Tips for marketers on making a midlife change

Experienced professionals are increasingly challenging their own assumptions about their purpose and work, but it doesn’t have to be a leap in the dark.

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The ‘100-year life’ was a much talked-about subject in the years before Covid forced us to focus more on the here and now instead of mapping out the long years ahead. The point made by the authors of the book of the same name, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, was that increasing lifespans would require different career and financial planning. The implications for multi-phase careers may not have been so front-of-mind, but the disruption of the last few years has certainly provoked many of us to think more deeply about how we spend our time, with whom and in service of what.

Specifically, I have noted that I’ve had more conversations in the last 18 months than I can remember about making a change midlife. Perhaps it’s my own life stage catching up with me, but it might also be a cohort of achievement-focused marketers meditating more on what satisfaction really means to the, versus following a more expected path. And these people are taking big leaps as a result – seeking new challenges, creating businesses driven by their passions, starting portfolio careers and even moving into totally different professions such as teaching.

Challenging assumptions

In these conversations I have noted people challenging some of the constraints they may have inadvertently put on themselves, often born from the pigeonholing that inevitably happens within organisations and the broader recruitment industry. I hear people articulating how much more versatile and flexible they are, their resilience, a renewed sense of purpose, and a decreasing tolerance to put up with poor management and toxic cultures.

We hear a lot about younger adults redefining what they want from work culture, but experienced people are equally challenging the parameters of the role work plays in their life, what success looks like and also what matters in terms of financial reward over new experiences. Often, they are challenging assumptions they may have left untouched for decades and tackling inertia which may have set in.

I’ve heard a lot of discussion about the seeming absence of support later in life compared to the early phases of careers, where structured programmes and guidance are abundant. Peers confess to a degree of myopia, as the intensity and seeming importance of early-stage career choices settled in, along with partners, children and other responsibilities. It’s a great reminder of the importance of seeking to know who we want to be at every age, and what questions we should ask ourselves and how to inspire change.

Change of purpose

Sometimes this process is born of challenge at work. Unlike the proverbial boiling frog, it’s best to engage as early as you can when you feel a sense of misalignment. Embracing challenge can lead to the profoundest and most positive changes.

Has your sense of purpose changed? Many marketers have embraced the notion of articulating their own purpose (or ikigai, or raison d’etre, if you prefer the Japanese and French concepts) as a North Star, seeking to align their time and efforts in service of the people and things which matter. Our identities are not fixed – we are a series of selves and so it makes sense that we should interrogate how this purpose evolves as our lives do.

experienced people are challenging the parameters of the role work plays in their life.

Key to this is deep self-insight. What motivates us? How has this evolved? What impact do we want to have in the world? Who are we and how do we want to use the time we have? Perhaps more importantly, as we gain experience, what are our signature strengths and where might they be of most use? It becomes less about gaining experience than using that experience in service of big opportunities and challenges.

Practical steps to take

Push open the doors. Activating your network is a critical element of doing this work – not only talking to people who can help crystallise the person you are becoming, but opening up new perspectives and challenging your perceptions about the organisations and places where what you offer could be of most value. People have shared how reticent they may have been initially to do this, but then acknowledge how generous people turn out to be in offering their perspectives.

You will get gold from having the courage to do this, and find people on the same journey who will support you. Everyone loves to help with a sticky problem and will freely coach and mentor, often making further connections with people who may help. And, practically, a large proportion of appointments come from referrals – these conversations also create the opportunities themselves.

Be deliberate. I’ve also spoken to people frustrated at the lack of progress in their search, only to recognise the need to be more active and purposeful. Often people will assume you are content in your world and not ready to disrupt your own flow. Making a big change at any time requires effort and focus, and to signal your readiness to change.

Make a plan. It does take time to crystalise what is at your core and the range of opportunities in which you might best apply that. It’s worth doing this before starting to engage in considering actual tangible opportunities; looking before you leap. The only risk is doing nothing – drifting rather than moving forward with purpose.

Making any change in life or career requires a leap of faith. It may seem at midlife as if more is at stake, but from the many people around me who have made the leap I hear nothing but positive stories about the renewed energy and excitement they have for this new phase of their journey.

Even in a 100-year life, time is finite. We need to be bold at every age and every phase of our careers. Carpe diem.