If you are like me – stuck halfway up the career ladder, far enough that you can see the light of leadership and authority to come, but not too far up that you don’t still relate to the newbies – then you are what we call a “mid-level” or “mid-career” professional.
Many of my colleagues and close friends are also at the mid-level point in their careers and we talk about that a lot. Specifically, what does it feel like to be in the middle? Do you still have the passion that you had when you started? Do you still have the drive and ambition to see things through to the finish, where you literally and figuratively come out on top, etc., etc.? The other conversation we have, however, is about feelings of disconnectedness, disenchantment, boredom and questioning about whether or not this was the right career choice. What else could I be doing? For government employees, the thought that “I could be making so much more in the private sector” is always there among others. If you find yourself feeling this way and/or asking yourself these questions, then you my friend have a case of “mid-career malaise.”
Here are some ways to shake it off:
1.) Take a break. By this I mean literally take a break from your job. Take Leave Without Pay and go travel, work on that novel you’ve had rolling around in your brain for years, spend some time at home, basically get out there and see what else the world has to offer you. I’ve known many mid-career professionals who have hit the pause button and gone outside to explore. Some come back, and some don’t and that’s the point. You won’t know what you want to do until you take a break and assess or reassess what you want from life and how you are going to get it.
2.) Do something different. In many government institutions, at least on the federal level – which is what I know best, there are opportunities to technically keep working for your agency even though you are in another one. Clear as mud? Here is an example. I have many colleagues who work for the State Department who have taken one-year “details” in other government institutions. Some have gone to work at the National Security Council, on the Hill, in USAID, Amazon, the World Bank and more. Others have taken fellowships that allow them to teach at Georgetown or other institutions in the DC metro area all in the name of doing something different while still counting another year at the home institution.
3.) Go back to school. I have had other colleagues who have taken advantage of Leave Without Pay or other professional development programs that have an academic focus. I’ve had colleagues take an “out year” where they pursued an MBA or an MPA or some other one-year master’s degree (sorry you can’t pursue a PhD, JD or any other multi-year degree on the tax payer’s dime), that have left them feeling more personally and professionally fulfilled and invigorated when they return to the 9-5 workplace. The ideal set up in this scenario is to find a program that your employer will pay for and those programs do exist. If this is of interest to you, the first place to start in figuring out what options are available is to go to your human resources office or your career counselor and ask them to point you in the right direction.
4.) Change up what you do day-to-day. If your daily routine has you feeling the malaise, then try to do something different. Step up on a task, request to take the lead on a project, see if you can do an office swap wherein you work for a designated period of time in another office and someone from that office works in your office. Shadow someone whose work you are interested in, or who you admire and can learn something from.
Sometimes, mid-career malaise is something we just have to deal with. Other times, it means you’re at a soul-crushing job and it’s time to get the heck out of there. If you aren’t sure whether it’s time to take the leap out permanently, look at the signs I outlined in the first paragraph and see if you are going through the malaise, then as interim measures try some of the other suggestions. If they don’t invigorate you and refocus you on your present path, then you know it is time to make a real change. Good luck and use these tips to get the mid-career malaise before it gets you. 😉
Lia Miller is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.