Even the most successful people reach plateaus in their professional lives. These lulls often come about 20 years into a career. It is a time when many people notice their interest in their chosen field waning, and they wonder what else life has to offer. Whether they’ve been with the same company for years, or they jumped around from company to company, boredom sinks in and their current profession doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of learning and growth opportunities.
This professional malaise can come even to top performers who know their fields inside and out. At this point, most professionals go in one of three directions.
The first is to “retire on the job”. Those who choose this path keep working in the same position, at the same company, and stop learning and growing. The energy they poured into their careers in their 20s and 30s disappears, or gets diverted to some other aspect of life. They simply show up for work and put in their time. Their measure of success becomes not, “how high can I go” or “how much can I grow”, but simply, “how can I maintain the status quo?”
Initially, this first path feels like the safest option. You get to stay in your comfort zone, resting on the laurels of your past achievements. However, in the later years it can actually be the riskiest. Many companies are regularly on the lookout for younger workers who might be more energetic and more comfortable with new technologies, and if you lose your job at age 55 to one of them, it can be very difficult to find a new one.
The second path is to shake things up by changing jobs, either moving to a similar job at a new company, or into a new capacity at the same company. In this scenario, you can continue to leverage the skills and networks you built up over the years, but the change of scenery injects excitement back into your career. A move like this keeps your professional momentum and satisfaction high, but continues to provide the feeling of security that comes with being an employee.
Then there are others who follow the third path. Somewhere along the way, they have been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and they feel an undeniable urge to head out on their own. For mid-career professionals, this particular path can actually take two different forms.
One is to stay in the same profession or industry, but to start one’s own company. This route is good for people who want to leverage their existing skills and networks, but to call upon a new set of skills, those of running an entire business. Many times, these ventures takes the form of a consultancy, selling the knowledge acquired over 20 years in an industry.
The other mid-career entrepreneurial path is more socially-oriented. It is often preferred by people who have spent some years of their own time outside their “day jobs”, participating in NGOs or community organizations, or pursuing a personal interest unrelated to work. This outside interest then grew into something that could become a full-time passion. For example, a marketing manager who started years ago developing his photography skills might leave his corporate job to start a firm helping art galleries publicize themselves better.
In the late 1990s, the Internet boom turned many young tech entrepreneurs into media darlings. To this day, there is still a popular misconception that entrepreneurs are typically young and inexperienced. However, statistics show that most entrepreneurs actually start their businesses in their 40s. These mid-career professionals are able to bring to their ventures a level of real-life experience the younger entrepreneurs just don’t have.
The second half of your professional life is the “second shift” of your career, and it’s up to you to decide what it will look like. Will you simply keep your chair warm, or will you keep moving up, or will you strike off in another direction entirely? As a mid-career professional, you have more wisdom and control over your life than you did when you first started out 20 years ago. Use them to choose wisely.