I hate my birthday. It’s like New Year’s Eve except all that pressure to have a great time is focussed solely on me, which is the surest way to put me in a bad mood. I mention this because I am turning forty later this year, as are a number of friends and colleagues, three of whom have asked me out for mysterious lunches in the last three weeks.
I say mysterious because these are people I normally meet for beers, once in a blue moon, following a barrage of WhatsApp banter. The lunch invitations came via email and thus are very out of character, suggesting something more serious…and sober.
Turns out each of these wonderful, talented and smart people is also facing forty (or reflecting on it a couple of years hence), and wondering what they’re doing with their lives and careers. I’ve been there brothers and sisters!
When I sold my half of content marketing agency Click2View I reinvented myself as a movie producer but when Brexit buggered my plans (axed tax relief and co-production treaties!), I found myself adrift with no idea what to do with the next thirty years. As someone prone to erring on the darker side of life, I thought I’d better get pro-active in preventing a full blown mid-life career crisis and now I find myself at home, on a weekday, with abundant coffee and clients, contentedly creating content. So, how lah?
First thing I did when I spotted dark clouds on my career horizon was ask my wife when I come home from work happiest. We’re generally terrible at assessing our own emotions, which is why I turned to the only person who knows me better than I know myself. She told me that every time I come home from a day of presenting or workshopping I always have a big smile on my face. Also, when I get to have big, strategic, problem solving conversations with clients (rather than niggling little procurement conversations, for example ). She also said I am unfailingly grumpy if I have to manage or be managed.
Armed with this new self awareness I started to think about what I could do that would allow me to spend more time presenting, workshopping and having big, strategic conversations whilst not having to work for somebody or have anybody work directly for me. This immediately scotched my loosely-held vision of being a big wig in a big corporation because clearly that can't make me happy. I am supposed to be independent, but doing what exactly?
Next, I spoke to three former clients of mine at Click2View and asked them, “Hey, you’ve hired me to do stuff for you before - why? And what would you hire me for now?”. Over various emails, coffees and beers they told me candidly what value they thought I brought to their roles and organisations and helped me shape a value proposition for Moore’s Lore Media - Content Strategy & Storytelling Solutions, which I launched in January this year…to absolutely no fanfare whatsoever.
One thing you have to realise about making a big, life changing decision for yourself is that it only affects you. No one else cares. It’s like those press releases, you know the ones: "As a leading provider of blah solutions, we are delighted to announce that…WE ARE MOVING OFFICES!”. Massively important to them, but means nothing to anybody else. That’s essentially what starting Moore’s Lore Media was like; a big deal for me but nobody else. Fine. Deal with it.
Launching a business is not a story, winning business and delivering on it is. So don’t obsess over your logo, website and business cards. Obsess over your potential customers. They don’t care about your business, they care about their business. Start talking to them about them, both in private and online through content. For the first three months of this year all I did was post a weekly blog and twice daily curated content that delivered on my value proposition, which is to help people and organisations tell better stories for business impact. Content drove views, views led to enquiries, enquiries turned into meetings, meetings beget proposals and proposals became deals. But deals don’t pay for thirty days and that take us up to May! Honestly, I had to cash in my pension to stay afloat but I considered it an investment in the next three decades of my personal wellbeing. It was totally worth it.
Maybe you’re not starting a business but looking for a job. The same principals apply. It’s not about you, it’s about them. How their business can benefit from hiring you. Demonstrate, privately and publicly, your fascination with them, their industry and how you can add value.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, if you want to avoid a mid-life career crisis, get real. When I was a kid I played in a band, we weren’t bad, we played the London circuit and made a couple of CDs but guess what? I am not going to be a rockstar (or a football player, or a race car driver, or an astronaut, etc…). I loved my time singing and playing guitar in Quarterlife Crisis (ironic, non?), but I didn’t have the raw talent, ambition or X-factor to be a rockstar - unfortunately my professional guitarist brother got all that (below) - so now is the time to let go of childish things as the good book says. Anyway, he can't do content marketing for shit!
In summary, here are my five tips to avoiding a mid-life career crisis:
Find out what ACTUALLY makes you happy (and sad) in your work
Define what you’re ACTUALLY good at that delivers value
Write the description of a job that would ACTUALLY make you happier and more valuable
Go find or create that job, whatever it takes
And put away childish things (but find new grown up things to do instead - I am now a vinyl bore and still trying to get my film made!)
Good luck, Neal.