Remember when you were 18 and everyone kept asking about what you’re going to do next? At the other end of the spectrum was the mid-life crisis and all those raised eyebrows when you drove up in the Maserati with that person on your arm or you are showing your BFFs your new sleeve tat.
Now, add two other life stage crises: the quarter-life crisis and the encore career/retirement/side gig decision. Doctors, it seems, have been grappling with these life stages a lot lately.
Back in the day, life was about the three boxes-education, job and retirement. Then, the world of work and society changed and the boundaries blurred. Sequential became concommitant, doing all three at he same time rather than one after the other. Now, some think the whole idea of work-life balance is the wrong approach. Maybe, like happiness, your are better off letting it find you.
As people confront this challenge, they come up against a set of fundamental human needs that collectively define how we experience the meaning of our existence. One professor calls them the five pillars of meaning:
Belonging. Humans are social animals, and for most people, meaning is anchored in affectionate interpersonal relationships. Each interaction we have, be it of joy, disgust, anger, or sadness, allows us to learn more about who we are and what we want. When we are supported by others through such experiences and challenges, we cope much more effectively with them. All too often, however, people are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges. Paul’s story makes clear that he did not make much of an “investment” in this critical part of his life.
Purpose. To thrive, people need a direction and goals to look forward to; people who lack a clear sense of purpose find little meaning in whatever they’re doing. As people approach the end of a phase in their lives, they begin to suffer from a lack of future-looking purpose. Although Paul clearly had purpose at some point (he had created many companies), that purpose was disappearing as he approached the end of his active career — how many more companies could he feasibly create?
Competence. People derive much of their identity from what they do — how they use and master their unique talents. A sense of competence provides confidence in people’s ability to meet the challenges that lie ahead of them. High levels of competence often involve being “in the zone,” completely and utterly immersed in whatever we’re doing. It was in part Paul’s talents in financial matters, which he enjoyed putting to use, that had helped him find meaning during his career.
Control. People are readier to find meaning in their choices if they believe they took them freely — that the choices really were theirs to make. At the time I met Paul, he had started wondering whether he had chosen to get married because he really wanted to or because everybody at his age was already married. This sense of having someone else’s meaning imposed on his was also something that he experienced in his choice of career — business, as I’ve already noted, had been his second option.
Transcendence. As an old Greek proverb notes, “society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” We find our most profound meaning when we move beyond self-interest and self-fulfillment to make room within ourselves for other people to whom we are not personally close — when we connect ourselves purposefully to our community and society at large. It was clear that transcendence had never been part of Paul’s make-up; he had been too obsessed with the success of the companies he had founded
If you are lumper instead of a splitter, you can call them mastery, independence and purpose.
Crisis 1: What should I do when I grow up?
Here is an example: Hi Dr. Arlen, I’m a 2nd year medical student who is currently running a start-up. I am finding difficulty balancing both but my dilemma is that I don’t want be working as a physician full-time, so I was hoping I could get some advice on how I could carve a path to become a physician entrepreneur.
This question started with those in medical practice. Now it has become an issue with younger and younger students considering medicine, starting in premed. Medical students are wondering:
- Should I finish medical school?
- Should I do a residency?
- Should I start a company while I am a medical student?
- What kind of residency should I do?
- Where should I do a residency if I am interested in entrepreneurship?
Crisis 2: How did I wind up in this quarter life crisis?
According to The Guardian, the quarter-life crisis affects 86% of millennials, who report being bogged down by insecurities, disappointments, loneliness, and depression. Millennials, it’s less of a question of if you will experience a quarter-life crisis than it is a question of when. Here’s how to cope.
Crisis 3: What do I do to resolve my mid-career crisis?
According to recent research, less than 50% of decisions made in mid-career were rated as successful. People are most susceptible to making decisions that lead to less-than-successful outcomes between the ages of 40 and 48, according to respondent assessments. The people reporting less-than-successful outcomes strongly agreed with such statements as:
- “When making this decision, I was so busy with day-to-day work that I didn’t have enough time to think strategically.”
- “At the time I constantly second-guessed myself and tried to talk myself out of making a change.”
- “I found the whole process of making the decision stressful and unnerving.”
4: Should I retire, rewire, or inspire
Facing these stages takes money and your financial needs an situation. That’s why every medical student should be taught personal financial planning and debt management.
In her book, Aristotle’s Way, classicist Edith Hall explains that, to Aristotle, being true to yourself means asking whether you have realized your potential at each each of the four crossroads. She goes on to explain that Aristotle used the twin ideas of potentiality and realization of that potential in practice. Age 49 seemed to be the magic number when you have learned enough of life’s lessons to figure it out, which, interestingly, is the approximate bottom of the happiness curve. Having mentors or making employees feel appreciated is another way to help them reach their potential.
Like they say, life is not one thing after another. It’s the same thing over and over again. I’ll see you at the other side of the happiness U curve.