“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Some people know who they want to be early in life. I was not one of these people.
At the age of 35, I was freaking out a little bit. I had a challenging, well paid, professional job as an engineer and was feeling stagnant. Not from lack of opportunity within the company I was working for, but from within myself. I wanted more, but didn’t know what I wanted more of. I wanted to feel more connected to what I was doing, to wake up looking forward to the day with anticipation and not a subtle feeling of dread.
The mid-life crises can be one of the most illuminating times of our lives, if we let it.
It’s been almost a year since I left my job with no plan. And let me clarify, by “no plan”, I don’t mean flying by the seat of my pants financially. We had saved up to weather a large transition period but just didn’t know what we were transitioning to. My notice went in anyway, I couldn’t continue working until it was figured out and besides, there was guilt felt in receiving a paycheque when I just wasn’t “in it” anymore.
This time for myself has been invaluable, and in an unexpected way resulted in an increased confidence in the skills I have to offer. I needed time and hindsight to reflect on where I have been and where I should be going.
During the last 5 years of my career, I spent way more time educating myself on the nuances of personal finance, motivation, habit creation, behavioural finance, and pension programs than I ever did on the CE (continuing education) credits of my actual profession. I shared this information with anyone who would listen to me, and felt connected and whole while doing so. If a little of this informal coaching happened while at work, I wouldn’t feel too guilty about it because I sincerely believe that financially secure individuals who want to be where they are make the most invaluable employees.
It turns out, experience was needed to understand what felt authentic and what felt forced. I didn’t know who I was when I was 18 precisely because I hadn’t tried anything yet, I hadn’t succeeded or failed at anything. Hindsight is glaringly obvious, but I needed to take time to piece it together.
The 15 years of experience I had was necessary and vital to my understanding of what made me tick. I observed what people, situations, or projects lit me up and which ones ground me down. I was also able to begin transitioning my own self-concept from What I Do, to Who I Am, and that transition was subtle and profound at the same time. I am no longer an engineer, a leader, or a mother. I am a curious and energetic person who loves building a big picture for someone. I am an inspirer. In hindsight I should have known this about myself as several employer-paid personality tests laid bare my inspirational drive, but you can’t hand the answer to someone before they know what question to ask. It reminds me of a scene in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where the supercomputer Deep Thought has been computing “The Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything.” and then after 7.5 million years it gives the answer, and it’s the number 42. I laugh harder at that every year that goes by, because it’s just so true. No one even thought of asking what the original question was.
This clarity wasn’t there while I was working, and I think that’s probably due to how quietly we speak to ourselves. What I did feel was a vague sense of unease, that I was missing something. Some days or weeks I would feel it and think I could work forever at my corporate job, and then it would slip away and I couldn’t quite see what combination of events made me feel complete.
I wake up now, and I don’t ask myself: “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” Now the question has turned into: “How do I want to leverage who I am?” And I’m content now, knowing that this can actualize itself in a variety of ways, in a variety of roles, across many industries. It has allowed me to venture out of my comfort zone and into starting my own business, learning how to write, and facing the typical fears of self-doubt that we all share.
I no longer think that 35 is too old to start figuring out what I want to do; I no longer feel that 55 or even 75 is too old. Experience doesn’t become useless when you transfer careers; in fact, it might just be the breath of fresh air that invigorates those around you and challenges them to think differently.
So to those who feel their own version of unease or who know they want to make a change but think it’s too late for them, consider this: Would you rather seek out a professional who brings natural enthusiasm and curiosity into their job, or someone who has been on autopilot for the last 5-20 years? Can you see the value in bringing maturity and a variety of different skills to a new job from an unrelated industry? As individuals live longer and longer, it’s important to accept that several career changes may be just what we need to stay engaged and connected, and why it’s so important to foster self-awareness to do our best work.