body experience. While my lips were moving, I was screaming on the inside, “Holy sh*t, you are actually doing this!”

The overwhelming reaction by everyone to my decision was praise, pats on the back and a lot of “Man, I wish I could do that…”.

And it got me thinking.

Why do we think it is okay to set up our lives by making decisions about what we want to do for the rest of our lives when we are in our late teens to early twenties?

Looking back, I don’t want my early twenty-something year old self making any permanent decisions for me today.

As I recall, I chose to go to law school because I hated statistics. I was an accounting major, dropped out of a required statistics course, changed my major to political science and—in order to appease myself and everybody else—declared that I would become a lawyer.

Not really the stuff dreams are made of. But I suspect I am not the only one.

I remember so many of my law school colleagues said, “Just let me go work for a firm until I get these loans paid off. Then I will do what I want.”

We started talking about change before we even got started.

But I don’t think many of us did.

Most got married. Took out a mortgage. Had kids. Bought stuff.

And all of this needs to be maintained, you know. Plus, staying in a lifelong career is what we are supposed to do, right? That is what is stable, good and safe. That is what “professionals” do.

Yet we end up planning to live when we retire, or go on vacation, or on the weekends.

We try to find satisfaction outside the one thing we do the majority of the time. Or, worse, we find more destructive outlets like alcohol, drugs, eating, cheating, or even Facebook to numb our dissatisfaction with our day- to-day existence.

I just googled “percentage of people unhappy with their jobs.” Not surprisingly, what popped up is a bunch of surveys concluding that most of us are unhappy in our work. I offer one simple explanation: doing anything for decades gets boring and uninspiring.

We need change and variety and new challenges. That’s how we are made.

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell said that you had to do something for 10,000 hours to master it. That’s about right. That adds up to about five years on the job. We may then enjoy another 10,000 hours (or five years) being experts at our jobs.

But, what the book fails to mention is that after that, it starts to go downhill. Add on the next 10,000 hours and we are bored out of our minds. Welcome to your forties.

Many of us make these life-long career decisions at a time when we barely even know ourselves. And we do change—a lot.

How long was I going to allow that decision to dictate my day-to-day life if I think it no longer works for me? Through my forties? My fifties? Until retirement? Call me weak, but I simply couldn’t do it.

I was drowning.

And I was fortunate enough to be able to buy myself some time and hit the reset button. I am so thankful that I can and I did.

So here is my advice to all the younger adults anxious to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life and get to it: don’t!

You owe it to your 40 year old self not to plan the rest of your life right now.

Leave it open. Plan for change—and several careers.

The choices you are making now likely may not be ones that you will want to live with for the rest of your life. If you make room for big career changes in your life plan, you can move when you get stuck midway through.

You may want to go back to school again.

You may want to take some time off to explore other opportunities.

You may even decide you can work less and just live with less.

Plan for your midlife crisis as much as you do your retirement. You will be glad you did.






When Midlife Looks Nothing Like You Expected.

How to Get Through a Midlife Crisis: 5 Tips from a 73 Year  Old Woman Who’s Been There.


Author: John Coburn

Assistant Editor: Hilda Carroll/Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Mikael Kristenson/Unsplash 

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