Finding the Right Career in Midlife
Many people rightly realize that finding the right career in midlife is an essential piece of soul business — yet they might miss the most important parts of meeting that necessity.
Why? Well, because we often have an overly-romantic notion of career.
Dealing with the stresses and strains of mid-life, we can easily slip into a “magical” fantasy around changing one’s work. We imagine that, in a new career, somehow the relationships will be great, the demands of work will be sufficiently low and the compensation and benefits so high that career change alone will facilitate our individuation, and surf us right through the second half of our lives.
Though career is important, this is magical thinking. It keeps us from dealing with the deep issues of midlife.
The Central Question of Vocation
Before we can face the question of finding the right career, we have to face the question of what is the right individual vocation for me?
What is it that our fundamental being, our fundamental nature, calls us to do and to be? We can’t answer that question in its entirety, but can we discern any clues?
Depth case studies C.G. Jung speaks in very strong terms about vocation. He couches it in the gender-limited phraseology of an earlier time, but what he has to say about vocation applies to both men and women today:
Jung holds that the only thing that distinguishes the individual personality is this awareness of the reality of vocation, of being called by one’s own fundamental nature. So the question of vocation hits the nail of individuation directly on the head.
The Connection Between Career and Vocation
Vocation is more fundamental and specific than career. It matters more than career, because it connects more directly with our fundamental deepest identity — what Jung referred to as the Self.
Yet career is important! The way that someone’s career intersects with her or his life may crucially affect whether that person is fulfilling his or her vocation, or not. But it’s not true that “career equals vocation”.
For individuation to take root and flourish, an individual’s career must certainly not block his or her vocation. But sometimes career and vocation can have a surprising relationship. The poet Arthur Gregor, one of the greatest poetic talents to emerge in the United States in the 20th century, spent many working days as an engineer. Einstein created much of the theory of special relativity while working in a patent office. Socrates was a leather worker. The only way to approach career in light of individuation is to rigorously ask oneself, “How does this job or career fit with who I am, really?’
Many pay lip service to self knowledge in the context of career or vocation. However, by midlife, the true importance of self-knowledge, and the effort involved in obtaining it, and remaining true to it, often become readily apparent. Often, the individual has started to experience aspects of his or her personality that he or she has been reluctant to acknowledge. As they emerge, these unacknowledged aspects of the self can have a powerful bearing on vocation, and on finding the right career.
The Nature of Midlife
In midlife, the awareness grows in the individual that, now, he or she is playing for keeps. While earlier periods in life may have been right for choices that could readily be changed, now the stakes are higher. There is no more room for the provisional life. The second half of life is the time to truly create the work of art that is one’s life. Finding one’s true vocation is central to that, and finding the right career that will support and uphold that vocation is fundamentally important.
Depth case studies may be essential for the individual to come to terms with vocation, finding the right career, and coming to meet and accept the as yet undiscovered self.
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst