From Chapter 17 : Coping With Mid-Life Crisis
If we consider a thirty-year career span for most professionals, the years between the ages of twenty and thirty can be considered the years of self-discovery. The succeeding ten years are years of self-confidence and the forties are usually years of self-doubt. As a professional, you will find that at twenty you are bubbly, young, and raring to go. Joining any organization at an entry-level position, you work your way through three or four different roles and eventually you begin to settle down. You use those years to discover your own likes and dislikes.
Between the years of thirty and forty, once you’ve built a strong professional foundation, anything that you touch, turns to gold. You are confident that any assignment you are given will be a success .You never question your ability to add value to the assignment, the team and the organization.
Then one day, you turn forty and self-doubt begins to emerge. What am I value-adding? Is all that I’m doing really worth the effort? Where am I going? What is next for me? How well have I really done professionally, monetarily and in terms of organizational recognition vis-à-vis my batch mates? Where is my work-life balance? These not-so-unique questions – some real, some imagined -begin haunting you. Some are lucky and work their way out of these, some get mired and pulled down. One common thread is the lack of sounding boards and support systems to help with the answers. Most suffer in silence. Many do not realize that they are making not just a professional transition but a mid-life transition. In an acute form, it is called the mid-life crisis.
Dr Elliot Jacques first coined the term mid-life crisis in 1965 in a study of creative geniuses. He found that during this period there are abrupt changes in lifestyle or productivity of such people. It is accompanied by a desire for change brought on by fears and anxieties about growing older. In the IT industry particularly, the chances of an accelerated onset of mid-life crisis are probably much higher. For a high achiever, it could begin as early as thirty-five.
Studies indicate that there are two major periods of transition for all of us in life. The first one is the period of adolescence. It is meant to transform you from a child to an adult. A lot less is talked about transition from adulthood to mid-life. Experts say that it is meant to move you to some place positive, essentially guiding you to psychological and spiritual completeness. Yet, it begins with a heightened sense of incompleteness. It is pronounced by a sense of loss and inadequacy. For IT industry professionals, sometimes it brings a triple whammy. To begin with, there is a mid-life transition. Then there is the transition from middle management to senior management. The third jolt marks a time of accelerated obsolescence as learning slows down and much younger people demonstrate far greater skills.
Dr Andrew Leuchter, a noted authority on the subject says, ‘When people are in their twenties and thirties, a number of different career or personal paths are open. When they get in to their forties, they begin to realize that they have made decisions that are either irrevocable or can be changed only with great difficulty. It is also a time when they begin to recognize that they have physical limitations.’
One of the most common signs is discontent with life or the very same lifestyle that gave you happiness for many years. There is a sense of boredom with people who hitherto held interest or dominated your life. These could be close friends, professional associates, a role model or relatives at home. Some people feel highly adventurous and want to do something completely different. I know of people who never found time to play a sport in all their life, suddenly want to do bungee jumping or para-sailing. Wall Street traders run away from their jobs and pay money to live in a ranch in Montana and herd cattle. Some people question the very meaning of life and the validity of past decisions.
In all this, there is confusion about who they are and where they are going. The most common outcome of this acute period of transition is a job change. This can be well thought out.
In a personal sense, this is also a period marked for some with a high traction towards an extra-marital affair or a divorce. While the period of mid-life transition is as inevitable as adolescence, there are things one can do to manage it better and make it less fraught with reactive decisions that can have very difficult consequences.