Why MANY smart people face a mid-career dilemma and how you can avoid it.

Yes, it happens around age 40. It is not a midlife crisis but just a state of dilemma or confusion about their life and their careers.

Note: I wrote a book in 2005 highlighting this problem for technology professionals. You can download that book “Beyond Code” ( foreword by Tom Peters) for free.

Over the last few years, I observed that this problem was not just limited to technology professionals but extends to almost every knowledge worker anywhere in the world. It affects smart people more than others as I will prove that in the next few minutes.

How does a mid-career dilemma manifest itself? Typically in the form of a “plateaued career.” You can’t move up and younger peers are catching up fast to your current position.

The genesis of a mid-career dilemma is in what I call “the experience trap.

Experience is a double edged sword. When you don’t have it, you want it. When you have it, you don’t have enough of it. You want more of it so you go get it. This goes on for years. Then, one day, all of a sudden, you have too much of it for a job. You are sort of “over experienced,” if we can say it that way. Then you are stuck – you don’t have enough experience for the next job and you are “over qualified” for the job that your younger peers are engaged in. That’s the onset of the dilemma.

The “trap” lies in the way you look at “experience.” Being smart, you already know that ten year experience is not the same as “one year” experience repeated ten times. You know the value of “depth” when it comes to experience. The trap is not acquiring the “real experience” required for your next role in parallel to acquiring the “depth of experience” required to excel in the current role. You need both.

Let me explain. Take a look at this schematic below:

As you can see, in your area of expertise, you are a class apart from your peers. There are a few people who might have a chance to get closer to you but you are very confident that you will do whatever it takes to stay ahead of the game.

But it is not the same case when it comes to the skills required to excel in your next role. Some of your peers are better qualified there.

When the time comes for someone to make a decision about who to promote to the next role, you are at a clear disadvantage unless the weightage for your “current expertise area” in the new role is super high ( which is rarely the case ).

Where this gets even more tricky is when you think that your Boss should hand you the next role because you excelled in the current role whereas your Boss is looking for someone who is “already playing” the next role even though he or she is not handed the title yet. The mismatch is clear – you are thinking about “entitlement” whereas your Boss is thinking about “title adjustment.” The Boss wants to adjust the title of the person to someone who is already playing a role.

What can you do to avoid the dilemma?

There are no shortcuts to solve this problem. The problem, as you can see gets created over a long period in your career. So it would be a miracle to get that resolved in a matter of days.

Here are some quick tips to think about:

You have to take the responsibility:

1. To acquire the necessary skills for the next role in parallel to excelling in the current role.

2. To “play” the next role in whatever way possible. This in simple terms would be take on more responsibilities and walking the extra mile.

3. Drop the “entitlement” mentality completely. You will get the next role when it is too obvious for your Boss to hand it over to you.

Wish you the very best!

Other mini-research projects that might be of interest to you:

1. Why some smart people are reluctant to share? (Dec 26, 2009)

2. Why nice people will win BIG TIME in the long run? (Jan 15, 2010)

3. Why some people work hard but don’t get appreciated for that work? (Feb 22, 2010)

4. Why some smart people don’t take action? (Mar 14, 2010)

5. Why many smart people are taken for granted? (Mar 28, 2010)

6. 9 Reasons why MANY smart people go nowhere (Mar 29, 2010)

7. Why MANY smart people take shortcuts and how you can avoid that trap ( May 3, 2010 )

8. 7 Reasons why MANY smart people have trouble communicating their ideas (May 5, 2010)

9. 7 Reasons why some smart people criticize others ( May 30, 2010 )

10. Why MOST smart people are better at solving other people’s problems.. (Aug 10, 2010)

11. Why MANY smart people have trouble making a change ( Sep 20, 2010 )