How to Avoid a Mid-Career Slump

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How to Avoid a Mid-Career Slump

By Nancy Krawczyk, Network of Executive Women - 07/05/2017

Women in retail and consumer goods who have been putting the pedal to the metal and still find their career going nowhere fast, should keep their eyes on the road — and take a quick look at the rearview mirror.

Mid-career women often give much less thought to their career than they did early in their work life. Mid-career, a role can become rote and women may fall into the trap of thinking if they're doing their job well, they’ll be promoted.  

"When women reach a point mid-career, they can stall out if they don't have clarity," says former Safeway and Jamba Juice executive Christy Consler, founder and CEO of Sustainable Leadership Advisors.

Asking yourself the hard questions can make even a slight shift in your thinking a significant one — and help put you back in control of your career.

Consler tasks her global clients with a list of queries. Chief among them: What do I want and how do I get there? What are my skills? What am I passionate about? Where are those opportunities and how can I make it happen?

"It requires knowing yourself well and what's important to you and your values," she says.

Here's one caveat when considering your place in your organization, opportunities for advancement, and other career options: Be sure to keep the emphasis on you.

"Women tend to do the comparison game and that can be dangerous," notes former Starbucks and PepsiCo Inc. executive Cecilia Carter, founder of The Strategy Chick coaching firm. "Plan for yourself, your unique situation, your life."

A mid-career slump often coincides with "the sandwich years," that stage when caring for children or elderly parents takes precedence, Carter explains. "We use all of our energy to address those external challenges and fail to address our own."

An outside perspective can help. Carter's mentor, Ann Fudge, former chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands and one of the first African-American women to run a major corporation, was instrumental in how Carter took control of her career.

"I was a single parent with two young girls and struggling with all that I had to manage; emotionally, I wasn't in a good place. Ann said to me, 'You can have it all, you just can't have it all at the same time.'"

Somehow, that candor gave Carter the permission she needed to step off the corporate ladder for a while before remaking her career in retail and consumer goods.

"I never stopped working," she says. "I just worked differently. I decided to follow my passion and took a job in the music industry. That change allowed me to build my skills, while giving me the flexibility I needed to care for myself and my little ones."

Rev Up Your Interpersonal Skills

Outside mentors can be career-changing, but equally vital is having a network of supporters inside your organization. Don't think of internal networking as wasting time — it's valuable to your career and your team's success.

For Consler, learning this lesson early in her career was invaluable.

"My first boss out of business school told me I'd never get promoted just for doing my job; I needed to add value beyond my job description," she recalls. Consler quickly saw that by being of greater value to him, he could meet his goals.

"From the very beginning, be proactive about learning and growing," she advises. "Add to your professional toolkit constantly."

My career has been driven, in part, by fostering relationships with key stakeholders. My advice? Learn what they need from you. Carter, for example, recommends developing a communication strategy for each person, one level up and one level down.

What you don't want to do is create a dynamic that feels forced and unnatural.

"Seek to make a genuine connection," Consler agrees. "Be focused and make it easy for them to say 'Yes.'" Have a specific question or request for stakeholders at the ready, such as 'How did you make the move from sales to marketing?'"

I started my career at McCormick & Co. and spent years in brand management and sales strategy at Campbell Soup Co. Along the way, I learned you can't accelerate your career if you're not aligned with your company's values, goals and culture. A good starting place is setting smart goals with your boss. Also, don't be afraid to look to the new, younger talent coming in.

"When you're mid-career, you've been in the same mindset for a while and can benefit from a fresh perspective," Carter counsels.

In bridging the generation and knowledge gaps, you come out ahead. "To be a leader, you have to lift up others. Take your energy and focus it on someone else," she adds. "By elevating your top talent and concentrating on their development, you strengthen your own leadership style and effectiveness."

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.