Mid-career crises

Mid-career crises

A mid-career crisis can happen to anyone. It causes pain to the individual suffering from it and it also leads to productivity losses for employers.

A group of economists researchers found that mid-career crises are widespread and are not related just to the misfortune of a few individuals. They also found job satisfaction increases again and regularly reaches even higher levels than earlier in the career.

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The age-related curve in job satisfaction has been found in more than 50 countries. It affects senior-level executives as well as blue-collar workers, stay-at-home parents, childless couples and single people.

Generally, life satisfaction is high when people are young, it starts to decline in the early 30s and is the lowest between mid-40s and mid-50s. Then it increases again to levels as high as during young adulthood.

  • Young people are overly optimistic and expect significant increases in life satisfaction. 
  • As we age, we become disillusioned as our aspirations evaporate. 
  • When we bottom out, we come to terms with our circumstances and accept life. 
  • People over 50 tend to underestimate their future satisfaction, and increases come as an unexpected surprise, which raises satisfaction levels.

At the individual level

  • Recognize that mid-career dissatisfaction is a normal and temporary stage.
  • There is hope at the end of the tunnel.
  • It is OK to feel regret from unmet aspirations.

At the company level

  • HR could create mid-career mentoring programs where those in a mid-career low can learn from their older colleagues who already went through it.
  • Corporate culture can openly address mid-career discontent. To support employees in this process, they can help them explore new opportunities in the firm.

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RELATED IDEAS

The happiness curve

There is increasing evidence that happiness through adulthood is U-shaped.

Life satisfaction falls in our 20s and 30s, then hitting a low in our late 40s before increasing until our 80s.

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Being around other people and finding a community is a positive thing. The togetherness of family, friends, clubs, and connecting with our neighbors can be encouraging.

When we get older, happiness seems to rise again, probably because we gain more perspective or start prioritizing our relationships more. Understanding this trend and knowing you are not alone can help you through it.

  • The term "midlife crises" was coined in 1965, and reflects the dawning recognition of one's mortality where death becomes a personal matter.
  • According to Elliot Jaques, the key achievement of middle age is to move beyond youthful idealism to a constructive acceptance.
  • Other explanations are that it is when children may be leaving home, when chronic illnesses often make their first appearance, or when workplace demands may be peaking.

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