Midlife curiosity is not a crisis. It’s a healthy self-reflection and calibration of what’s important to you…
You wake up every morning and you already feel behind. So many emails, a drumbeat of upcoming meetings (for today, the rest of the week, and seemingly forever), and their feeds are full of stats about the big quit and millennials making hundreds of thousands of dollars selling NFTs or launching the latest cryptocurrency. .
The cumulative effect of the pandemic, working remotely, receiving a glimmer of hope for some normalcy only to have it fade, with compounded expectations can only cause someone to experience “midlife curiosity.”
Being a leader in a large and well-respected law firm is fast-paced, intellectually engaging, and provides a myriad of complex problems to solve every day. Love it! I have to bring my “A game” every day, as attorneys are trained to issue even the most well-founded business principles and ideas. Mentoring and leading a team of talented and similarly motivated professionals to be the best version of themselves while not so sure you’re performing at 100% leads to wonder and doubt. The end of the 2021 calendar year left me “curious in middle age”.
Midlife curiosity is not a crisis. It’s a healthy self-reflection and calibration of what’s important to you, your family, and your business. Do you feel similarly?
Here are the steps I took to help me answer the age old question “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
Take a break
It is not possible to achieve any kind of meaningful self-reflection by working 50 to 70 hours a week. You need to take a break, and that doesn’t mean shutting down your computer at 3:00 pm on Friday.
… more than a day, but shorter than several weeks.
I would recommend longer than a day, but shorter than several weeks. I can only imagine the death spiral of unhelpful self-talk that could create a long pause. In the event that, given the COVID world in which we live, this break can occur in a different environment than the usual day-to-day, much better.
My break was cold, literally cold, as my family spent the holidays in Minnesota followed by a few days of snow to start the year in Nashville.
Ask yourself: what is important?
What drives you? Your family: time with them or keep them? I imagine it is both. Are you planning an amazing vacation or a new ________ (insert fancy gadget, car, etc.) that allows you to reward yourself? Be intellectually stimulated, compete for new business and talent in a competitive marketplace, and win? Yes Yes Yes!!
…assess what kind of balance you could achieve with some give and take
Sitting in Zoom meetings that could have been an email, explaining a common business principle like ROI and meeting resistance, and missing your son’s basketball game so you can read a few more emails to really have a good night’s sleep ?
No no and no! Write down your considerations, rank them, and then assess what kind of balance you could strike with some give-and-take, additional boundaries, and proactive communication.
scan the market
Over the past six months, I have spoken in some form (Zoom, text, actual phone calls, emails, and in-person chats) with nearly 100 AMLAW 200 law firm leaders and industry consultants. I won’t speak for them, but if I’m a gambling man (and I am!), pretty much all of them are reading this and saying “That’s me! I’m ‘middle-aged curious’ too!”
…sharing is showing interest
Talk to your industry peers, share your experiences with them…really share them.
Don’t say “I’m so busy”, but rather: “It was amazing when it happened”, “I’m so proud of _________ (insert team member)” and “I’m really having a hard time with ________ (insert your challenge/problem)” .
I truly believe that sharing is caring! This exercise will be cathartic. You’ll also quickly learn that the war for talent is alive and well and that the leadership shortage is real. It can also make your lawn a luscious shade of green!
Do scenario planning
What if I did ________? My favorites lately have been an Uber driver (if you’ve tried to get one lately, you know you’d be filling a need!) and working at Costco. On second thought, those don’t quite fit, but they wouldn’t be so bad for a week.
Are you trading one set of stresses and challenges for another?
What happens if I change companies? Would it be more lucrative financially? Would it lead to more stress or just different stress? Would you enjoy the people I work with? I mean those people you want to spend time with outside of the office, laugh with, swell with pride when they buy a house or have a baby, and work your ass off to make sure superiors know their worth too!
Are you trading one set of stresses and challenges for another? Is it worth the interruption? Only you can truly know that in your heart.
Evaluate data and identify trends
I work with data every day. I review that data, identify trends, make recommendations, and craft a path forward. I get paid to do this. Why wouldn’t I use those skills on my most important asset? I.
There are character building days. (Note: I owe this term “character development days” to my late father, who taught me early on that difficult circumstances result in personal growth. One of many life lessons. I love you, dad!)
Strategically pausing to evaluate is neither cheating nor wrong. It is healthy…
Hard work is rewarding. Goals are good. Reaching those goals is even better. It provides a sense of accomplishment that calling on the phone or quitting can never surpass. Money is important, but it is not the most important thing. Know your value. I knew, and have been reminded, that I prefer experiences to things.
Strategically pausing to evaluate is neither cheating nor wrong. It’s healthy, it helps you calibrate your values, and it gives you a more secure foundation for taking the next step, wherever it may take you. I just completed 10 years in the C-suite at one of the best firms in the world. Fortunately, my middle-aged curiosity has subsided and I’m looking at the next hill to climb. But I do it with clarity of vision and a better sense of myself. In fact, I wrote this article for myself, but maybe it will be useful for you.
adam severen He is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for Baker Donelson, a member of the Faculty of Legal Practice Management, and, among other things, a 2020 Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame inductee.