Can A Career Change Really Solve A Mid-Life Crisis?

13 March 2017 -


Thinking about purchasing a new sports car or motorbike, perhaps? Looked up ex-partners on Facebook recently? Dreading going into the office every Monday morning? You may well be on your way to a midlife crisis. But a career change may be the cure you’re looking for

Jermaine Haughton

In an era when teenage millionaire businessmen seem to be everywhere, your peers are quitting their dull jobs to go globe-trotting and a relative has retired early and spends their weekdays practicing their swing on the golf course, you can be forgiven for feeling glum about your own achievements.

You’re 35 or 40 years old, and you feel 60. You’re not alone. The AAT’s study of 2,000 UK adults over the age of 40 found nearly two-fifths believe they have experienced a mid-life crisis. The combination of excessive work, young children and anxiety over money, mortgages, pensions and ageing parents is a toxic mix.

The number one sign of a mid-life crisis, the survey revealed, was changing jobs – food for thought for managers and employers.

High levels of stress at work can be a triggering factor for many managers and employees to look for pastures new. CMI’s own Quality of Working Life research found middle managers are working longer hours than ever before, leading to increased stress as a result of the ‘always on’ culture that is dominating UK offices.

Most shockingly, the report found that poor leadership from senior bosses is driving managers to working an extra 29 days every year – effectively cancelling out their annual leave. A separate study backed by AXA PPP Healthcare found that more than half of City workers suffer dangerously high levels of stress outside of the office, as they fail to balance their home and work lives.

Under such conditions, it’s hardly surprising a third of respondents to the AAT-commissioned study admitted to feeling “Sunday night dread”, where they fear what the working week ahead of them may hold.

Maureen Hennis, CEO of animal charity Pets as Therapy, suffered two heart attacks before retiring. A workaholic, she worked seven days a week, hadn’t taken a holiday in years and often answered emails and phone calls late into the night.

Hennis told the Telegraph: ““I used to travel around the country a lot for work, but that wasn’t the stressful part – it was not being able to switch off. I couldn’t sleep properly because I had things going through my mind continuously and just couldn’t switch my brain off. I used to say I wish I could unplug my brain.”

More so than in the past, individuals today value purpose over paycheque – wanting to make a wider social and creative impact with their work. Last year’s global survey of 26,000 LinkedIn members, run with Imperative, found the sense of purpose deepens the further along you are in your career: 48% of baby boomers (those aged 51+)  and 38% of Gen X (aged 36-51) report that they prioritize purpose over pay and titles.

The AAT study found that the average mid-life crisis begins at the age of 43 years, one month and three weeks, and most respondents pinned the years between 31 and 40 as the best of their lives.

A third of respondents said that a lack of self-confidence has held them back from achieving their perfect life, while 15% cited not being able to find motivation. Worryingly for managers who aim to retain staff, 22% say they definitely won’t be working for the same company in 10 years.

Time To Change Job?

The single most common way respondents who have had a crisis said they tackled it was a change of career, with a quarter switching employers after the age of 40.

The challenge of changing career later in life can be daunting. New company, new colleagues, new systems and skills to learn, as well as an enhanced pressure to not make mistakes. But there are many advantages to following your heart when it comes to how you spend your working hours, and as we change and grow in age, so it would follow that our needs and desires can alter too.

After years of studying career anxiety, clinical and organisational psychologist Darryl Cross explained: "There's a myth propagated that success equals power and achievement, and that's not true. Happiness is an inside job, it's not about external status and possessions."

There are famous examples of people successfully transitioning into new, successful, and largely unexpected career changes later in life. Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger swapped acting for politics, becoming the Governor of California in 2003, while John Bishop moved from pharmaceuticals sales to life as a comedian.

Londoner Viv Oyolu left a well-respected career in banking and marketing at age 39 to do youth work, before finally finding her passion in radio presenting. She said: “I’m glad that I went through everything I did before finding this vocation. I’ve run my own business, I’ve worked for corporates, I’ve worked in different countries, I’ve worked with families. I have all that history behind me, and that makes me a better interviewer.

“I will never stop being interested in working with young people; I’m currently revising my stories for children. And I’ve recently served on my local Safeguarding Children Board, been vice-chair of a community voluntary service and school governor of a pupil-referral unit for special-needs children. But I am never happier than when I’m behind the microphone. I don’t have any experience but I seem to know what I’m doing, bizarrely. I’ve found what I love now. I love talking.”

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