Are you stuck in a mid-career rut?

You've been a keen member of the workforce for quite a few years and moved up the ranks, but lately you've been feeling like your job really doesn't do it for you anymore.

Welcome to the mid-career rut; a place many of us get bogged somewhere between graduation and the gold watch.

Rise and coast

Melbourne advertising executive Brendon Guthrie has been there. After getting into the game at 20, he spent two decades rising through the ranks before arriving at a place where doing the same old, same old began to do his head in.

"It's really you just get that feeling that you're spinning your wheels," Guthrie says.

"In my case, I'd been doing the job that I'd been doing in various guises from copywriter through to executive creative director for 20 odd years.

They don't know what it is they do want to do but they know something doesn't feel right.

Deborah Wilson

Danger zone

"So I just got to the point where I wasn't feeling like I was achieving anything or indeed contributing anything meaningful anymore, which was not strictly true in retrospect – that was purely my personal view on how things were going, I was still doing a good job.

"That's part of the danger, you kind of get to a point where you understand that you could do your job in your sleep and you know in a market like Australia where there is still a skills shortage…you know that short of doing something illegal or the company suddenly losing most of its accounts overnight, you're not going to be without a job.

"That removes an enormous amount of the motivation to get up and to push yourself harder."

Modern malaise

How can you tell that you've contracted this sort of mid-career malaise? Instinct, says Emma Whalan, the HR manager at training provider Seek Learning.

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"It starts with a feeling and typically it's a gut feeling," Whalan says.

"It's also a sense of frustration that probably you can't quite articulate. And then it's that you're not feeling challenged."

Something's amiss

Dreading going to work, increased absenteeism and a sneaking sense that you're only firing on three cylinders are also classic symptoms, according to careers specialist Deborah Wilson.

"[You might] withdraw from personal or social [activities], drink a bit much, or you feel like something is missing," Wilson says.

"They don't know what it is they do want to do but they know something doesn't feel right, there's something missing and they're not feeding themselves from a career perspective."

Plateaued prospects

Once the province of the over-45s, these days many folk experience mid-career malaise as early as their mid-30s, Wilson says.

The condition can coincide with a perceived plateau in prospects, after a decade or more of feeling on the up and up, or a sense of being left behind while others surge ahead.

"People stay in one organisation for a period of time and they're not getting the moves or the opportunities – they've just been there for a while, reliable, Steady Eddy, do the job," Wilson says.

"And they realise they've missed the boat."

What to do if this is you?

Start by analysing your work history and identifying the times you felt happiest and most fulfilled – either on your own, or with the help of a mentor or careers coach, Wilson suggests.

"Ask yourself, 'what was the role I've done that I enjoyed the most?', then unpack that," she says.

"What was the culture of the company, the leadership style, what was my role … what were the things I did that really made me happy? It could be a great team or [you] really loved this work. Something will be a theme or a key."

Don't panic

Resisting the urge to panic and formulating some long-term strategies to improve your situation – be it through further study, starting a business or applying for new roles – is the best approach, according to Whalan.

"When I see people who have perhaps recognised that they've been in a rut for a while, if they then realise and kind of have an emotional reaction that they need to do something now … unfortunately you see people make quick decisions that may not be logical or may not set them up well for the future," she says.

"It's about patience and putting it into perspective and you can have that great plan – if I invest time here and use these resources and work towards the long term."

Return to your roots

For Guthrie, the antidote to his malaise was to return to his roots. In mid-2015 he became a partner in Mr Smith, a small creative projects consultancy. Back on the tools as a copywriter, he couldn't be happier.

"Getting back to writing and thinking and solving problems in a hands-on sense has been a massive, massive pick-up for me," he says.

"I am energised when I get up in the mornings now whereas before it was a case of drag yourself out of bed."

Your chances of scrambling out of the rut are greater if you're a person who regularly sets goals for yourself, Whalan believes.

"When you don't have a broader career plan or even life goals what I see is people just…get frustrated, [they're] not able to be proactive in finding what's next for them or how they can stretch and learn."

Have you survived a mid-career rut? What are your tips for reviving motivation? Let us know in the Comments section.

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