Midlife Crises for Nonprofit Laborers

My Auntie Jeanette sent me an article reprinted from The New York Times, “Shifting Gears at Midlife”.  It’s focus is reflected in this quote, “As people hit their 50th and 60th birthdays and realize they are far from done with work, millions are moving into careers that combine making a living and a difference.”  I am always glad to read about others making a big shift; however, I believe there is a fundamental difference in the mid-career crisis of a nonprofit worker from, say a corporate attorney.

The writer Marci Alboher asserts that the main motivation in a mid-career redesign is finding more meaning in work.  Then what motivates those of us who have always been rich in meaningful work?  In fact, those of us who have spent our work lives awash in purpose instead of cash, are redesigning for different reasons and without the benefit of savings and stocks that make such a transition easier.  Since I do not have a statistically significant sample, I can only share my experience.

I believe I was driven in my career until recently by a strong desire to make the world a better place. Fine, okay, good even.  I was also motivated by a belief that the world becoming a better place depended on my efforts. Hmmm, not so good.  If you are currently caught up in the same deception you may not see the problem.  “One person can make a difference” and all that. It is so easy to slip from a sense of purpose and meaning to an unhealthy compulsion and a distorted belief that if I try hard enough I can MAKE something happen. Being in that frame of mind is exhausting and led to my burn-out.  Some people stay in place and adjust or do not adjust but hang in there until retirement.

I am taking the less travelled path of reinvention.  I have an admirable friend who has changed careers and made big shifts, but he did not move, nor did he write a blog and make big pronouncements.  His friends may not have thought of his shifts as a reinvention.  I do.

The mark of reinvention is not how far you physically move, or how much weight you lose, or changing careers.  It is an internal shift, a taking stock and re-evaluating how your life is in alignment with your values and making a shift if it is needed.  External things may result.

For me the shift was possible because I finally valued myself enough.  That may sound strange since I had a bit of a god complex before thinking the world depended on me.  When I realized that 1) it does not depend on me and 2) my value does not come from saving the world, then I could take a deep breath and redesign. I could plan time in my day to watch Dr. Who on Netflix guilt free, or walk my dog multiple times a day if the sunshine beckoned.

I want meaningful work. Just enough work. I also want so much more.

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