Digital Gabe
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Understanding The Mid-Career Crisis

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You’ve undoubtedly heard of the infamous mid-life crisis, which usually happens in your 50s and often results in grey-haired drivers of candy apple red Corvette convertibles.  But you probably haven’t heard as much about a phenomenon called the mid-career crisis (MCC).

To understand an MCC first picture a U-shaped graph line, with the curve representing one’s job satisfaction over a career.  The beginning and end of a career are the high points of the U, with the low point (aka the mid-career crisis) happening somewhere around the 40s-50s.  According to the Harvard Business Review, here’s what is happening inside our brains during each phase of the our job satisfaction curve.

  • Early Stage: Being overly optimistic, expecting significant increases in life satisfaction. Young adults typically believe that they’ll “beat the average” — that they’ll be the lucky ones who end up with a top job, a happy marriage, and healthy children.
  • Mid-Stage: The realization sets in that things often don’t turn out as nicely as planned. They may not climb up the career ladder as quickly as hoped for. Or they do, only to find that prestige and a high income are not as satisfying as expected. High expectations about the future adjust downward as they come to terms with how life is playing out.
  • Latter Stage: Older workers tend to underestimate their future satisfaction, but then find reward in unexpected pleasant surprises, which raises satisfaction levels again.

What’s so interesting about this analysis is that job satisfaction isn’t really impacted by the work itself – it’s affected by how we feel about ourselves.  When we’re optimistic about the future we feel good about our jobs.  Likewise, when we have zero expectations (or pressure) about our career prospects we’re satisfied.  In fact, only when we realize that we didn’t end up in a Utopian career paradise do we feel dissatisfied.  And that’s the mid-career crisis.

So how can you avoid an MCC?  Speaking for someone in their late 40s, if you figure it out let me know! 🙂

 

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