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    Mid-life crisis? Successful and yet...

     ‘I'm very successful and my life is full and busy. But somehow I feel unhappy, as if something is missing’.  (Am I having a mid-life crisis?)

    ‘I know the leadership of my team is critical to the success of the business but I find it hard to manage the conflicts, tensions and motives of highly talented prima donnas’

    ‘I'm plagued by my feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction, even of insecurity. They don't fit with my success to date’

    ‘I seem to have hit a barrier in my progress, my role has changed dramatically, my style no longer seem applicable but I am not sure what I need for the future’

    ‘My work life runs like clockwork. But at home I seem to be in a mid-life crisis. It doesn't make sense’

    Do any of these statements from former clients of mine ring true to you?

    If so, you will already have discovered that doing more of what you have done up to now is not the answer. You only gain longer hours, more stress and an increasing sense of estrangement from your most important personal relationships and needs.

    Experience rather than theory forced me to realise that these manifestations though confusing or even dysfunctional are part of a normal process and reflects a natural life cycle related to age and personal development. Fig. 1 illustrates this life process.




    The first curve between the early 20’s and the early 40’s symbolises the steep learning and observable outer achievements in work and life. This curve then plateaus or even dips before we understand the need to shift focus in our life if we are to reach any real inner fulfilment. 

    The mid-point transition is sometimes referred to as “mid-life crisis” or better “mid-life quest”. This point is when many of my clients come to me for help, in facilitating this move to the next phase of their life.

    Over the last 40 years, I have been working as a psychologist at an in depth level, first with managers at different levels of responsibility and for the last 15 years with senior executives. As a former executive myself, I have developed an in depth approach that managers or executives can relate to with ease as it matches their own approach to complex analysis and problem solving.

    However I do not see myself as a therapist, or even as a traditional coach. I don’t treat people with serious psychological disorders and I don’t run negotiation or communication skills workshops. People usually come to see me when they have arrived at a point where the search for meaning in their lives means as much, or more, than advancement in their careers.  My job is to take them to a much deeper level of understanding of themselves and of their needs and send them back into their working life and their close relationships hopefully as wiser, more resourceful and fulfilled individuals.

    I have never been good at studying psychological theories in an academic way or maybe I never found one that fully satisfied my thirst for meaning. I was lead by my practice and my personal limits and mistakes to look for solutions in the vast array of psychological theories and psychotherapeutic approaches. The end result is a practice anchored in the theories, research and knowledge that work practically in helping me to lead my clients to understand and overcome the issues that brought them to me in the first place.

    For example, over the years I came to re-discover what was originally described by the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. For Jung the ‘Self’ and ‘Ego’ are of a different nature. The Self pre-exist but from the moment of birth the Ego starts its development and begin to separate to the point of almost disconnecting from the Self by early childhood. The Self is the deepest part of each of us, the part that anchors our sense of personal identity and uniqueness. Only a conscious effort to re-connect to our Self can open the way to a sense of inner peace, contentment and meaningfulness. The Ego in this process becomes the focal point for decision-making and management to enable us to survive in the world. It is the Ego that becomes the foundation of our character and personality. This separation means the Ego or we gradually loose the conscious connection with the Self and – depending on the life experiences we encounters – develop other drives to compensate. Some compensatory patterns have to do with getting self validation and self worth through achievement or seeking that validation, love and praise from others; other drives are towards self-protection, and can involve us closing down our ability to feel, or becoming detached or attempting to control the world and the people around us. It’s not hard to see how these drives can combine to make highly motivated, successful, but ultimately unfulfilled leaders or human beings.

    The theory appears simple: like all good models it is elegant and useful, but the reality is far more complex and elusive. Our early lives, the relationships with our parents and the eventual traumas we endure mean that we all have a very different journey to take for self-fulfilment. Not everyone can or wants to take that journey: in fact I estimate that fewer than 20% of people are even aware that there is journey at all. Perhaps that is a depressing reality, but it remains a fact that some people’s lives are more troubled and painful than others – even within sibling groups the variation can be astonishing. What experience has taught me is that good managers or leaders are rarely straightforward people, but many of them have a remarkable readiness to look deeper.

    When they do, the challenge they face is two-fold.  They need to become aware of their drives and how they have manifested and worked in their life up to now.  The second challenge is to understand the need to let go of their present life and work strategy if they are to really fulfil themselves as individuals. Letting go a life and work strategy that has brought success and changing it for a new one that is not yet clearly mapped is a tall order. Yet, this is the price we all have to pay if we are to add inner fulfilment to outer success…

    Take a look at our 100 Essential Career Change Tips and 85 Mid Life Career Change Tips eBooks for comprehensive and structured guidance through your career change.

    About the Author

    Reynold Jelman is trained in the USA and France as a management psychologist. His experience of over forty years includes senior management positions, executive selection, university lecturing, leadership develpment and in-depth counselling.

    For the past few years he has specialised in the development of intensive personal and leadership development programmes for executives, business leaders and their spouses in different cultural settings and particularly when they are experiencing significant transitions in their lives or careers.

    His particular interest is in helping individuals expand significantly their self-awareness by moving beyond their present way of being towards fulfilling their core uniqueness.

    Reynold is married to a colleague clinical psychologist and they have 3 adult daughters. His main interest is in Transpersonal Psychology, travelling and deep sharing with friends. His favourite quote is:

    ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
    Margaret Mead


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