Midlife curious is not a crisis. It’s a healthy self-reflection and calibration of what’s important to you…
You wake up every morning and you already feel behind. So many emails, a drum beat of upcoming meetings (for today, the rest of the week and seemingly forever), and your feeds are filled with statistics about the great resignation and millennials making hundreds of thousands of dollars selling NFTs or slinging the latest cryptocurrency.
The cumulative effect of the pandemic, working remotely, being given a ray of hope of some normalcy only to have it stripped away, with compounding expectations can only make someone experience “midlife curiosity.”
Being a leader in a well-respected, large law firm is fast paced, intellectually interesting and provides myriad complex problems to solve daily. I love it! I have to bring my “A game” every day, as lawyers are trained to issue spot even the most well-founded business principles and ideas. Mentoring and leading a team of talented, and similarly driven, professionals to be the best version of themselves while you’re not so sure you’re rocking along at 100% leads to wonder and doubt. The end of the calendar year 2021 left me “midlife curious.”
Midlife curious is not a crisis. It’s a healthy self-reflection and calibration of what’s important to you, your family, and your firm. Are you feeling similarly?
Here are steps I took to help me answer the age-old question of “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
Take a break
You can’t possibly achieve any sort of meaningful self-reflection working 50-70 hours a week. You need to take a break, and that doesn’t mean shutting your computer down at 3:00 pm on Friday.
…longer than a day, but shorter than multiple weeks.
I’d recommend that it’s longer than a day, but shorter than multiple weeks. I can only imagine the death spiral of a less-than-helpful inner dialogue an elongated break could create. In the off chance, given the COVID world we live in, this break can occur in a different set of surroundings than the usual day-to-day, all the better.
My break was cold, literally cold, as my family spent the holidays in Minnesota followed by a few snow days to start the year in Nashville.
Ask yourself: what’s important?
What drives you? Your family: time with them or providing for them? I’d imagine it’s both. Planning an amazing vacation or new ________ (insert fancy gizmo, car, etc.) that allows you to reward yourself? Being intellectually stimulated, competing for new business and talent in a competitive marketplace, and winning? Yes, yes, yes!!
…evaluate what kind of balance you might be able to achieve with some give and take
Sitting in Zoom meetings that could have been an email, explaining a common business principle like ROI (return on investment) and being met with resistance, and missing your kid’s basketball game so you can plow through some more emails to actually get a good night’s sleep?
No, no and no! Write down your considerations, force rank them, and then evaluate what kind of balance you might be able to achieve with some give and take, additional boundaries, and proactive communication.
Scan the marketplace
In the last six months, I’ve spoken in some form or fashion (Zoom, text, actual phone calls, emails and in-person chats) to nearly 100 law firm leaders from AMLAW 200 firms and industry consultants. I won’t speak for them, but if I’m a gambling man (and I am!), virtually all of them are reading this and saying “That’s me! I’m ‘midlife curious’ too!”
…sharing is caring
Talk with your industry colleagues, share your experiences with them…really share them.
Not “I’m so busy” talk, but rather: “This was awesome when this happened,” “I’m really proud of _________ (insert team member),” and “I’m really having a hard time with ________ (insert your challenge/issue).”
I truly believe that sharing is caring! This exercise will prove cathartic. You’ll also learn quickly that the war for talent is alive and well and the dearth of leadership is real. It may also render your grass to be a delightful shade of green!
Do scenario planning
What if I did ________? My go-tos lately have been an Uber driver (if you’ve tried to get one lately, you know you’d be filling a need!) and working at Costco. Upon true reflection, those aren’t a good fit, but wouldn’t be so bad for a week.
Are you trading one set of stresses and challenges for another?
What if I changed firms? Would it be more lucrative financially? Would it lead to more stress or just different stress? Would I enjoy the people I work with? I mean those people you want to spend time with them outside of the office, you belly laugh with, you swell with pride when they buy a house or have a baby, and you work your ass off to make sure the higher-ups know their value too!
Are you trading one set of stresses and challenges for another? Is the disruption worth it? Only you can truly know that in your heart.
Evaluate the data and identify trends
I work with data every day. I review that data, identify trends, make recommendations, and craft a path forward. I get paid to do this. Why wouldn’t I use those skills on my most important asset: me.
There are character-building days. (Note: This term, “character-building days,” is owed to my deceased father, who taught me early on that difficult circumstances result in personal growth. One of so many life lessons. Love you, Dad!)
Taking a strategic pause to assess isn’t cheating or wrong. It’s healthy…
Hard work is rewarding. Goals are good. Achieving those goals is even better. It provides a sense of accomplishment that phoning it in or quitting can never top. Money is important, but it’s not the most important thing. Know your value. I knew, and have been reminded, that I prefer experiences over things.
Taking a strategic pause to assess isn’t cheating or wrong. It’s healthy, helps you calibrate your values and gives you surer footing as you take that next step, wherever it takes you. I just completed 10 years in the C-suite at one of the best firms in the world. Thankfully, my midlife curiosity has subsided and I’m looking at the next hill to climb. But I do that with clarity of vision and a better sense of self. I actually wrote this article for me, but maybe it’s helpful to you.
Adam Severson is Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Baker Donelson, a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management and, among other things, a 2020 Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame Inductee.