How to navigate a mid-career crisis

Jun 01, 2018
Changing your profession mid-career doesn’t have to be a crisis.

There are times where it seems like it is impossible to continue down the same career path you chose and once felt certain would see you through to retirement. Sometimes, a person doesn’t have the energy or determination to keep showing up to their office but only do so because they cannot see another way forward. Inevitably, this leads to burnout that can have negative consequences for the person beyond the impact on their career. This article will focus on the causes of a mid-career crisis and what can be done to avoid it.

What is a mid-career crisis?

When you begin questioning whether the career you worked hard for is all there is to life, it is a clear sign of a mid-career crisis. When this hits, it is time to think about what career change options exist and how to negotiate your way through an effective change.

How to negotiate your way through a mid-career crisis

By taking advice from people who have focused on this subject, it will allow you to form a plan of action without feeling unsure about the steps you are taking. If you decide on your own what you plan to do to overcome a mid-career crisis, you might not feel the confidence in yourself while going down that new path. By reading and considering advice that has been given to people in your shoes, it will help to back up your belief in your ability to make a change.

Author Tim Ferriss has written in the past about the mid-career crisis he felt after writing his fifth book. He looked to what he enjoyed doing in his down-time – how he entertained himself – and thought about how he could make a career from it. He quickly realised he liked to talk, and so decided to create a podcast, the Tim Ferriss Show, which now boasts over 200 million downloads. 

At the outset, Ferriss decided to start small, committing to six podcasts about building better communication skills. At the advice of experts, he knew not to get ahead of himself without a good, predetermined plan but, ultimately, having fun and being yourself is the way forward through any mid-career crisis. Early psychoanalytic advice on the mid-life crisis was posited by Jacques and Levinson, but many modern analysts have tried to prove their ideas through empirical evidence and have not had much luck. What has been found is that a mid-life crisis can result from any number of things and career disillusionment is listed as one significant factor.


Design thinking is when design principles are applied to strategy and innovation, and such a contemporary approach may also be of benefit to people who feel they need a new career. Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, authors of Designing Your Life, give advice on how to apply design thinking to personal problems and issues with your career. One suggestion was cheap mini-experiments, the idea being that it’s easier to find a practical solution to problem you don’t know how to solve by trying something new little by little. This is considered a good strategy to ‘build your way forward’ and is great for people who are starting with a blank canvas. You should be able to do these mini-experiments while still holding your current job so you’re still employed before choosing your new career path.

The first step to creating a mini-experiment is to track your energising, engaging and joyful activities in a journal over three to four weeks. Write down anything that makes you feel fulfilment, from spending time with friends to sipping tea in bed. Then, measure the activities you listed against the factors: whether it gives you energy, whether it helps you become absorbed and engaged; and whether you become happier after doing it.

The second step is to concentrate on jobs that contain these activities. Take some time to brainstorm and make a list of all the careers or industries where these activities are found. You will then have created your own short-list of interesting careers. After that, the job search starts.

Next, make a list of all the skills needed in those careers and create mini-experiments to hone those skills if you are lacking in them. Since you are not just starting out in the job market, you will have transferable skills, such as technical knowledge or leadership abilities. It is recommended to assess your skills and decide which are still required for your new path to develop. This could be through taking on contract roles with clients in your new path, or a part-time role that you can work during your off hours. You might be able to find an apprenticeship or a volunteer role. This will enable you to solidify your practical experience and give you leverage when applying for roles in your new industry, as well as give you the insight to determine if you are correct about your interest in that field. After that, measure which experiment had the best result. You must consider how you felt during each activity and which one made you feel the best about yourself. 

Finally, you have to decide which new career path to take. It is worth remembering that you can always adjust your path by either working up through a company, changing the company you work for, or deciding to freelance and contract your services on an ongoing basis.


Many people find themselves in the situation of having a mid-career crisis, and there are steps which have proven successful for others who changed careers. While you might not know what career path you would prefer, you do know that you don’t want to stick to the one you are on. You should consider what makes you happy and try different things while you are still in the comfortable position of being employed. By trying out new paths while you still have an income coming in, you create the potential for choosing a career path that is right for you, will make you happy and has the potential to employ you well into the future.

Shay Dalton is the Managing Director of Lincoln Recruitment.