Many mid- to late-career professionals are struggling with a paradox. They have accumulated solid experience, hold valued skills and have a mature attitude toward purposeful work. Yet, as the 20-year mark approaches or passes, that feeling of fulfilment often isn’t there.
Something isn’t right, you cannot put your finger on it, but you know you need to find something meaningful – if only you knew what it was.
This job search will be the hardest. It will test your resilience in ways you never imagined.
Many say the hardest job to get is your first. You have no experience and few work-related accomplishments. Your sole focus is to get hired, wherever and doing whatever – so long as it remotely relates to your chosen profession or industry. In your first job search, you may take anything just to get started.
Moving on after your first job tends to be easier. Every three to five years, you might move to get a better title, an increase in pay and perks. You gain confidence, build business acumen and get a good understanding of how your craft works. Your network expands, you go to professional development conferences, and take other education opportunities to build your skills and personal brand. This five to 20 years of your career often is the sweet spot.
After 20 years, many of us have had so many unique and interesting experiences that we are left thinking, “How does my career speak to who I am and what I want to do from here?”
We have gained enough insight to know what we love and what we don’t. Our life priorities have also often changed: where we live, who we share our life with. For many, title and pay start slipping in order of importance, and meaningful work becomes the most important part of our career right now.
It is hard to find what you want if you don’t know what it is. It is even more frustrating when you currently have a job that is not fulfilling, but is taking up precious time that you would rather spend doing something else, if you only knew what it was.
Here are some ways to get started in figuring that out.
Take stock, quickly
Knowing what types of work (and workplaces) give you the most satisfaction is the first place to start. Take stock of these factors, but do not spend an excessive amount of time looking for all the answers to your “what” and “where” questions. You likely will not find all the answers right away, so stop waiting for them to come to you. At this stage, all you need to do is decide to find something else that is going to be meaningful, rewarding work. Start by talking to others.
Give up control
Many people who feel this way after 20 years of experience find it hard to give up control and operate on trust, which is exactly what you need to do to move forward. Try to drop the expectation that everyone you speak to will provide you with some ultimate answer or solution – they may be giving you information that is pointing you in the right direction, instead. Trust that who you are talking to and what they are telling you is the right thing. And, more important, trust that what you are telling them about who you are and what you are looking for is the right thing, even if you are not 100 per cent sure of the direction you want to take. Part of this phase is simply making connections that allow you to gain understanding, confidence and to uncover your next role.
Seek to gain understanding, then assistance
Explore with others the kind of work they do and why it matters to them. Don’t look at titles or hierarchy – instead, focus on the depth and breadth of their role, and their impact in the company. Listen closely to their advice, however trivial it seems. Never leave a meeting without asking for another referral to talk to and continue to follow through. As you do this, you will hone what you are telling people and discover where you want to make your next contribution.
Jobs for those mid- to late-careers are less defined, and you need to look below the surface of online job boards and other more passive techniques. There are employers out there struggling with the same thing you are – they need someone but cannot describe who or what it is. They need a depth of experience, accomplishments and personality. The employer is looking for you, and you are looking for them.
You may feel impatient to move on, but take the necessary time to find the right role, in the right place. After all, you’re worth that investment.
Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.