How to reinvent yourself during a mid-career crisis

What do Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and certain other top .05 percenters have in common? All of them want to give while they live — not just in wills or big checks, but here and nowand also within their work.

Turns out, every person is internally scripted to help other people. If boomers are restless (as the United States drops to rank 17 on the 2017 Global Retirement Index), if Millennials crave more than a paycheck, if middle age becomes a quagmire, it’s because once basic needs are met, happiness turns on what we do for others.

That truth entered my skull one day on the 40th floor of the Chicago Mercantile Building where I headed the city’s Wells Fargo offices. I had homes, cars, plane, health, good family — and I hit my head on the desk and said, “There has got to more than this.”

Now, as CEO of the Halftime Institute, I know what “more” is. I got to see it for myself, and I see it in Halftime grads like Rich Stearns, once head of Gillette and Lennox and now head of U.S. operations for World Vision; and Blake Mycoskie, the multi-entrepreneur who founded TOMS shoes. Both found new purpose; only one changed fields. Most important, each learned for himself what it takes to cap success with significance.

Dean Niewolny, CEO of the Halftime Institute and author of Trade Up: How to Move from Just Making Money to Making a Difference.

Reflect on your present situation

If you’re at a crossroads in your life and feeling “smoldering discontent,” these three questions can help push you forward in the right direction.

1. What is all your gaining costing you?

My gaining in the world of finance was costing me my family and my health. My wife and kids lived below my work-priorities line, and my work priorities were giving me a pretty case of hives. Ever had ’em? You’d know. I still meet business “successes” who wake up one day retired, divorced, estranged from their kids, living in Architectural Digest spreads with no one else there to help make it a home. All gaining comes with a price tag.

2. What in your life is precious, and what are you doing to protect it?

This points to your spouse, children, health, and soul. Too many hard-driving business warriors fail to proactively protect their real treasures until a crisis, when it may be too late. On the positive side, a guy I know gives a day a week to his wife, doing whatever she chooses — tennis, movie, you name it. Family-wide, that one weekly activity protects many of his assets.

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3. If your life were to turn out perfectly, what would it look like two years from now?

Note that this metrics question is not, “What would you be doing?” but “What would your life look like?” In my case, my spouse would be flourishing in whatever she feels called to. I’d know my purpose and be in it. My children would have high self-esteem and a positive impact on society. I’d be fit, and we’d all be in good health (because we’re still talking perfect world).

“I still meet business ‘successes’ who wake up one day retired, divorced, estranged from their kids, living in Architectural Digest spreads with no one else there to help make it a home.”

Determine your purpose

Three questions can’t resolve every issue, but they can surface key pain, what you prize most and what’s possible. As for the solutions: Reach right now for your calendar and your resolve. If your marriage is limping, clear time for it and protect that time like your top client. Your children, your health, your soul? Cross off less important calendar items, double up on others, and make what’s priceless untouchable. You’ve just ID’d your biggest assets. Their protection has to be your priority, and it won’t just happen.

Neither will work with meaning. Getting to it will take more time clearing your calendar, and you won’t be sorry. This journey is eminently doable. And your destination — work with enriching purpose — will be as individual and as specific to your gifts, talents and proclivities as your fingerprint.

Anyone can reinvent themselves in mid-career no matter what type of business they are in. Even those on the fast-track of success decide to take a different path. Here are two examples.

Scott Boyer, across decades at powerhouses such as Abbott Labs and Bristol Meyers, saw that “global” sales meant sales to developed countries, mostly in the West. Remaining nations fell into the ROW — rest of world — column, tallying about 75 percent of people on the planet. Scott designed and pioneered a business model to sell epilepsy meds in the United States and channel profits into education, diagnosis and epilepsy treatment in the ROW. Staying in his industry, Scott restored a broken system past its original purpose to help people once with no hope.

David Miller, who never separated faith and business, started out in international business and finance. In his second half, he combined them in a new way, trading the London Stock Exchange for a Ph.D. in theology. His “second half” is at Princeton University’s Faith & Works initiative, which he founded and heads. Among other things, he also is ethics advisor to CitiGroup worldwide.

Without radically shifting their careers, these two executives were successful in creating a second half defined by joy, impact and balance. And they did so using the talents and skills they acquired during the first half of their career — moving from just making money to making a difference. Once you determine your purpose and figure out how to use your skills to help humanity, the results will be amazing.

Dean Niewolny is CEO of The Halftime Institute and author of the new book Trade Up: How to Move from Just Making Money to Making a Difference. Niewolny spent 23 years in executive roles with three of Wall Street’s largest financial firms before joining the organization that helps men and women reimagine the second half of their life at any age.