I was having dinner last night with some smart, amazing, highly successful women. They own their own thriving business, started a few years ago after reaching the pinnacle of their profession. As the wine flowed freely, the conversation turned to my sabbatical and the reasons behind it. I explained how dissatisfied I felt with my career, which was surprising to me given how hard I had worked to achieve professional success. Surely, I surmised to myself, it must be so empowering and energizing to work for yourself. To be your own boss. To be so personally invested in the work you do everyday.
But, to my surprise, I found adamant nods of sympathy as I described my feelings of ineptitude and boredom, despite the fact that my marketing jobs have become increasingly interesting and challenging over the years. Turns out that each of these women are in the exact same place that I am. Wanting some unnamed, intangible "more" that can't be articulated, and feeling ungrateful for being dissatisfied when we are the generation that is supposed to be having it all. Some are married, some are not. Some have children, some do not. So what is the common denominator leading to these feelings pressing down upon us all?
My generation of women (mid 30's to mid 40's or so) seems to be in a tight spot. We weren't the ones who had to crash through the glass ceiling like our mothers did. It was always assumed that if we wanted to have careers and families, or just careers, or just families – or neither – our choices were our own. Any choice we could conceive of was available to us. Ours for the taking. We rose quickly through the professional ranks, many of us achieving our definitions of success at younger ages than any generation of women before us. In my own case, I was an SVP by age 35…
So we find ourselves in the middle of these lives we've crafted, scratching our heads and saying to ourselves:
"OK. So now what? What's next?"
Add to that dilemma, a phenomenon which certainly isn't particular to women: our generation grew up with remote controls and hundreds of channels, we have short attention spans, high IQs, and the expectation that if we become bored (which we easily do), we are entitled to just change the channel. The expectation of changing the channel seems to have crossed over to our entire lives.
Staying in the same job for 25 years like our parents did seems like a death sentence. We need constant change.
Previous generations reached the pinnacle of their careers, and soon after it was time for retirement.
Achieving our goals is happening earlier and earlier in life. We are living longer, and able to be young and active for much longer. When my grandmother was 60, she had blue hair, wore orthopedic shoes and support hose, and walked with a shuffle. When I'm 60 I will still be wearing 4 inch heels, have a low percentage of body fat, and practice bikram yoga daily.
Maybe it is the new norm that the mid-life crisis happens not because we fear the aging process, but because we've achieved our goals early, our choices seem endless, and suddenly we are unsure what to do next.
Today I don't know, but I look forward to figuring it out.