The only honest relationship you will ever have is with your work. Do you remember being told this in your formative years? Now picture this: you get a job, hoping to make something out of yourself. Everybody takes note of your work and almost has you believe that you are meant for bigger (and better) things, which you may as well be. But once you have been in the industry for 10-15 years, you begin to suffer from a brain fog as far as your career is concerned. For one, you have moved on to another stage in your personal life, there is a spouse and children to take care of, bills to be paid at the end of every month, and given the ‘seniority’ you have now acquired, you may still not be where you were truly deserved to be. ‘Where do I go from here’ is a question that most mid-careerists find themselves asking. This is a stage when they have given their jobs everything they have learnt, and are now battling stagnation, hoping to reskill and upskill themselves and yet not knowing which direction they should be headed to.
For many generations, the way out of this ‘brain fog’ was to simply deal with it internally. Thankfully, a growing awareness on mental health has also meant that there are professionals now who help you navigate the workplace. Kamil Shah is one of them. The 45-year-old ‘Jay Shetty-certified’ life coach is a Dubai resident who specialises in counselling mid-careerists who might be experiencing such brain fog. So how is a ‘Jay Shetty-certified’ coach different from any other life coach? “We understand that the client is the expert of his or her own life. Our role is to meet them where they are, understand what their goal is and guide them on their journey through suggesting proven tools and strategies,” says Shah, who was born in Malaysia and spent his formative years in the UK and the US.
There is a reason why Shah, an architect by profession, chose to focus on mid-careerists. “I find those who are in mid-career level interesting because of the myriad issues they may face at that level,” he says. “When starting off in one’s career, we may find that we have an abundance of energy, time and grand ambitions to not only make a name for ourselves but to also make a difference in the world. As we move through the career path, we may find that other factors and drivers will come into play.” Some of these major concerns for mid-careerists across sectors are related to family matters (not only immediate family here in the UAE but also back home), relationships (as a husband/wife to their spouses or partners, father/mother to their children, son/daughter to their parents), health (managing time to be active and food intake) and finances (maintaining family expenses here and back home).
Add pandemic to this mix, and you realise why professional life as we once knew it will never be the same. Shah says the pandemic has forced many to ask the tough questions and rethink their futures. “I think the pandemic has been the ‘enough is enough’ moment for many people. For me, it was an excuse to say, ‘This is it.’ What I have found from experience is that although work:life balance is something many people strive for in their lives, if we are not aligned with our goals and what we want to do, we will still experience pain. For many, being stuck in careers or jobs that are not aligned with their goals or passion had led to the ‘enough is enough’ moment and to ‘my time is now’ moment,” he says. This, adds Shah, has meant taking ownership of their own path because at the time of the lockdown, future was uncertain and many felt that there is no better time to engage with things they wanted to do. Fast forward to a couple of years, and there is a little bit of certainty now, albeit the new normal. “However, I think that people will still be more courageous in taking bolder steps to shift careers, ask for raise, enter new relationships, relocate geographically, reconnect with their passion, taking ownership of their future.”
With the pandemic came work from home, which now has metamorphosed into hybrid work — the ability to choose when you want to WFH or WFO. But while experts the world over are still weighing in the pros and cons of hybrid work, not all corporations have embraced the idea completely. “In many parts of the world now, we are seeing a migration back to face-to-face working in offices, with only select companies operating remotely. For some companies, the investments already made in operating and maintaining physical assets is one of the reasons for requesting employees to come back to the offices,” says Shah. “Personally, I think a hybrid model, based on personal circumstances, can be a good way to allow employees to achieve work:life balance. In the 50s, cities were planned in such a way that life, work and leisure were separated physically. They were already connected via infrastructure corridors. We have since found that this may not be the most efficient or sustainable way of designing cities. A more compact and hybrid city where one can live, work and socialise within close proximity can be more sustainable and efficient in reducing our reliance on valuable resources.”
For prior generations, work in office was cut out and was limited only to the workplace. Today, a desire to multiply the income alongwith the need to explore other talents is leading many to opt for side hustles. To go for it or not is a pressing concern for mid-careerists. Shah says that while we do see many people now taking that leap of faith, it does not mean that you’re lagging behind if you do not have a side hustle. “For some, it is an outlet to follow a passion they always wanted to pursue, but were too afraid to. There may be many reasons for this, including judgment from others. Now that many are doing it, it has given them an opportunity to do the same. I feel mid-careerists are in an ideal position to do this because they are already earning a base income and are looking to enhance this with additional income streams.” One suggestion, however, that Shah has for those looking for side hustles is to not have multiple income streams from multiple sources, but to have multiple income streams from one source. “At the end of the day, if it fills your cup, then great. If it is causing you more harm than good and leading to anxiety, stress and even burnout, it might be time to rethink it all.”
Shah specialises in coaching male mid-careerists, and it is interesting to note that he finds their concerns radically different from that of their female counterparts. “As a man, I feel that the subject of men’s mental health needs more exposure. What I am about to share might be a generalisation, but I think it affects many men. Growing up, I remember being told not to cry. Sharing your feelings is never on the cards because doing so would mean you are seen as weak. I believe there is a balance between allowing a child to console himself and find their solution to things, and having the support or outlet to communicate what they are facing or how they are feeling,” he says, adding that their inability to address the latter can lead to emotional isolation. “When this gets compounded by social aspirations of what a man should be seen to do and behave, it can lead to internalisation of feelings and an inability to communicate how they feel. Male mid-careerists will have a multitude of things that they may be juggling and if each aspect is internalised, they won’t be able to move forward.” To elaborate, Shah cites an example of a client who was a mid-career technologist who had a passion for startups, but found many hurdles hindering his progress. The said client wanted to start his own social media channel to share his passion for cars, but the fear of judgment, personal insecurity of standing in front of the camera and addressing an underlying feeling of not being good enough meant he did not proceed for 10 years. “We recently worked through each issue at a time and he has managed to launch his channel,” says Shah.
Whether man or woman, one area where both seem to struggle as mid-career professionals is asking for a pay hike. “I have found that one of the main blockers for people is fear of rejection. Let’s be honest, no one wants to hear a ‘no’. They fear being seen as ungrateful or even losing the job. The key thing is to be confident and comfortable about one’s worth. If you feel you bring so much more to the company and a pay hike is justified, then go for it. But in order to ensure that you are paid according to the value you bring to the company, be more valuable to the company. It might mean that you take the initiative to do things which are out of your scope, to go above and beyond what you are currently paid for.”
In times of economic challenge, such as inflation, mid-careerists feel particularly stuck as they find prices soaring but salaries remaining the same. “In such a scenario, the first step is to have a conversation with the management to understand what is their vision in light of current circumstances and if there are any mitigation strategies to address the current challenge.”
With men being seen as breadwinners in traditional set-ups, it has been noted that they also respond to loss of job with greater despondence than women. Even though the concept of stay-at-home dads isn’t exactly unheard of today, the fear remains deeply ingrained in male psyche. “In 2007, I was out of a job. We were in the UK and almost all construction projects stopped virtually overnight. It was challenging to find work in the field at the time and as a man, I found myself being a stay-at-home husband while my wife went to work. It was the first time I was out of a job and being a man, it was sometimes challenging to have conversations with extended family when they asked, ‘So what are you doing now?’ Looking back, I was depressed, although I did not admit it.” Shah remembers sending resumes left, right and centre but not receiving any calls until one day he actually did. “The company wasn’t looking for an architect, but they could use my skill set in architecture for another division in the company. I was reluctant at first, but by this time, I was open to anything. That was a turning point. I found that understanding your skills in a multitude of ways is important. You might not see it, but the prospective employer will. That’s how we become adaptable in a changing economic climate.”
Navigating workplace is challenging. Often, we fall back on wisdom passed down to us to survive or thrive at work. Sometimes, it works; at other times, it doesn’t. In recent years, workplace psychology has acquired quite a popularity, with organisational psychologists like Adam Grant hosting the popular podcast WorkLife. Shah says that typically, workplace psychology has meant that the office identifies a staff member who acts as a counsellor you can talk to. “Unfortunately, in a majority of workplaces, we are not taught how to navigate the highs and lows.” And why is that important? “Celebrating the wins, however small they are, is important to reflect on what worked and can help boost morale. When things get tough, understanding how to deal with challenging deadlines or unexpected things that come up during the working day can play a role of whether we are escalating the issue, or finding ways to positively manage them. More work is needed in the field, but I believe things are changing, either through the efforts of the company or individual staff investing time to develop themselves personally.”
Take a moment and think of the words you use regularly in your day-to-day conversations and even with yourself
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