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ARTICLE: Are You at Risk of a Mid-Career Rut?

Updated: May 1, 2020


In a study coordinated by Harvard Business Review of 500 college-educated professionals, research found that people need the most help not at the beginning of their careers, but mid-career—especially when it comes to making important decisions.

Just when people attain management roles and need to make the decisions that could improve the enterprise and advance their career, many become trapped in the status quo and stay in their comfort zones rather than setting new directions.

Why? People understand at the start of their career that they need to learn a company’s processes, practices, and culture to become an effective contributor. As they gain experience and skills, they get more complex responsibilities and are expected to create and drive purposeful change.

With increasing personal and family responsibilities, as well as higher positions and incomes, the average mid-career manager feels they have more to lose if they make a mistake. They play it safe, overestimate the risks of change, and put off decisions when they should be examining what needs to change. As they avoid new solutions and ideas for purposeful change, they get passed over for opportunities, promotions, and financial rewards. Feeling stalled in their career, they start feeling undervalued and overworked.

Take an honest look at what you are doing on the job. Ask yourself:

  • Do you spend each day getting through what’s on your calendar and to-do list without asking if your involvement makes a difference?

  • Are you critical of change without truly considering the likely consequences of maintaining the status quo or the potential rewards of change?

  • Do you avoid or procrastinate making decisions that you perceive as creating more work for you or as taking on risk you would like to avoid?

  • Are you seeking help to understand how the work of leading is different from the work of managing?

  • Have you articulated what kind of leader you are and what kind of leader you want to become?

If you answered “yes” to any of the first three questions or “no” to the final two, you might want to seek support to ensure your career doesn’t become derailed.

Mid-career professional, there are ways to break free of this rut. If you find yourself in this position, the first step is to get help from a trusted mentor—someone who has made difficult decisions, taken risks, managed those risks, and who has the self-awareness to give good counsel. Find someone in your organization who you trust and respect, but remember it is normal and healthy to seek new mentors throughout your career, both inside and outside your organization, who have achieved what you aspire to achieve so that you enrich your learning. Then:

  • Find ways to have more exposure to that person

  • Ask for a meeting to discuss a particularly challenging or exciting work matter

  • Learn how the mentor went about making a difficult decision and helped an initiative become a success

  • Observe the mentor from a distance, reading about the person’s career, or attending events where the individual is speaking

  • Reach out about 6 times a year. Respect their time and prepare your talking points and questions in advance

  • Consider getting help from an executive coach as well on a regular basis—someone insightful who can help you understand what’s holding you back, as well as define a better value proposition for what you bring to your

Take charge—you’re not doing your job if you’re too busy to think about the future. Read the full article on here.

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