How do you view the world if you are on the wrong side of your 40s? Does it excite you, or do you feel the weight of missed chances and decisions that you could have made? Maybe you should have been CEO by now — you were certainly more capable than that last person who became SVP? How do you view yourself in light with the daily stories of super successful people half your age – entrepreneurs running multimillion or multi-billion dollar startups or at the helm of equally large companies? 

People in their 40s and 50s battle a professional and personal plateau — commonly called the midlife crisis. It is a psychological state brought about by (a) person’s age and sense of mortality, combined with (b) regrets around lack of professional accomplishments, and (c) lack of meaningful personal relationships or meaning in their lives per se. This, in turn, causes feelings of depression and anxiety and wanting to make drastic changes to your lifestyle — mostly to feel young again. Binge drinking, taking to ‘adventure’ sport etc are all classic symptoms. 

Understanding success and achievement through middle age

Our society worships achievement and we’re programmed to think it comes early. We make a few mistakes on the way to arriving at the midlife career and success rut. Here are some of those:

  • The rate of learning & drive falls precipitously: Remember at the start of your career you understood your lack of experience and what it meant to become an effective contributor — you learnt about your environment and developed skills at a furious pace. Till your mid-20s the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for complex functions such as planning and organizing, problem-solving, memory, attention and inhibition is yet to fully develop fully. Did you know that skills, creativity and talents develop later in life through the 30s but more through 40s & 50s? Have a look at yourself – the skills you acquired in the 40s are they at the same pace? What about your drive? 

  • The belief that success & time are a straight line, with compounding interest: We believe that time is a straight line on which money, success, interest everything compounds. So if you were successful at 20, you will be that much more successful at 30 at the rate of 10% pa. This is because for most of us success is mostly the equivalent of money. It sounds stupid but that is how companies hand out raises, that is how employees evaluate their own performance. 

  • Decision & risk avoidance peaks: A study by Laurence Minsky & Julia Tang Peters shows that we are most susceptible to making decisions that lead to less-than-successful outcomes between the ages of 40 and 48. One big reason is that you now want to stay in your comfort zone rather than setting new directions. As you got into your 30s and 40s there was a shift in personal and family responsibilities. With higher positions and incomes — you have more to lose if you make a mistake. So essentially you are making decisions that play it safe and where you still feel in control. You have begun to overestimate the risks of change and underestimate the risks of preserving the status quo. 

One day without warning midlife arrives and you start feeling undervalued and overworked. You have years of hard work behind you in managing and producing results. You want to be seen as successful but are consumed by the taint of failure.  This feeling causes a large proportion of very talented, and experienced, individuals shunted out from the best opportunities in professional life. It sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy amplifying and deepening the mid-life crisis. But we forget that people acquire different skills throughout life. Motivation and drive vary. At mid-life you are focussing on maintaining status quo and bringing incremental change. We forget different people quite simply peak at different times. The danger is not realizing this shift in your own mindset. 

Life’s challenges are just those – they are not your life’s immutable facts

It is not surprising then that people who need the most help are not at the beginning of their careers but in mid-life. Your present circumstances do not have to hold you back. You can have a successful life – success as you define it. You can breakthrough life’s plateaus & challenges by finding your reserve of mental and physical strength. You can break through the mid-life impasse and become Stronger with Rakesh Shukla™. It will transform your Work, your Health and your Life.