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How to Navigate Work in Mid-life


How do you feel about work?

Do you love your job? Or do you get Sunday night heebie-jeebies at the thought of Monday morning? Are you scared each day that something will land in your lap that you can't deal with? Do you wake up in the middle of the night sweating about some piece of tech you're responsible for and end up catastrophising that some minor error you've made will create some work apocalypse?

If you love your job then well done and don't waste your time reading this post.

But if you are someone who feels like work is a constant state of anxiety then let me share 5 short tips/hacks on how to navigate work in your forties and fifties.

  1. Remember that women (and it's chiefly women) have been primed to look out for the things they're NOT GOOD AT rather than focusing on what they're good at doing. This means that all too often you'll tell yourself you can't do a task/role because you don't have the sufficient skill set. In my experience (and it's been a rollercoaster where I've often let negative chat take over my mind), there has NEVER been an occasion when I couldn't do the thing I was afraid of. I have set up simultaneous translation for a Zoom having never done it before (this was recently and kept me awake for an entire weekend but I pulled it off). I've presented to a room of people on topics that I know little or nothing about (but have come across as convincing). I've networked with a room full of strangers on three hours sleep and not made any inappropriate comments or put my foot in it. Think of all the things that you've managed- the challenging situations that you thought would be disastrous and remind yourself how you did it. I hate the term NAILED IT but the truth is you have to list all the times that you have done the thing that you were scared of an triumphed. This list will provide concrete evidence when your ageing brain starts to walk you down familiar 'Look at you. You're pathetic' path.

  2. If you REALLY can't do something, ask for help. In my eighteen year stint in the corporate world I noticed that women would beat themselves up when they couldn't do something and would lose sleep, tear their hair out, cancel themselves- anything rather than ask someone if they could get support. Men (and this is a generalisation as it wasn't ALL men) would delegate the thing they were shit at to someone else (so that nobody found out they couldn't do it- this person was often a woman). It is not a weakness to ask for help. If it's something that's really keeping you awake at night, then maybe you're not catastrophising and you actually just need someone who can do the thing and they can show you and then you can do it in the future.

  3. Don't keep doing the same job when you really really can't stand it anymore and it makes you feel depressed. This is a hard one as we all need money but my advice is to work on a strategy to slowly change direction. Or look at your current job and see if there is ANYTHING that can be done to improve it. Are the clients horrible? Is it your colleagues? Is it the projects themselves? Instead of lumping the whole caboodle into one box labelled 'THIS SHIT JOB I HATE' see if there are aspects that you enjoy more and work out ways to do more of that and less of the stuff that is getting you down. I have come to the conclusion that people are everything and I can readily embrace a four month stint working on dog food strategy in the Ukraine as long as the people are respectful, kind and don't think it's normal to ring you on a Saturday morning for a topline.

  4. It doesn't matter how old you are, everyone appreciates someone who is easy to work with and doesn't create a load of drama. Wherever you work don't bring a lot of negative energy with you. You don't need to jump about like some Instagram self-help coach either but you need to bring light and joy at least some of the time. Get donuts and share them out. Complement someone on their trousers. Notice if your colleague has had a hair cut. Ask them about their family. People are remembered for the way they make others' feel and it doesn't matter how clever you are, if you're a horrible person then that's all anyone will remember and they'll do anything to avoid working with you again.

  5. Remember that age brings brilliance. So okay you're older than some colleagues. Okay you have a flap of skin that hangs down like a pillowcase and you have to fold your hair under your chin on Zoom. Okay you can't make your own kimchi because you have kids and only get three hours sleep but you've still got stuff to bring to the table. You have experience. You have done things, you have navigated tricky waters, you have dealt with people and not throttled them, you've cried in the toilet and dabbed your eyes and emerged and taken it on again. You know the score. You can tackle tantrums. You can tackle anything. Just because you don't know what a Korean bun tastes like and the main thing you look forward to is 'Ant & Dec's Saturday Takeaway' on a Saturday night doesn't mean you aren't relevant.

Finally remember that age can offers some clarity on what matters to us and what doesn't. Spend some time listening to your gut. If you consistently dread going to work then it's time to re-think things. It's hard to change direction. It's hard to take a risk and do something new but in order to keep evolving we need to grow.

(Oh and invest in a casual blazer if you've been away from work for a while. A blazer can cover up a whole multitude of worries/misgivings/paranoias).

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