LIFE AFTER A MID-CAREER MALAISE

You're not alone if you're feeling fed up with your job - here's three ways to respond and move forward.

CAREER CHOICES IN THE 1970's

I really admire people who choose a career in their teens and then stay the distance until they retire in their mid sixties. I'm not one of those people. Originally I had plans to be a teacher.  For a lot of young women back in the 70's, teaching, nursing, or office work were the main choices - but teaching didn't pan out for me because my parents didn't want to support me for those extra years of university - after all "women just get married and have babies, so it'd be a waste of time and money" (my dad's words). Fortunately times have changed for the better these days and young women can be whatever they choose.

I went on to become a Dental Therapist/Hygienist and worked in that career for 12 years or so - until the AIDS epidemic made it a bit of a health concern, and I was also tired of doing the same mundane tasks every day - you can only scale and clean so many sets of teeth before you start to go a bit ga-ga! The problem was that my dental knowledge wasn't an easily transferrable skill - knowing a lot about teeth doesn't translate into many other career paths.

graduating as a dental therapist 1981
Graduating as a Dental Therapist - 1980

THE NEXT STAGE

Fortunately a week after I left my job, a position came up in a new dental specialist practice for a receptionist/admin and I could use my dental background while picking up office skills along the way. I moved from that job into working in a newly built government callcentre - a job that hadn't existed previously and it was certainly a learning curve on how to work with great time management and accuracy (nobody wants their government payment stopped because the girl on the other end of the phone hit a wrong key on her computer!)

After saying "This is Leanne, how can I help you?" a billion times over 8 years, I changed direction yet again and went to work for an orthodontist as his receptionist/admin - the wheel had turned almost full circle back to my dental roots (did you notice that lovely pun?) and I settled into another 8 years of being the first point of contact for all those teenagers who needed braces - and their parents who had to pay for them.

MID-CAREER MALAISE

By the time I was in my 50's I'd reached a point where I was feeling like I was stagnating and losing my working mojo. It turns out that I wasn't alone in hitting my mid-career malaise point. I read an interesting article by Professor Gary Martin (chief executive at the Australian Institute of Management WA) who says that Midlifers can hit a mid-career crisis where they dread getting out of bed in the mornings, everything feels like a chore, and they get no joy from their job tasks - yep that was me. Apparently there's a feeling of pointlessness, and feeling trapped, and asking "what's the point in what I do?" - yep that was me too.

According to Professor Martin there are three responses to a mid-career crisis:
  1.  The "L" response where you slide down and then marinate in misery and slowly die along with  your career.
  2.  The "V" response where you hit rock bottom, then bounce back up by reinventing yourself and gain a career resurgence in the same field or somewhere new.
  3.  The "W" response where you do a quick fix, then bottom out again, then do something more concrete to get your career back on track.

MY VERSION OF THE "W" RESPONSE

I had definitely reached a Midlife career malaise point and didn't want the "L" response where I continued on in the job but brought less than my A-game to the table every week. So, the "V" response was my intended course of action - until life got in the way..... I left my job at the orthodontist on great terms and with high hopes of finding something new to reinvigorate me and fill the last 10 years of so of working life I had in front of me. Many of you who've read my posts over the last year or two know that "the best laid plans of mice and men" can have very different results to what we anticipate!

My "V" turned into a "W" where I had the perfect quick fix in the perfect job - same position, different field, new things to learn, new experiences, fresh enthusiasm....... The "V" was looking good, until it wasn't..... it flipped itself over and headed down into the doldrums in a very short 3 year span. An extremely difficult work colleague scuppered my plans and made me re-think a lot of my options. But, that's when the final upswing emerged - and it wasn't to change jobs yet again, it wasn't to invest all of my time and myself into a new work environment, no..... it was to be brave enough to say "enough!" and to leave it all behind.

the dream job that turned into a nightmare
The dream job that turned into a nightmare

LIFE AFTER A MID-CAREER MALAISE

For those in the earlier stages of a career, finding a new job or starting again from scratch in a new field, are the best options. For someone like me - who's worked for 40 years, the upswing after rock bottom can look completely different. It can be a time to re-think, to re-evaluate, and to re-consider. I did all three and the end result was early retirement at 57 - something completely out of left field for me, and something that has turned out to be a perfect fit.

So, I started my working life with a bit of an adjustment, then a constructive and productive career, then the malaise, then the upswing, then back down again, and now I finally feel like I've launched into a lifestyle that suits me to a "T" - I think I have a "W" with an arrow that's pointing me into a very happy future.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

How is your Midlife career going? Can you relate to any of Professor Martin's descriptive letters or do you have one of your own that fits better? I love my modified "W" and I hope you're loving whichever letter you're working with right now.

RELATED POSTS


You're not alone if you're feeling fed up with your job - here's three ways to respond and move forward.

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You're not alone if you're feeling fed up with your job - here's three ways to respond and move forward.

32 comments

  1. I left a career I loved because of a positively demonic administrator. She had been removed from several school districts, was hired by ours and continued to be an absolute she-devil. I needed surgery when I decided to take an early retirement rather than use sick leave to recover. Had she been a half-way decent human, I might have been able to return to my job once I was recovered. But I was scared what I would face upon returning. So sad. I still have nightmares about her, 7 years later.

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    1. Hi Leslie - I SO relate to what you experienced - it's amazing what one woman can do to turn your life upside down isn't it? In saying that, if I was still hammering away at that job (even without the awful colleague) I wouldn't be as happy as I am now. I wake up every day and think about how much I love my life - I never did that when I was working, so I think I've hit my sweet spot - and look how much time you have for your grandbabies these days - you can't beat that!

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  2. I think work-wise I was a V....bottomed out in a dreadful job & took a new role which does suit in that I can work from home.

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    1. I'd hoped for a V too Jo - but fate turned it into a W and I think I'm actually happier with my W than I would have been if my V had played out long term. Life gives us strange detours and who knows what's just around the corner?

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  3. A lovely post Leanne, and the Ls, Vs and Ws all make sense. I'm so happy you are finding life happier now. I'm not sure what letter I'd use to describe the ending of my midlife career but I know it's all worked out for the best given what's been happening in our family in recent years. Have pinned this post :)

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    1. Hi Deb - it's strange how we think something that happens to us is really awful and we fight accepting it til the bitter end, then one day we wake up and realize that it actually is pretty darn good and what we went through brought us to a much better place. I'm relieved to have put all that working stress behind me and to be able to live with such freedom and joy these days (and yes, the availability for family is a huge bonus!)

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  4. Seems like we have all had a 'toxic' boss at one point or another. I can remember having two, back to back, so that makes me a W. By the time I realized the second boss was worse than the previous one, I was also engaged to be married. My then fiancee/now husband, offered the perfect solution, 'come to work with me.' I accepted and that was that. I do look back from time to time to evaluate what I might have done differently, but I always come to the same conclusion. The time I could have invested in either situation would have been wasted.

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    1. Hi Suzanne - that's really interesting because I went from one meglomaniac boss to one narcissistic boss - I was starting to wonder if I had a sign around my neck that said "kick me"! But I also realized that the field I worked in attracted people who had the whole "entitled" thing down to a fine art and being kind to employees wasn't part of their agenda. I think bouncing off to a new frontier (whether working for your lovely husband, or being at home - for me) was definitely preferable to throwing more of our lives away on hopeless cases.

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  5. I think my working life has been more of a U, especially since I took a long break to bring up the children. But now that I have my own business, I literally bound out of bed with unbridled energy each day. It's a wonderful feeling to love your job and be in charge of your own destiny. Older women have so much to give which is not necessarily recognised in the wider workplace. If you have the energy - and the financial cushion - to get started in your own business, you won't look back.

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    1. Sue-Anne the idea of having my own business has a lot of appeal, but I really don't have anything that I'm skilled in that translates to self-employment. I'm also finding that at nearly 60 I'm ready to stay off the hamster wheel for the foreseeable future - I never say never, but until something leaps out with my name on it, I'll be sitting in the peace of my home and enjoying being out of the rat race.

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  6. Leanne, I so can relate to the choices available to us women who came of age in the 70s. Office worker, nurse, or teacher. That was about it. Or Mommy! I was a teacher for 1 year, then stayed home with my kids for 8 years, then taught for another 30 years. I guess I sort of had a "V" response. Or maybe a lopsided "W". Glad your "W" is working out for you. I am loving retirement too.

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    1. Laurie when I look back, I think teaching is probably the ideal job for women with children - the hours fit so well around raising a family. Unfortunately my parents weren't on board with the idea and I went down a different path - one that wasn't bad, but wasn't my dream job either. Still, retirement might turn out to be my perfect new career!

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  7. Hi, Leanne - I'm pleased that you have been able to make a happier life for yourself with you in control (instead of a positiion or a coworker) trying to control you. I was fortunate to retire early from a job that I loved. I know that this is not a common tale. I am extremely grateful.

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    1. I think having a job you love is such a huge blessing Donna - I've never got past "quite liked" in my job feelings! Still, working for or with sucky people certainly colours how a job turns out and it's nice to be away from that type of person - and I hope I don't ever encounter any more of them from here on out!

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  8. Leanne, I'm so glad that you've been able to launch into a lifestyle that suits you and makes you feel happy. I was fortunate to have a rewarding career and chose to leave when on a high note. I'm grateful for the freedom to make that decision and the lifestyle I have now.

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    1. Natalie I think it's such a great feeling to be able to reach a point in life where you can leave a job and not feel compelled to go back to something unappealing. When I stopped and took inventory of where we actually stood financially it was a huge relief to know that I didn't have to race back into the workforce. It would take a miracle to prise me out of what I have now.

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  9. I can relay to the messages you were given from your parents. I wanted to be a kinder teacher but was very quickly told by my parents that they couldn’t afford to support me in it - and anyway you’re not smart enough. Who knows the damage that caused! Not sure where my midlife career is at the moment. I still haven’t decided about retirement but very happy not to have to make the decision for a while yet as we can’t go back to work until there’s a vaccination.

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    1. I wonder how many talented and wonderful women never got to see where their brains and skills could have taken them Jennifer - our story is retold over and over from women in our generation and it disappoints me to think that our parents did nothing to encourage our dreams. Still, we pushed through and made it work, but I think after 40+ years of doing that, I'm ready to enjoy the years ahead without constantly bowing to the needs of an employer.

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  10. Leanne, thank you for your insights into work malaise and your bravery in leaving the past behind and embracing change and adventure in your professional space.

    SSG xxx

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    1. Hi SSG - I think life deals you a hand of cards that you can fight or accept graciously. I've chosen to make the years ahead pleasant and peaceful rather than chasing after something I no longer feel drawn to. I guess with 60 looming my priorities have finally changed towards what interests me rather than what I feel I have to do for an income.

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  11. Hi Leanne, I love the letters to describe the mid-career crisis. I think I'm on the up from the V bottom up ... we'll see ;) But for now, everything just fits so perfectly and I feel so much more content and at peace. I definitely feel better prepared for the tough times ahead but that will be the test. Thanks again for sharing #MondayMusings :)

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    1. Hi Anne - I really hope your career change stays as a V and doesn't turn into a W like mine did. I think you've found your sweet spot job-wise and good things seem to be coming your way with where you are now - exciting times for you.

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  12. The L, V and W theory is certainly very interesting, Leanne. I like your version of the W too.
    I've made several changes in my career too and am presently just happy with my blogging and occasional coaching/training. The training was in person, so while I do know I can move it online, it doesn't have the same appeal for me - at least, not at the moment.

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    1. Hi Corinne - I totally understand why you'd be hesitating about going online - face to face just has a warmer feel to it doesn't it? I guess we do what we have to do but if you can wait this covid time out, hopefully things will return to some sense of normality - fingers crossed.

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  13. Such an interesting post. I have changed my career several times over. Re-inventing myself each time I moved states etc (yes I moved around a bit lol) Im now enjoying my time blogging. Who would ever have thought I would be writing and people enjoying what I write. #MLSTL

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    1. Hi Bree - I feel exactly the same way about blogging - who'd have thought that we'd find all these like-minded women to connect with and I never thought I'd still be writing with joy 6 years after I leapt into this little adventure - such a surprising blessing - and SO much better than the 9-5 days!

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  14. As someone who is considerably older than you I am saddened by the way in which your "career" path was negated. I know each family has differing values but for some reason, my working class Dad (with a stay at home wife)who had educated himself to professional accountant status, saw the gains a person could make with a full education and 100% supported me to finish Year 12 (we were the first cohort in NSW) and then go to Uni to do what course I wanted. I was not a swot...I liked my social life a lot but I did knuckle down by Year 12 and was able to get to teachers' college after HSC and then had a 40+career in education. Mum on the other hand, was somewhat critical of my fulltime working and would say a few things to me but, over time she saw I was happier working than staying at home and she would spoil us with some homecooked meals waiting for us after big weeks at school. Thanks for linking up this week, next week, the optional prompt is 39/51 Healthy. 28.9.2020 Hope to see you there too. Denyse.

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    1. Hi Denyse - I think your dad was way ahead of most men of his time. The fact that he was willing to encourage you to pursue your dreams is such a great gift. Many, many Midlife women have commented to me over the years that they wanted to do further education but were discouraged by their parents who saw it as a waste to "over educate" women. I'm so glad that has died a long-overdue death, and our daughters got to follow their talents into whatever career they chose.
      I'm all about looking forward these days - you can't re-invent the past, but you can certainly learn from it and rise above it - something I hope I've done well :)

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  15. Firstly, I love that photo of you where you'd graduated as a Dental Therapist! Look at the curly hair! And what an achievement. That was not a career path I was ever aware of or considered back in my day. As you said - I was always told I could be a Teacher, a Nurse or a Secretary and that was that. I shared my story a while back - I was training to be a court reporter but ended up getting a 'secure' job in government where I was sexually harassed by my boss. Not the best introduction to the work force. After kids I went back into Government eventually and worked my way up over the years until the day I left (another long story). Nowadays, as you know, I'm still struggling to work out who I am and what my purpose is. I'm kinda retired I guess but noone else in my household is so it's not an easy thing. My blog has been my saving grace and replaced my work in many ways. Midlife sure does bring with it a lot of reflecting! :-) xo

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    1. Hi Min - Dental Therapy was a complete unknown to me too - I was pointed towards Dental Nursing and when they saw my grades they told me I should look into Dental Therapy - the bonus was that they paid a (very) small fortnightly grant that I could use to pay board at home. Not the greatest reason to choose a career path - but that was what happened "back in the day".
      Like you, I'm still trying to figure out who I am now that I'm no longer working. I keep thinking I'll return to work, but the longer I'm away from it, the less I feel the desire to go back, and the less honed my skills are. I think the universe is telling me that it's okay to step away from all of that and to re-discover who I really am without the roles I hid behind all those years. It's an interesting journey and one I've only just started on really - now I just have to figure out where the next path is leading...

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  16. I had all the same midcareer issues- but mostly I was just bored. I knew I needed to do something else. I guess I would say my path followed the V. I reinvented myself and it has been the right choice. I do what I want and choose not to do work that I don't like, that doesn't use my talents, or that I find uninspiring. I don't make the money I used to make, but I am okay with that. I choose to live by my values and that means time for things that are important to me. like you, I can't imagine going back!

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    1. Hi Michele - I think you're living the dream - getting paid to do what you love is something we all hope for (and few of us achieve) I must admit to being a tad envious, but I'm also never going to sell my soul again - so if that means cruising through retirement for the next few decades, then I'll happily do that too.

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