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power points

In 1965, Toronto-born psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques gave us a new way to look at our lives when he uncovered a mid-life crisis at about age 40, which seemed to demarcate the point where in some cases careers tailed off while in other instances they soared.

But there are other ways to look at career patterns. Consultant Eyal Danon divides our lives into 18-year stretches:

  • The Dreamer: From birth to age 18, we are identifying our dreams and creating a vision of what we might become. It’s also a time for finding the right mentors for the years ahead.
  • The Explorer: From 18 to 36, you complete that search by committing to serious exploration of the one area you are passionate about and can excel at. This period should include walking away from dreams that turn sour while you are still young. Many people consider it important to establish their careers in their early 20s and have a 40-year run, but he says you can’t keep the spark alive for that length of time; the period from age 36 to 54 is sufficient for such intensity.
  • The Builder: From 36 to 54 is the time for the joy of achievement – accomplishing your goals.
  • The Mentor: From 54 to 72, you continue to work while guiding younger generations. “Once you reach your mid-50s, it’s time again to shift gears and to start sharing your hard-earned skills and knowledge with the Dreamers, Explorers and Builders of the world,” he writes in The Principle of 18.
  • The Giver: At 72, you remain relevant by dedicating yourself to a community-based initiative. Many people might prefer to simply spend their time playing bridge, but he argues that finding your mission as a Giver will allow you to wake up every morning knowing you are doing something that matters.

By contrast, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, a Canadian working in Britain as a gender consultant to large multinationals, suggests there are four quarters to life: Grow, from birth to age 24; Achieve from 25 to 49; Becoming, from age 50 to 74, a new stage of mature, active adulthood; and Harvesting, from age 75 onward, in which you reap from the relationships you have sown. She stresses these are not crises but quarterly transitions. “There is an arc, a challenge and a purpose to each quarter,” she writes in Forbes.

But Ms. Wittenberg-Cox goes further, identifying phases for women’s careers by decades:

  • 20s – Ambition: A period of learning, exploring, growth, independence and no dependants. One of the successes of humanity in the last 100 years, she feels, has been to create a situation where women emerge from university educated, ambitious and equal.
  • 30s – Culture Shock: Where potential and parenting crash into today’s corporate cultures and systems. Women have delayed parenting and now hit a crunch. “The more successful and ambitious women are, the more abruptly they ram into what I call ‘culture shock.’ The momentum built in the 20s powers women forward into their 30s – often straight into a wall,” she notes.
  • 40s – (Re) Acceleration: Refocusing on career priorities, taking advantage of the foundations built. “The forties are often a wake-up call – to truly grow up, to get another life, work you really care about, the love you deserve, or the purpose you yearn for,” she writes.
  • 50+ – Self-Actualization: When empty nesters discover, often to their surprise their peak career decades. Because women and men have often spent the first half of their lives with quite different career trajectories, men at this point may be tired of their 30-year frenzy focused on their professional lives and breadwinning duties. Women, on the other, often feel free, some time for the very first time in their lives, to focus on themselves. Thus, these can be a women’s best career years.

Your life, of course, will have its own patterns. But those ideas may help you to understand your careers better and contour them in different ways.

Quick hits

  • Entrepreneur and board member Molly Graham encourages people in their twenties to write four lists to clarify their careers: Things they love doing, things they are exceptional at, things they hate doing and things they are bad at.
  • A long to-do list is a sign of a shallow life, executive coach Dan Rockwell claims. Focus on a few big things each day.
  • Don’t fuss about trying to create content on LinkedIn. It can be just as effective to use every opportunity to engage with other people’s conversations or to congratulate them when they have a special career moment, the networking consultants at Shepa Learning Company advise in their weekly newsletter.
  • In thousands of meetings, consultant Steve Keating has never heard anyone say, “Wow, that was the most awesome PowerPoint presentation I have ever seen!” PowerPoint is a bit player; you are the star, and if you obsess over your slides, you’re missing that point.
  • Accuracy is not the same as precision, argues entrepreneur Seth Godin. Driving in the wrong direction with precision isn’t much help. And most organizations, he feels, spend too much time in meetings about precision instead of choosing to be accurate.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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