Handling a Mid-Career Crisis

Are you in the midst of a career crisis? Take this brief true-or-false quiz to find out:


I call in sick sometimes because I can’t face what I have to do at work.
I feel alone at my current job and blame myself for not fitting in.
I recognize that the company I work for–as well as some of its employees–is unethical.
I frequently fantasize about other fields I’d be excited to work in.

Do you have some “true” responses to the above statements? These are just a sampling of the scenarios that may indicate career trouble, according to career expert and psychotherapist Kathy Caprino. Caprino is the author of “Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose,” a book that helps professional women identify and overcome 12 mid-career crises–Caprino describes her former self as a “chronically ill and miserable corporate VP” who then earned her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and reinvented herself as a “supremely fulfilled career coach, author, and speaker.”

She says that these crises affect both men and women who aren’t satisfied with one or more aspects of their career or professional identity. Other common crises are struggling to win in crushing competition, feeling trapped by your financial fears, failing to balance work and life, and experiencing chronic health problems.

Six steps to a career change
For people facing any of these mid-career crises and considering changing careers, Caprino recommends taking action:

Step 1. Figure out what must change in your professional life. Assess all the jobs you’ve had. What did you love? What did you hate?

Step 2. Let go of blocks (such as the time you’ve invested in your current career) that are contributing to your crises, and work to address negative patterns so that your career problems don’t follow you to your next career.

Step 3. Discover the skills you would love to use, and use them wherever you can. Using these skills in new endeavors can give you the confidence, power, and authority you need to overcome crises.

Step 4. Explore your dreams and career options through research. What can make those changes happen? Career training? Education? Be realistic about your needs, values, and priorities.

Step 5. Refine your list to the three most promising paths, and explore those in more depth.

Step 6. Create a SMART plan and a doable timeline to research, refine, fund, and implement your career change.

A SMART plan is “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely,” says Caprino. “All of those elements must be present for the plan to be effective. When we have deep financial fears, we often hold ourselves back from making the changes we want most. So one tip is to get a financial consultant who can help map out a financial plan for you that would allow you to save money for investing in education or job change. Staying stuck because you’re afraid just brings on the inevitable–more stuckness!”

More inspiration for people considering a mid-career change
Dr. Nancy Irwin is also a big advocate of midlife career change and education. In her book “You-Turn: Changing Direction in Midlife,” Irwin shares her own story and the inspiring stories of 43 other mid-career changers. Irwin knows a thing or two about changing directions: she trained as an opera singer, pursued a career as a stand-up comedian, and at the age of 42 returned to school to get a doctorate in psychology.

“Education is never a waste because everything is a transferable skill,” says Irwin. Her comedian skills are handy in her work as a psychologist–for instance, when she needs to think quickly on her feet when speaking with the media.

“Thank God, people can get an education online,” says Irwin, who couldn’t leave work to go to a traditional campus program. In five years, she earned her doctorate degree, and she highly recommends online education: “We can all name idiots who went to Yale, and brilliant people who went to community colleges. Education is what you make of it.”

Irwin says that midlife career changers should look into state grants and explore student loan options to finance their education. “It’s an investment in you,” she says. “Change can be creative and fun. It doesn’t have to be scary and hard, like everyone likes to say it is. It may be hard work, but it doesn’t have to be hard to do.”

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