How to deal with coming to a career crossroads

In pop culture, we picture midlife crises in a very specific way. The man who buys the Ferrari. The woman who goes on a soul-searching trip with lots of yoga and beautiful European locales. In real life, though, it can be a lot more subtle than that—and often hits the professional life rather than the personal one. If you’re feeling mid-career blahs, and aren’t sure how to deal with it, it could be a career crossroads. Is it time for a change? Should you keep going on your current path?

What is a career crossroads and how can you handle it?

The career crossroads is a point where you start to wonder what the rest of your career should look like. It can be brought on by changes at work (a new boss, big changes in the company) or really by nothing at all except a general sense of am I doing what I should be doing? The end result could be staying where you are, looking for a new job, or jumping fields altogether. Let’s look at some strategies for dealing with a career crossroads.

Do an audit of your professional life

Now is the time to ask some very important questions about what you’re doing now and where you’ve been. Are you in a field that you chose decades ago, right out of school, because it felt like the right choice at the time? Do you still feel like it was the right choice? Have you moved as far in your job or field as you would like? Do you feel burned out because you no longer feel fulfilled by what you’re doing, or would minor changes make your life better in the same job?

It’s also a chance to reassess your values. What’s the most important career factor for you at this point? A certain salary? The emotional fulfillment you get from your job? A certain job title or set of responsibilities?

Be honest about what you want

This isn’t about what others might want for you or what you wanted back when you were a student. The person you are now may have changed totally from your younger self, so it’s time to be realistic about what you want to achieve in the next phase of your career.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • What’s the financial picture in your career right now? Sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com can help you figure out if your salary is in line with others at your level of experience, job title, etc.
  • Do you feel fulfilled by what you’re doing? If you find yourself bored but generally happy with your field, think about what would make your job more challenging or fulfilling. If you can’t think of anything that would enhance your current path, then it’s time to ask …
  • Would you be happier doing something else? The mid-career change is increasingly common. What you wanted to do forever at age 22 is not necessarily the same thing you want to do forever at age 50. If you think you need a drastic change, then it’s also time to think about what would be involved in starting over (Going back to school? Certification?).

Don’t be afraid to get an outside perspective

You don’t have to muscle through your crossroads alone. In fact, it can really help to get the outside advice of someone you trust, like a mentor or someone else in your field. It’s best to avoid people at your current job (lest you spark rumors about you quitting), but a former colleague could be a good choice. The act of describing your current frustrations and future goals can help you visualize what you really want to do.

Create an action plan

If you determine that it’s time to make a job change or push for a promotion at your current job, then do it. Set a plan for your job search. Update your resume. Dust off your LinkedIn page, and start building your network. Start building your negotiation plan for approaching your boss. The outcome of your self-audit should always be an action plan of some sort, kind of a roadmap for the next phase of your career. Whether you’re staying put or looking for something new, you should come up with several tasks that will make your professional life better.

If you feel yourself approaching the career crossroads, don’t let the questions or frustrations get you down. It’s the perfect opportunity to take charge, and shape your career for the better.