What exactly is a Second Career Crossroad?

4/8/2019, By Adrian Choo

After years of meeting Senior Executives in my headhunting career, I noticed a common pattern emerging. Many of them go through one or two periods of intense self-questioning regarding their career direction and long-term planning. Now, these executives are top performers, but yet they still ask themselves, “What’s next?”

The Second Career Crossroad™ usually happens at age 38-45  and this could be the make-or-break moment in your life. At this stage, you probably have a family with young children and perhaps even a home loan or two, hence the risks of taking a wrong turn come with much higher costs. Also, being in this age-group, your ‘career runway’ is much shorter (more on this later) and you have fewer chances of correcting a bad mistake.

Many executives facing their Second Career-Crossroad™ start thinking the following thoughts.

“I’ve had a successful career all my life, I’ve performed exceedingly well in my job for the past 15 years and I’m a successful Senior Manager/Executive and a top contributor in my organization. I’m well-liked and respected by colleagues and others in my industry. I’m at the top of my career and have learnt everything I’ve needed to learn from this business and have achieved everything I’ve set out to achieve in this job. Everything is going well. Although I love my work and industry, I don’t want to spend the next 20 years of my life doing this. I wonder what the next phase in my life holds for me.”

This question becomes even more poignant for many because age 45 marks a symbolic (and mathematical) midway mark of one’s career. 

Most of us started work right after we completed our undergraduate degree which put us around 25 years of age. Given a retirement age of 65, it means that our career spans approximately 40 years – i.e., we spend up to four decades of our life working! And if you were to calculate a mid-way point of in year 20, that would put our mid-career mark at around age 45.

This could be a seminal moment in your life that could affect your entire future, so do not take it lightly.  However, people do make mistakes at this critical juncture and I will elaborate on three of the most common ones.

Mistake #1: Listening to advice from ‘friends’ – The people around us love us and are well-meaning, but often, they are simply not qualified to give career advice. If you wake up one morning and discover a mysterious golf ball sized lump at the back of your neck, would you ask your colleague what his opinion is? Would you let him operate on you? Likewise, not everyone is qualified to give the right career advice. You might end up with bad clichés like “You must follow your passion” or “Do what you love.” Not all passions will pay the bill and in any great job, there will always be elements that you will dislike intensely.

Mistake #2 – Listening to your heart, not your head. For many people facing their second Career-Crisis™, they could already be feeling quite frustrated by their situation and may be unable to keep a clear mind when making decisions. As a result, the actions they take are a result of emotional rather than rational decisions.

A bank manager I knew was so frustrated with his work that he resigned on the spot and started a childcare centre a month later even though he did not have any experience in that business. You should always think with clarity when deciding what to do, so take a few deep breaths and calm down.

Mistake #3 – Not setting enough time or not making a concerted effort to learn how to manage this ‘career-crisis’. The worst thing to do at this stage is to do nothing at all. Some people freeze like a deer caught in the headlights and hope the problem goes away, whilst other bury their head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.  Denial is your worst enemy. Some executives are so busy with their own work and job demands that they do not even have the time to realize that they are actually in the midst of a crisis, let alone figure out how to handle one.

My suggestion is that you need to extricate yourself from your current situation, even if for only an afternoon and sit by the beach or pool to take stock of your current situation. Also, speak to your Career Coach or Career Mentor for more advice. Contact us at [email protected]