Executive Health and Well-Being

Managing mid-life career changes

05 August 2015

Midlife Career Changes

Human Capital Alliance senior advisor K I Woo looks at how executives can better prepare for mid-life career changes.

Today, many senior executive are offered major midlife career moves.

In their recent Harvard Business Review article, The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change, Carlo Stringer and Arie Ruttenberg said executives can optimize the opportunities, if they become more aware of the skills they’ve developed during their working lives.

Midlife – unprecedented period of inner growth

At midlife, most people are at an unprecedented period for inner growth. Their successes and failures have taught them how to understand their full potential by moving from deficiency to growth motivations.

“…. they listen to themselves to discover who they are and what they want.”

Because they have begun losing much of their sense of urgency, they have much more freedom than at any other time to make career-changing decisions. They also no longer fear they are good at nothing and need to prove they are good at everything.” These feelings, the authors said give them the freedom only self-knowledge can impart.

Midlife advantages

By midlife most executives have had two decades of professional experience and have overcome many protracted insurmountable crises.

They have discovered their strengths and weaknesses and are better able to place emerging problems into perspective: dealing with them more calmly and with much greater self assurance.

More importantly, although they’ve developed many business skills, they have learned a lot about themselves. Some may enjoy motivating people while others like working on their own.

“Midlife is the perfect period for listening to one’s inner self – and take the necessary first step towards self realization and a productive second life.”

Risk of not managing midlife changes

Some people think drastic midlife changes are simply too risky because it may for force them to forego certain pension benefits and healthcare.

Although these fears are understandable, the authors said they must understand that increasing life expectancy, rising health care costs and global competition are making it much more difficult for companies to meet continuing health care and pension obligations.

“…. the facts no longer support a strategy of sitting tight in a large corporation. In fact, may be bad risk management.”

Psychologically, the authors said everyone prefers the status quo when it feels secure, but staking futures on corporate safety is more of a bet than a no risk strategy.

“Hanging on for dear life is usually the wrong strategy.”

Midlife executive must begin thinking of alternatives that suit their abilities and personalities when they still have two or three productive decades ahead.

“In this way they can discover the possibilities that will allow them to work much longer and thus ensure their financial well-being.”

Overcoming hurdles of midlife career changes

How can executive overcome hurdles of midlife change?

They must first get beyond the myth of midlife declines and secondly they must not get caught by the myth of magical transformation.

1. Myth of midlife declines

An overrated common sense myth asserts that midlife onsets decline.

It also posits that limiting growth is the only mature way to deal with aging.

However, the authors said midlife should be exciting because people have the opportunity to reexamine even their most basic assumptions.

“…. it provides unique opportunities for personal growth, buoyed by freedom only self-knowledge can impart.

2. Myth of magical transformation

Chasing dreams not founded on realistic skills and experience is simply indulging fantasy. To be productive, the authors said dreams must be connected to real potential.

People must stay open to possibilities they are qualified for and remain realistic about what they can achieve.

Myths lead to dysfunctional approach

Adhering to these myths will often lead to dysfunctional approaches to midlife.

Executives that see past these myths can achieve successful life and career changes.

The key is staying open to a wide range of possibilities their experiences qualify them for and remaining realistic as to what they can achieve.

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