Most of us were taught that to be successful—i.e., obtain a better title, salary increase, or gain a leadership role—we needed to focus on moving up the corporate ladder.
Long-standing cultural norms imply that one must always move upwards to be accomplished within one's career. But at some point, we are likely to hit a wall. This used to be referred to as a mid-life crisis in the past. Then, about a decade ago, the term quarter-life crisis was coined.
What defines a quarter-life crisis?
For many of us— especially if you are in the corporate world—there is money in the bank, lucrative paid time off, continuing education dollars to receive certificates, training, a second degree, or a chance to take on new roles and opportunities. Yet, there arises a question, “Isn’t there more to life than this?” We may realize that we have been on an endless chase of achievement and perhaps missed the boat on discovering personal fulfillment. These thoughts make us question everything. If this resonates with you, you are not alone.
Preconceived notions convince us that we should hunker down and say yes to everything we’re asked to establish ourselves in our careers.
I’m sure you have worked hard to create a life that you are proud of. You may have kept your LinkedIn profile or resume up to date, said yes to special projects and tasks at work, attended networking events, or stayed late to put in the extra effort. The disconnect happens when you have earned your stripes from “doing” all these objectives, so you can afford to have the life you’ve dreamed of, yet you still feel something is missing. There is a deep longing for more. What is it?
Often, the person we thought we wanted to be and the person we are are two different people. We begin to think about what we long for in life—happiness, fulfillment, purpose... When scaling the corporate ladder isn’t what we thought it would be, these thoughts usually enter our minds. A part of us is not being fulfilled, which causes us to ponder, “Where is my life going?” Then, it hits us. We want to try a new company, industry, department, title, perhaps go from an individual contributor to a manager role, but then we think:
If I go in a new direction, I may have to take a pay cut in my salary. I don’t want that.
Who will take a risk on me if I decide to do something different?
What will my family, friends, colleagues, etc., think of this choice?
Could a pivot of sorts take away from what I have already established in my career?
If I do something different, will I have to work my way from the bottom of the barrel?
Will I have to get another degree for what I want to do?
I call this “Entry-Level Mentality.” A term I coined after the listed thoughts above was continuously being stated by people approximately 10-20 years within their career. These questions and thoughts are the first steps in transitioning out of this space. It is important to remember that you are not alone in having these thoughts and crisis moments. These often critical thoughts— “head trash”—are based on preconceived notions and the fear that accompanies us when we step into the unknown without knowing the outcome. By taking a slight shift or direction in your mentality, you will move in a different direction of growth.
Recognize and trust that you have the gifts, skills, and talents to go for a job that better aligns with who you've become. Would you have these thoughts if you didn’t think you could do the job or genuinely have a vested interest in putting in the time or effort to do well?
Replace the head trash statements above with curiosity and ask yourself questions like:
Can I articulate my career timeline (the roles you’ve had) and showcase that I have the transferable skills to do this job?
Who in my network (either at your current work or a different company) can be my advocate or ambassador for me when I am not in the room?
What is my brand, and how have I confirmed what people say about me?
Why am I excited/interested/passionate/curious about making a change within my career?
Additionally, consider looking at your career and life differently by adopting the ripple effect, which acts similarly to throwing a pebble in a body of water and seeing the wide range of ripples surface. Most of us never think about the span of our career in this way. It is a way of looking at your career growth horizontally versus vertically.
Some may see lateral growth as a plateau or stalling out in their career, but that is not the case. Growth is still occurring, but it is measured differently. Making a lateral career move may be just what you need. Taking a position highlighting your strengths and leaving your weaknesses in the dust could bring you more overall happiness.
A ripple effect is a unique approach to growing wide and deep. You are continuously leveraging the transferable skills gained throughout all your career experiences, creating an opportunity to show how you can make an even more significant impact on your future career path. It goes beyond industry accolades, trading them in for personal fulfillment—in work and life.
Personal fulfillment lends itself in many ways. In the realm of successful careers, social scientist Arthur Brooks shared on LinkedIn’s Hello Monday with Jessi Hempel podcast that many successful careers start with “generating new ideas, and then end with teaching with them essentially.” He goes on to say, “You start as an inventor, and you finish up as an instructor.”
There is a critical point where you realize there is more to life than continually going to the next rung on the corporate ladder, and it is up to YOU to evolve your mentality. You can begin to empower yourself to overcome the “achievement cycle” and create the next level of success in your life. It is a defining moment to prioritize what is important to you now—not what was ten years ago and not what will be ten years from now. To help you close the gap and evolve, use the Think, Talk and Walk principles:
THINK: If past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, reflection is needed.
TALK: People only know what you tell them verbally. Speak your truth to advocates and ambassadors.
WALK: Now that you have considered who you have been, where you want to go, and why this is essential to you, it is now the time to recognize you are the leader of your life, and the world is waiting for you to act!
I am here to tell you that there are many ways to best use your skills and grow professionally every day that has nothing to do with a ladder. While it may not seem like it at the time of your quarter-life crisis, you are entering a beautiful place! This is where you shift from an entry-level mentality to an evolved one through thought-provoking questions and good old-fashioned gumption. You’ve used these skills to move up the corporate ladder, now, use them to make ripples in a self-fulfilled life.
It’s time to remember that you have already set yourself up for success and that you are worth the discovery of an evolved mindset.
You will be okay navigating the unknown, as your future is being created now through the impact of your current work. Give yourself the chance to create your legacy.