Mid-life Crisis - or Finally Figuring Out
Your Priorities

by Steven Bryce

You may have a friend or heard of someone who left, what from the outside, seemed like a really great career in the Corporate World. A "high potential" candidate, who is showered with training opportunities and new assignments that most people only dream of - only to leave it behind, for what seems like at the very least "a road less traveled." Well, I will admit to being one of those people. My friend (and Editor of The CEO Refresher) suggested that my personal story would make an interesting article. You can be the judge of that.

During this article, I hope to explore several questions:

  • Why change your career?

  • What could the benefits of such a change be?

  • Am I an anomaly or an early indicator of a coming trend?

  • What can corporations learn from this experience and "save" at risk people?

A little background

I am a Chartered Accountant (CPA for our US friends) by training. When I finished university in 1985, I was one of the lucky people who had big firms come on campus and wine and dine university seniors. Like many of my colleagues, I was blessed with multiple job offers to consider in my field.

From there, in what seems like the blink of an eye, I have had a very successful 20-year career in the business world, holding finance and logistics positions at the c-suite and senior management level with some of the world's pre-eminent retailers. I also had experience in 3rd party logistics, consumer products, quick service restaurants and a major professional services firm.

This change to becoming a consultant, with the flexibility to have some control over the hours I work and where they are (this is being written in a hockey rink in suburban Toronto) came via some progressive steps in my thinking along with my wife. Hopefully it indicates the "emotional intelligence" I have been lauded for in the corporate world, was also working in the personal 12 hours of the day.

I have three boys aged 11, 9 and 6, who are very active little people, and talented young athletes, (in our case rep or traveling hockey and soccer, which both have about 8 month seasons it seems.)

Obviously, this conflicted with the 70 hour work week that I thought a senior executive with a major corporation is expected to work. It was made even more challenging by the travel that is part of many roles at this level, that in the past I was always very happy to do, even to the point of looking forward to it.

As with most major personal decisions, a key aspect of how it was made was with a "tuning in" or reality check with my better half.

I had a second major trip in the third month of a new role. I thought I had done a great job of negotiating to split the trip into two separate trips, so I could be home for various family commitments on the weekends. "The work-life balance is much better don't you think" I suggested. She had a slightly different opinion.

Another day passed and I hoped it had blown over, like it had in the past. "Just face the fact that I will be mad at you until you come home from the second leg of the trip" (which was a month or more away) was the second more directed comment from my lovely wife.

Being Really Slow, I tried once more. "Steven, you should be happy I am mad at you. It is when I stop being mad at you, that you have a problem" …OUCH ! This from a lady who postponed her career to give birth and do the early raising of our boys; who moved to 4 cities and lived in 5 houses in the first 15 years of marriage. This was REALLY something different ... but like all good advice, in my heart of hearts, I had seen this coming. I just figured we'd "make it work" like we had in the past.

Why was this important for me?

As I started to give this some more serious thought, I realized that my oldest would be leaving for university in less than 7 years.

I came from a family of athletes, going back several generations and it was really just what we did. My dad, who left this world too early, 10 years ago at 62 … ran minor baseball for 20 years and was very involved in minor hockey for the same period of time. Our community newspaper reported this tribute: "Bob's sudden passing was a major loss for this community. But his was a life with real meaning. Bob Bryce made a difference! That's something that can only be said of a few people in this life." Quite a legacy … and a very good example (or North Star) for me to focus on.

And my maternal grandfather, who died at 87 on the curling rink, spent countless hours with my brothers and I on our local golf course in our youth. So it wasn't in my DNA to be the "busy parent" who raced home to see the last 5 minutes of every third game. I wanted to be there and be part of my sons' growing up.

I know that my generation will have the option (although hopefully not the necessity) of working well into our 70's … and may need to, so the economy keeps running. But with average life expectancies getting well into the 80's, most professionals or knowledge workers will want to keep busy in some fashion and are likely to have the good health to carry it out. Even if this is a partial sabbatical, or reduced workload I am convinced it will be time well spent.

So how is it going 3 months in?

Well the pace of working on your own, v.s. the hectic life of Corporate Canada is really different, and I am missing the pace in a way. But the ability to "tele-commute", avoid traffic completely some days and drive off hours other days is amazing. It feels like you have another couple of hours in the day and the productivity increase of working on your own is also quite significant.

I have been fortunate to find a field where I can put my great experiences in these excellent companies I worked for, out into the marketplace for others to benefit from. Our business' core function is executive recruiting and we will ultimately get involved in training, coaching, mentoring, onboarding etc. My partner has ten years in executive search and fifteen years in general staffing, so we think our partnership is a really strong blend of talent and experience. We had enjoyed a great business relationship for the past seven years and knew each other quite well, and that helped us develop a solid foundation for our partnership. It certainly lessened the risk that comes with any career move.

More questions

So why can't the corporate world modify its work environments or procedures to lessen the difference between consulting and "office work"?

Can you take advantage of the large penetration of high speed access in Canada?

How many "processing jobs" could be done out of the office?

Can employees be trusted to keep the productivity up? Surely you can manage this via metrics you use to measure.

How much more challenging will staffing be in the future as all the boomers leave the marketplace? And people of my generation seem to want more choice in how they work.

What kind of flex time and other options exist?

What about the importance of contracting options?

The demographics on Generation Y would suggest that these kind issues are going to be relevant in your workplace. It is important to recognize that if you aren't feeling this way your people, particularly the younger ones, likely are.

Thomas Friedman speaks of this in The World is Flat. He shows an examples of the "outsourcing" of airline reservations, to either India or Salt Lake City housewives, and the ubiquitous drive thru order process, bouncing to a call centre several states away and back before you got to the window..

If you think this is a random thing, listen to this comment. "If the prospect of this flattening - and all of the pressures, dislocations and opportunities accompanying it - causes you unease about the future, you are neither alone nor wrong." Friedman compares some of the changes now occurring in the world (what he refers to as the flattening) to Gutenberg's introduction of the printing press and the Industrial revolution. But those affected very small parts of the planet, and somewhat slowly, whereas what is happening now is at Warp Speed and directly or indirectly touching a lot more people on the planet at once.

This is one person's view of this process, and there are many different situations in Corporate Canada.

Look for a fit that works for you. Many professional firms are working hard at percentage positions, particularly around maternity leaves and the timing of young children. The recent Canadian election campaign has also seen discussions of social benefits for "care of sick and dying loved ones." There seems to be a societal movement in this and I hope that companies and executives alike try to find a balance in these issues - a true work/life balance that allows you to be you.

Can my experience help others?

Perhaps I could coach people find a happy medium and their unique balance.

Perhaps I could help companies make the appropriate allowances for their best talent.

There are many good references for this kind of change. Second Acts - Creating the Life You Really Want, Building the Career You Truly Desire by Stephen Polland is excellent. It has great exercises at the end of most chapters and many really interesting stories with people as varied as Michael Milken, Roseanne Barr and Ray Kroc.

I am sure you have all heard the clichés about people at the end of their life, not wishing to have spent more time at work. I had a Leadership Development experience at Centre for Creative Leadership, where on the last day they played the song Cat's in the Cradle by Cat Stevens. There were very emotional responses from many older candidates, who realized at 55 they had missed their kids growing up, or spending time with their spouse or other family, with not a lot to show for it.

I have understood for a while that life is the journey not the result. Phil Mickelson, one of the world's best golfers said it even better in the biography called One Magical Sunday - winning isn't everything.

"It's not easy to win a major, or achieve a dream, or make it to that magic destination where we believe success lies. Now that I've finally made it, I can tell you one very important thing I've learned along the way. And that is that the real magic is not so much in achieving the victory, itself. The real magic is the in the journey we take to get there."

So far I am really enjoying the journey these days … and hope you are too. If not, I do hope you will take the steps needed to make sure you are.

Steven Bryce is a partner in Kalles Bryce Connection Inc., a retainer based executive / professional level search firm in Toronto, Canada. Our clients want to work with a search firm that will connect with them on every level - a clear sense of urgency, a unique ability to evolve with their cultures and then find the best candidate to make the search happen … fast! Steven can be reached sbryce@kbconnection.ca and visit http://www.kbconnection.ca for additional information.

Many more articles in Personal Development in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2006 by Steven Bryce. All rights reserved.

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