In our teens we’re encouraged to think carefully about “what we want to do with our life”, to study for the appropriate qualifications and to equip ourselves for a clearly defined career path. With luck, we make the “right” choices, ones that sustain us throughout our entire working lives, and we spend many happy years that culminate in a golden career pinnacle. For most of us, that simply isn’t the case.

While it’s relatively easy to adjust the course of our careers during our twenties and thirties, the idea of change is often less attractive as we move into our forties and fifties. However, change can take many forms and sometimes the less obvious path can be the most effective way forward as we move into the later stages of our working lives. 

If any of the five statements below resonate and your career is important to you, then it may be time to consider how to reignite the spark of meaning and purpose as you look towards the future.

“I’m at the top of my game – so how come I’m lacking fulfilment?”

What you set out to do a few years ago may not align with the values and motivations that are most important to you today. What if time with your family has become more important than the number of zeros at the end of your paycheck? What if you no longer feel comfortable with the impact your work is having on the world we live in? There are many possible causes for a lack of fulfilment – and many possible solutions if we just allow ourselves the space to consider them.

“My colleagues (and clients) are getting younger. I feel like I’m on borrowed time in this industry.”

A friend and ex-colleague of mine who’s at the top of his game as a strategic planner told me the fable of the boiling frog to illustrate this point. The story describes how, if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out. However, if it’s put into tepid water which is gradually brought to the boil, the frog will fail to notice the danger and will slowly be cooked to death. A sinister metaphor about working in an industry that prizes youth! And also, not necessarily a true one. Contemporary biologists have found that a frog that’s gradually heated will jump out. Similarly, the sense of being squeezed out of a role because of one’s age is not necessarily true. Perceptions and perspectives are adjustable when viewed through different lenses.

“I can’t believe I’ve been passed over for promotion … again! Is this as far as I’ll ever get?”

It’s one thing to choose a change in career direction, but quite another to be halted in your tracks by circumstances beyond your control. In later life, not getting an anticipated promotion can be a particularly bitter blow. Situations like this call not only for resilience, but also a healthy dose of creativity and self-belief. There is usually more than one route to reach a destination.

“I loved the job ten years ago – but it’s just not doing it for me anymore.”

You used to love your work, but now it bores you. You have to drag yourself to your desk each day. If you’re being honest, you’ve outgrown the role – or maybe the industry? Is there a way to make the job grow with you or is it time to find a new challenge? My coaching clients are often very clear about what they don’t want, but less sure when I turn the question round and ask them what they DO want. It’s a lot easier to find something when you know what you’re looking for.

“I really want to do something else but I think I’ve left it too late.”

This is a completely relatable statement to a generation brought up with the idea of a job for life and a straight career path. For better or worse, depending on your viewpoint, times have changed and flexibility is now the key to a successful career. Ask yourself this: When do you plan to retire? What compromises are you willing to make until that time comes round? If compromise isn’t how you want to spend your remaining years of working life, there’s your incentive!

If you see yourself in any of these situations, you can do something about it. Career reignition can take many forms. The solution may lie in something as simple as a change of perspective or it could involve a more radical response.

What you do need is motivation and commitment – and, if you’re finding it hard to muster the resolve you need to make changes right now, try asking yourself these questions:

  • What feelings are coming up for me when I think about my work and what is it costing me to carry on tolerating the situation?
  • What if I looked at the situation from a different perspective? Can I learn anything from it?
  • How would I like a day in my working life to look three years from now?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen if I make changes (and how would I deal with it)?

In mid-life, with years of experience behind us and years of useful work ahead of us, we are at a valuable point in our lives. This is our opportunity to make a difference, live our purpose and leave a legacy we can be proud of. The fact that our careers might follow the winding road rather than the multi-lane freeway only makes for a more interesting journey.