How to deal with mid-career blues?

How to deal with mid-career blues?

What to do if you are stuck in an industry with little room for advancement.

Who Moved my Cheese? I kept thinking of the book by Dr Spencer Johnson. It may have been dubbed simplistic but many of its messages remain relevant. Professional life is full of like-it-or-lump-it situations and impasses that force many of us to find new paradigms and paths. This thought came to me strongly as the Infosys leadership change saga was panning out.

At some stage professionals find themselves at a point where they have to ask themselves: what next? Such situations creep up just as they clock a little over a decade in their careers to become category or vertical heads. Suddenly, they see a vast plateau around - peopled with professionals, like themselves who are good at their jobs, but are stuck and have nowhere to go.

Shamni Pande
Shamni Pande
This is a peculiar situation for specialists who have trained in a specific industry and possess technical skillsets, particularly in the information technology (IT) and IT enabled services (ITeS). Often, the skills they have end up defining and limiting their roles. The industry segment becomes a cross to bear as it goes through a growth phase.

Heroic moves such as jumping industry segments are possible but scary, being rife with uncertainty. Diving into entrepreneurship with a business plan that has you betting your shirt is another tough route to take. Entrepreneurial success stories make good copy, but they are not an option for those who have to deal with loan repayments. "Today many people are being forced into entrepreneurship - especially in the IT sector - as they have little room to manoeuvre," says Rishi Das, cofounder and CEO of search firm CareerNet.

Most big firms in the IT and ITeS space have good senior-level candidates, but they often cannot move up as the top team is already in place. They cannot even move out as the same is true of even rival organisations. "Even medium-sized firms are blocked for growth. And that leaves only the start-ups," says Das. So what do you do when you have reached the level of category head and feel stuck in your game? Career counsellors say a careful thinking through of options is in order.

Successful entrepreneurs are those who have saleable ideas that find funding, but they also have a group that makes it happen. Hence, being networked is important. One has to assiduously expand one's network. But it has to involve people outside the ambit of colleagues who pretty much share the same inertia.

It also helps to chart out a course that focuses on your area of interest. Why not think of the social sector that also requires project management skills? Or why not clean technologies? "Many get into these and often take a second shot hoping to better their chance," says Das.

Taking on teaching assignments is another good option. Even a sabbatical helps if you can negotiate it with your HR department. But the game changer is often to think out of the box. For instance, changing location. Bihar? Or Africa? Both offer opportunities today. Take your pick.

Professionals who go to such locations get bigger hikes as well as enjoy the excitement of dealing with a new terrain and a new set of challenges. Shift, or wait it out. The truth is there are no easy answers.