A guest blog post by Karen Salinas, ThirdPath Integrated Life Advocate and board certified health and wellness coach.
One of the persisting myths about a work-first culture is that once children become school-age, work-care needs decrease. Adults are often surprised that work and life don’t necessarily become easier once the kids are older, more independent, or have graduated from high school.
The truth is, however, most people need time and energy to integrate work and care across each career and family stage. ThirdPath and others are working diligently and creatively to manage the surprising work-care needs of mid-career.
Mid-Career Work Needs
After 10-15 years of work, many employees feel burned out, stuck, or bored. They invested a lot to advance as fast as they could up their industry’s career ladder. Now they may wonder if what they have is all there is and feel restless to make a change.
It’s a career, not a job
Making a change to resolve these feelings comes with the awareness that the solution may no longer be found in a new job but in a new career. The effort required to leave the career they’ve built seems overwhelming and full of loss — loss of experience, networks, status, and success.
Financially locked in
By mid-career, many professionals run furiously on the hamster wheel of consumerism. They:
- Prioritize salary by overworking for promotions or changing jobs to bump up their income.
- Spend salary increases by committing to multiyear car and home loans.
- Incur unexpected expenses related to their family’s health, wellness, and other needs.
- Pay off their student loans while saving for their kids’ college expenses.
- Rinse and repeat.
Mid-career professionals may want to adjust their work-life mix but can’t because they feel
limited by financial responsibilities and standard of living expectations.
Seeking meaning and purpose
Mid-career likely coincides with a transitional period marked by an increased desire to find or create greater meaning in one’s life. Sometimes referred to as “middlescence,” it can feed frustration, confusion, and disconnection. But it can also be a time for self-discovery, new direction, and fresh beginnings. A time to reevaluate their choices, who they are, and who they want to be when they grow up.
Mid-Career Care Needs
Mid-career doesn’t mean caregiving ends, instead it comes in new, and often surprising packages.
Prioritizing kids’ potential over nurturing their own
As children become young adults, parents shift their focus to supporting their children’s work and life goals – interests that develop over time with self-awareness and setbacks.
Without intention and planning, mid-career professionals may not take time or energy to discover, develop, and invest in their own goals and dreams. By always prioritizing their kids’ potential, they risk not fulfilling their own, and they miss the powerful opportunity of becoming a role model of the inevitable ups and downs of this journey to their children.
Aging loved ones
Whether or not they have children to raise, mid-career professionals likely have caretaking responsibilities. Unlike raising children, supporting and caring for aging loved ones can be challenging because:
- Mid-career professionals may not be in sync with the micro changes of their loved ones because they don’t live with them.
- As an adult, they are also claiming power that isn’t always willingly being released.
- With different family members, including their aging loved ones, there’s potentially a reckoning when forced to face historically difficult aspects of their relationships.
Just like parenthood forges individual reinvention, caring for aging loved ones causes caretakers to stretch past self-limiting beliefs and grow and evolve in ways they never imagined possible.
After years of unrelenting job demands, family responsibilities, and change, taking care of oneself is more important than ever. Mid-career professionals may:
- Need to recover from the physical demands of raising young children, especially lack of sleep.
- Manage health conditions resulting from unhealthy stress or emerging with age.
- Set boundaries to prevent sacrificing wellbeing to unrealistic expectations at work and home.
Tips for Managing Mid-Career Work-Care Needs
Managing the work-care needs of mid-career professionals is a shared responsibility between individuals, organizations, and government. The pandemic shined a spotlight on the fraying safety net that caregivers can depend upon to tend to the tiny, sick, and old.
While we wait for businesses and public policy to catch up, let’s pledge to:
- Involve men. Men face stereotypical expectations just like women. But “we find that caregivers are made not born: Parenting experiences can remodel men’s brains and hormones,” writes Saxe. She continues, “a Harvard report found that, just after the onset of the pandemic, 68% of fathers felt emotionally closer to their children.”
- Value caregiving just as much as a career. Cultivating greater self-complexity and varied sources of meaning increases resilience at work and in life.
- Be loud and proud about how caregiving helps us become better workers and humans. Showing up as a whole person at work and home also gives others permission to do the same.
- Take charge of our work-life choices. Doing so requires intention. Intention to take care of ourselves, our finances, our loved ones, and our professional goals so that work and life are integrated on our terms.