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OMC Making a new start when you're middle-aged: Manager searching for meaning
It was THE personnel message to the end of the year, not only in the media world: Kai Diekmann leaves the Axel Springer Group after 30 years. After his trip to Silicon Valley four years ago, he had already changed on the outside and probably also the inside: more casual, bolder, less streamlined. The suit and the hair gel were exchanged for hoodies and experimental beards. What happened there? asks the Berliner Zeitung, among others.


Kai Diekmann is 52 years old and he has done what many do in professional midlife: He has readjusted. One thing is certain: He is above suspicion of having been fired. This decision was certainly solely his. He would have been able to continue as easily as before, his success proved this, but no: he sought change, new things, perhaps also a new definition of himself in his own entrepreneurial activity. And he's in good company here.

In day-to-day consulting practice, we found a new trend at OMC in 2016: Many middle-aged managers who have so far been successful and could continue working as they always have, want to change. Often enough, it is not the employer who is the impetus for the separation, but the managers themselves. Interestingly, a difference in genders is not seen here. In our experience, men and women alike want to leave the management grind. Often enough, also offers of the employer, to separate, come in rather handy. Why not get a good exit package if the time together at this job was up anyway?!

What was once described smugly as a midlife crisis begins around the mid-40s. Given the ever-increasing working life, everyone realises at this point that there is a full 20 years of work life ahead of them. At the same time, the rush hour of life has often passed: the career has gone well, the children were born, the house was built or the condominium purchased. It's time to ask questions: What's next for me? What do I stand for? Do I really want to continue to work another 20 years and "deliver" constantly? Or I can do and achieve something else in life?

The amount of people who ask these questions is increasing. How to leave is always easily defined, because everyone knows what they DON'T want anymore: other people controlling your work days with completely full calendars. Unproductive meetings with unprepared colleagues. Demotivating meetings with management or supervisory boards, where everyone knows better anyway. Targeted meetings that have suddenly been redefined, which were then not achieved anyway... Many people are familiar with this daily routine in the management grind. Of course, there are also numerous benefits. In addition to good salaries and company cars, you're also important, you travel the world, and know the biggest players in your industry. But after a few years, fancy business trips and lavish company events also lose their appeal. If in the end, even the hard-won bonus can no longer provide adequate compensation, for many people their internal alarm bell starts to ring.

In this situation, many managers have an internal breakthrough and start thinking about new career goals. And often enough, it is no longer about "faster, higher, further" but rather "more meaningful, more interesting, more value-oriented". And then many realise that it is not so easy to re-orient your career with these demands. Because even a hierarchical side step has to be explained and downgrading is usually much more difficult. Many remain more or less frustrated in the job, but they are constantly longing for change: self-employment, emigration, or at least a long sabbatical are on the inner plan.

Quite a few get professional advice at this stage, because they find that in a private environment they do not have the right conversation partners for these basic questions. In their circle of friends, they usually get "What more do you want, you have a great job!". Often their own partner is not very enthusiastic either, because they secretly fear that a professional change could be accompanied by a personal change - and then at worst their whole lifestyle could be at risk. So rather than provoke any change, they just grit their teeth and continue.

But the inner voice of the dissatisfied usually says something else: When age 50 is coming up, you no longer let yourself be pushed in one direction, rather you want and must determine your own life. This applies equally to both the personal and professional life. This is why many of them still stick to their plans for vocational reorientation, despite opposition, and make use of professional consultation. You can expect a healthy distance and absolute neutrality here - which is often an invaluable advantage due to the above-mentioned reasons and a mandatory requirement for the result of the consultation.

As part of a professional perspective consultation, the values system of each individual is analysed: security versus freedom Autonomy and self-determination versus team spirit and belonging. The whole scale on which everyone is an individual is considered. As part of an intensive joint process, it's about personal motivators, preferences, self-image - ultimately about all essential personality traits. Only by knowing yourself well, can you find the right professional solution for you.

The new career objective is then completely different. Staying completely securely in the job, but also being committed to something meaningful. Refugee work, help for the homeless. Many of them also consciously take care of their own family responsibilities and take care of their elderly parents who are often suffering from dementia or need care. Even if you do not change your professional job, you can very well adjust your own attitude. If you start questioning something, but then found it the right thing, you appreciate the advantages again and become more satisfied.

Others whose need for security is not so high, change professionally: Instead of using their expertise in just any business enterprise, they take it to an NGO or foundation. Even bigger and correspondingly more rarely is the step to self-employment: founding your own consulting firm sounds relatively unspectacular. However, fulfilling your long-cherished dream of your own restaurant or your boutique is, from an economic point of view, a risky variant. Turning your hobby into your job is not always a good idea. At the end of the day, the financial obligations are too much, the house has to be paid off, and the children have to get through university. In this respect, the feasibility of the project plays an important role in the consultation. What is at all feasible taking life circumstances into account?

One thing is clear in our daily consultation work: When one is middle-aged, the professional options are far from exhausted. Even at 50, you can still reinvent yourself - a willingness to change, a healthy sense of what is possible, and a good dose of daring is required.



Claudia Michalski, January 2017


OMC Making a new start when you're middle-aged: Manager searching for meaning

OMC Making a new start when you're middle-aged: Manager searching for meaning