Kieran Setiya has had an enviable career in academia. He is a tenured professor at a prestigious university, an author, and his self-help book, Midlife: A Philosophical Guide is the foundation for his recent article in the Harvard Business Review “Facing Your Mid-Career Crisis: Should You Cope or Quit?”
Setiya found himself wondering if the routine of his life, however successful, was how he wanted to spend the next part of his life. The routine of his accomplishments seemed less fulfilling each time around. He admitted that he was likely facing a midlife crisis.
We may all be confronting our professional state of affairs around 40-50. Setiya asks why job satisfaction suffers during midlife. He suggests that there are multiple factors: the narrowing of options, the inevitability of regret, and the tyranny of projects successively completed and replaced.
If you’re feeling some of the same feelings, there are some helpful points in the article to make sense of what’s going on.
In 2008 the economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald found that self-reported satisfaction takes the form of a gently curving U, beginning high in youth, bottoming out in our mid-40s, and then recovering as we get older.
The average contentment gap between age 20 and about 45 is comparable to the drop in life satisfaction associated with being fired or getting a divorce.
As life goes on, possibilities fade, options are constrained, and past decisions force limits upon us… evry choice results in the exclusion of alternatives. It is often mid-career that we acknowledge the lives we’ll never live and the pain of missing out.
He believes that a philosophical approach can help, and sees that regret need not imply that anything is wrong. Even when outcomes are rosy, regret of a certain sort is appropriate and not something you should wish away.
He concludes that if his strategies for looking closely at the reasons for a midlife mailaise don’t deliver the answers for staying in place in your career, it may be time to switch tracks.
Midlife is not too late; The mid-career crisis can be a spur to radical, vitalizing change.
Read the full article: “Facing Your Mid-Career Crisis: Should You Cope or Quit?”