Does your midlife career need the kiss of life?
The feeling of being ‘stuck’ is a really common experience in midlife. In this article Lucia Knight, founder of Midlife Unstuck, talks to us about how experimenting can be the key to giving your midlife career the kiss of life.
Stuck has become a modern, midlife norm. Maybe it always was? Stuck often makes its presence known, ever so slowly over years, seeping under our skin and into our veins like an insipid fog that has the power to suck the vigour from our brains, the oomph from our hearts and the joy from our careers. Until we hit our personal tipping point – the point at which we know things have to change.
But because things have been so…samey for a while it can be a challenge to find a way to make change possible without taking a risky leap of faith that could leave life’s plates wobbling dangerously. I found a way to make a career change while keeping the plates spinning. You might not like it. In the beginning. But if you give it a chance and stick with it for more than a week, you’ll be well on your way to giving your midlife career the kiss of life.
So, how do you give your midlife career the kiss of life?
The kiss of life can be administered to your midlife in the form of EXPERIMENTS. I’d like to explain in a personal story. In my research for my first book (X Change – How to torch your work treadmill), I interviewed 100 midlifers who had made career changes, big and small, and described themselves as “happier” afterwards. But before they made the change, so many of them experienced the stuck feeling I describe above. This stuck fog appeared to be commonplace for a large swathe of my generation – Generation Xers…as it had in my own career.
This stuck fog descended slowly over years, slowly spoiling nearly every area of my 20 year career before starting to seep into other areas of my life to set about draining them of their colour too. This stuck feeling screamed at me so loudly one night that I decided that:
- I didn’t want to be the kind of woman who felt unusually knackered doing work that had stopped being fulfilling a few years ago.
- I didn’t want to be the kind of woman who shouts at her kids to go to sleep before going back to work to try to feel “good enough” and/or “successful enough” .
- I didn’t want to be the kind of woman who celebrates the end of the working week like she’s just completed an iron-man.I realised,
I’d become an Iron-woman…of sorts. Just not the sort I wanted to be.
Once I’d acknowledged that I was stuck, and that it wasn’t going to magically change withinout my input, that’s when I knew I needed to do something different. I craved something different. So, I began to experiment.
Attempting to train my brain that experiments weren’t going to kill me was, admittedly, hard in the early days. Fighting my gigantic fear of failure felt like a Game of Thrones battle…until I learned to start small.
Tiny in fact. I’d turn left rather than right. I’d listen rather than speak. I’d walk rather than run. I’d do Yin rather than Ashtanga. I’d curl rather than straighten. I’d read slowly rather than speed-read. I’d wear blue rather than black. Watch Ted Talks rather than Netflix. Read fact rather than fiction. I protected these experiments when they were babies – personally, privately, exclusively mine.
Until I grew strong enough to share them.
And in sharing my experiments in conversations with others- something magical came into play.
I began to notice more of the good stuff. And less of the bad stuff. I discovered newness and freshness. What makes a difference. And what doesn’t. I found what I needed and what I didn’t.
Then I invited some friends to join me in experimenting and that’s where things got really fun!
I’ve included a list of some of my experiments below. But it’s only a fraction of them.
Did they require bravery?
I experimented so often, it’s become my life philosophy. They are now built into who I am. Some people think I’m brave – and I was in the beginning. But not anymore. It’s fun. I want to be experimenting until I die.
The biggest revelation about experimenting for me is that it’s impossible to fail. The experiment may not work. But it’s not a personal failure. That’s a very freeing mentality. It sprinkles a lightness over life that wasn’t there before. I’m not attached to the outcome, I’m attached to the experiment. And my experiments have gotten bigger and more ballsy. But no less fun.
Here are just a few of my career and general midlife experiments …
- Making a website in 14 evenings for free.
I signed up to Squarespace and watched a tonne of videos on how to create your own website and then…just started. Learning this skill has allowed me to be in complete control of my website and given me freedom to do it my way. It made me feel creative for the first time in years. My techie husband was nothing short of astounded.
- Pitching and becoming a guest on a podcast
Scary to pitch for my first ever guest spot on a podcast. But the podcast host said yes. It was one of the most energising experiences I’ve ever had in business – so I’ve gone on to be a guest on loads of podcasts.
- Co-creating a “pebble mill at one” style entertainment show during lockdown called #lunchwithfriends.
So much fun was had over the 12 weeks with a group of six irreverent authors and up to 25 attendees each week. New friendships were made and stories were shared that mostly made us laugh and sometimes brought us to tears. Powerful vulnerability was in action every, single week as we poked fun at ourselves.
- Securing a publisher for my first book.
Pitching to a publisher wasn’t as hard as I though, once you get started. My first book is one of the proudest achievements of my life so far. It also allowed me to initiate a relationship that finds us collaborating again to create my first on-line career overhaul programme called The Fierce Emporium.
- Co-chairing a school charity.
A 3-year experiment – possibly too long to be called a true experiment. Year one – tiring. Year 2 – down-right exhausting. Year 3 – frustrated and bitter.
- Hot yoga 30-day challenge.
Time-consuming. Felt better but not worth the stress of juggling work, childcare, shopping and partner-time. A great deal less fun was had that month.
- Climbing three French Alps in one day (only made it across two)
The hardest of my physical challenges so far but worth it for the joint-soothing cocktails at the end of a 12-hour walk. Discovered that hard-earned rewards taste great.
- Visiting Beach Box Sauna, Brighton on a damp October day
Enclosed in a private, wood-fired sauna on Brighton Beach with 4 good friends, face packs, body scrubs and endless giggles and chatter about stuff that matters – what’s not to love? I’ll be talking about this one for years to come.
- Winter cold water swimming (no wetsuit) in Frensham Pond, Surrey.
Feet like blocks of ice. Brain screaming at me to get the hell out of there – IMMEDIATELY! Mind over matter followed by a whoosh of wellness that has found me addicted to cold-water swimming with friends. This experiment has ignited what I hope will be a life-long love of lake swimming.
- Swimming a mile in the Serpentine
Heavenly hazy summer day. All alone. Doing something just for me in London. Trained for ages in a chlorinated pool to be fit enough. Started at the back of the pack in a £50 wetsuit. It felt like meditation when I found my rhythm. Didn’t notice where I finished. Grinned from ear to ear all day.
- Cycling 100k in the Tour of Cambridgeshire.
Painfully long and dull flat ground. They ran out of water, so when I arrived at the first station and discovered this, I just cried. And decided never to do a lycra-clad race again.
- Creating my first ever vision board
After putting some natural skepticism behind me, I attended a vision-board workshop held by Lara at The Motivation Clinic. It put my year on a different trajectory and was delightful to spend a few hours exclusively thinking about…me.
- Making thirty 60-second videos for Midlife Unstuck within 3 weeks.
I was afraid of being on video so I avoided ever doing them and, surprise surprise, never got any better! Then I decided to design, script, record, edit and publish 30 videos in 3 weeks. Here are some of them.
Now that I’m no longer afraid. I can focus on getting better.
So, did these experiments offer my midlife career the kiss of life? Undoubtedly. They rescued me from my first career. And helped me create my new career. They also saved my midlife from drowning in a sticky fog.
In fact, experiments saved me…and they made my midlife and beyond exceedingly exciting.
More about Lucia Knight.
Lucia Knight, founder of Midlife Unstuck runs on-line, group and one-to-one career transformation programmes specifically for midlife professionals who are feeling stuck
Enjoyed Does your midlife career need the kiss of life? Why not read 20 stories of X Change.