THESE days, we often hear of a mid-life career crisis. Many people get to a point where they seriously question whether they want to continue doing the same thing — day in, day out — for the next 20 years.

People in their 40s are particularly prone to this. At this stage of their lives, some professionals, managers and executives begin to experience boredom and a general lack of challenge in their work.

While many are very good and even excellent in their job or vocation, they fail to experience the same sense of satisfaction they used to feel before.

Often, after 20 years in the same job or similar jobs, they start to feel that they are not learning much any more or contributing enough to their employer.

Many people in this situation want to develop their “second act”. There are several ways to do this:



 Make a radical move

One way is to make a major shift from one organisation to another in a different industry while still remaining in the same vocation or performing a similar job scope.

People who do this may have enjoyed modest success in their first career. They often bring their skills and competencies to an organisation that needs to improve its performance.

Alternatively, they join a slightly smaller organisation that wants to grow.

In either case, they find the challenge they desire. In addition, they are often hired for a more senior appointment because of their experience and specialist expertise.



 Take a sabbatical

After working for almost two decades, a growing number of people are deciding to take a break from the office.

Some mid-level executives who have experienced a mundane but steady career may decide to pursue a further academic or professional qualification to raise their employability or aid their climb up the corporate ladder.

If you have such a goal, you will need to do some planning, for example, funding your tuition fees and putting aside living expenses for yourself and your family during the period of study.

This option may require a temporary cutback in your lifestyle, especially if you are studying full-time. Even if you manage to work part-time while studying, you and your family will still have to live more frugally.

You may need up to five years to prepare for this, especially in building up your savings and tuition fees, even if your spouse is bringing in an income during your period of study.

The upside is that once you have your new qualification, you will be ready to take up new opportunities in a new organisation and even a new industry.



 Develop a parallel career

Individuals who have been highly successful in their first career may stay on in their job but develop a parallel career.

If you are one of these employees, you may even negotiate to work part-time with your current employer while you develop your second career. To retain you, your employer may agree so long as there is no conflict of interest or priorities.

Even after you have successfully grown your parallel career, you may want to continue working for your employer on a consultancy or retainer basis.

Your employer may then employ one or two younger workers to do the more routine aspects of your job, while you act as an advisor to the company and a mentor to the new recruits.



 Working for a cause

People who experience a mid-life career crisis may be feeling the call to do “something meaningful”. They may thus seek to work with charitable, religious or non-profit organisations.

Though these organisations cannot pay them their old salaries, they sign on because they seek the higher good of being able to serve or make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

During their first career, these executives may have made wise investment decisions that can provide a steady income to supplement the modest salaries of their second career.

As they now work in a charitable, religious or non-profit organisation, they and their families are often willing to make adjustments to live a more modest lifestyle.

This may include giving up their car and travelling by public transport, eating out less often and generally living more prudently.



 Working for themselves

Yet others who experience a mid-career crisis may choose to leave their regular jobs to work as freelancers, specialists, writers or consultants. They create multiple sources of income, which earn them an annual amount comparable to their previous salary.

In working for themselves, these individuals often find the challenge and excitement that they hankered after as employees.

As an increasing number of professionals, managers and executives age, both employers and employees have to make adjustments to accommodate the new realities.

Both parties have to try new workplace arrangements, new agreements and terms.

Flexibility, understanding and, most importantly, finding win-win employment solutions for ageing knowledge workers are imperative for the second and third decades of the 21st century world of work in Singapore.


Article by Kamal Kant, a part-time lecturer in Careers, Employment Relations and Management at Nanyang Technological University and SIM Global Education. He conducts career workshops and career coaches in his spare time.