Why the careers of MANY smart people are stalled in mid-life?

Do you remember any “rising” superstars that were the blue-eyed boys (and girls) of the Bosses when they started their careers? You knew that these people were pretty damn smart and you really thought they would go places in their life.

When you looked at the careers of many of these people when they hit 40 and it seemed like their careers had stalled – as if their train had hit a brick wall of some sort.

If you asked them what really happened most often you will hear a set of “really convincing” reasons for their present situation. You probably can’t argue with the reasons because the excuses are “quite solid.”

In our mini-research, we focused on several cases where the careers started off in a big way but tapered off. We also looked at careers that progressed brilliantly over a 15-20 year period (the time when middle age typically begins)

Here are the findings:

The reason fro the stalled careers was hugely influenced by three things:
1. Inability to re-invent at the rate of market change.
2. Series of short-term wins at the expense of a weak foundation
3. Lack of leverage

1. Inability to re-invent at the rate of market change

Todays darlings are tomorrows also-rans. Being a hero today in a space won’t guarantee someone to continue to be a hero because the space itself might have a lack of appeal tomorrow.

The “early hero” status in some cases was actually a negative for some people as they got comfortable with the “star” status in their space and continued to dig deeper. In the near term it worked out OK as the “space” continued to be hot for a few years and suddenly (well, it didn’t happen suddenly anyway – it appeared that way) the world changed and what was hot was no longer hot anymore and the “star” status while was valid, it didn’t mean much.

2. Series of short-term wins at the expense of building the foundation

When someone is “hot and in demand”, it is easy to forget to take care of some fundamentals – such as health, relationships, personal brand etc. These people were so busy “doing” what was required that they forgot to upgrade their “being.” They invested in the craft but forgot to invest in the craftsman (or craftswoman) – the architect behind the craft.

Again, in the short-term and near-term, there was no problem as the “delta” between the strength of their foundation and the strength of the foundation of their peers was very small. Over the years, the gap started growing and by the time they reached the middle-age, the gap was of the size of the grand canyon and it was impossible to “jump” and cover the gap in the short-term.

3. Lack of leverage

You get results by your labor and the labor that is the result of the assets that you build. The difference is subtle but important.

When you make a call to someone to get their buy-in for something, your labor is making that phone call. The price that you are paying is the long-distance charge and the time you spend talking. At least that’s what it seems like. But there is a lot more to that phone call than what appears on the outside. The weight of that call on the other end depends on “who you are” to the other person. That is where the other assets such as your personal brand, relationship with the person you are talking to, your emotional bank account balance with the person etc come into play. The price has already been paid for over the last few years.

If someone has NOT paid the price over the years to build those assets, all they have today is themselves. They can make the call but it won’t be that effective. They have “no leverage” so to speak.

Obviously the list is not complete and there can be a “N” other reasons for someone to get stuck (including believe it or not – luck)

I chose the above three because you have some amount of control on how to handle them. You don’t have any control on luck. If you can identify anyone in this situation, just remember that there is nothing they can do going back to their past. But there’s a lot they can do as they step into the future. Their future is shaped by the choices they are making TODAY. Being smart provides a great entry ticket to the game but you still have to play the game well to win!

Bonus: Please download a one page article on Enrichment (PDF).¬†This was ¬†originally published within the “What Matters Now” eBook ( One of Seth Godin‘s projects)