The key to a fulfilling mid-life career – mastering your dance with fear and confidence

We know mid-life is a uniquely challenging time, but it’s also a key pivotal time. The choices you make now really matter. Author and careers coach, Laura Walker, shares insights from her award-winning research and what you can do to help yourself master the next steps. 

At 47 I was made redundant – it was a shock and not something I wanted. My purpose had gone, my confidence badly shaken, I was lost. Being offered a job two months later felt like a huge relief, but it wasn’t that simple. A month into the job, I realised I’d made a huge mistake and finally resigned with no job to go to. After 25 years working in respected businesses, in director level positions, with big teams, I was on my own.

Like other mid-lifers, I had a lot going on outside work too. I had two teenage children doing exams, was half way through a Masters, recently divorced, heading into menopause, and to top it all broke my wrist in a freak tennis accident. Life forced me to slow down and instead of rushing into yet another big job, I finally took the time to discover, re-connect and experiment.

That was six years ago. I now have a thriving portfolio career that evolves as I do. After moving to Kent at the start of lockdown, I work as a talent development consultant two days a week, coach mid-lifers one day a week, and conduct mid-life research for the rest (when I’m not getting re-married on a beach in Australia).

These are some of the key insights I’ve learnt about the dance each of us face between fear and confidence and how you can help yourself master the steps:

Insight 1: Mid-life is more ‘krisis’ than ‘crisis’

Elliott Jaques has a lot to answer for. He is the psychologist who coined the phrase ‘mid-life crisis’ in 1965. Nowadays, the expression is banded around as a judgement, a label, an explanation. It makes people a cliché and the butt of jokes.

There is no evidence that a painful crisis is any more likely during mid-life than at any other time. Jaques’ work was based on clinical patients, mostly men, and has not been replicated. The impact of life events can be bigger, but this is mostly due to societal and organisational bias and prejudice. The word ‘crisis’ actually originates from the Greek word ‘krisis’ which means decision or decisive point. Across time and cultures, mid-life is seen a natural and important time to take stock.

Insight 2: Pay attention to who’s leading the dance

In mid-life, fear and confidence interact in fascinating and unexpected ways. It’s a dance where the leader of the dance can switch, the type of dance may also change. You can dance individually while your partner watches in the background.

When confidence increases, fit isn’t a given that fear decreases. The nature of fear can change or even flip. Initially, you may be afraid of changing, then become more afraid of not changing! Confidence is multifaceted. You can be confident in your ability to do lots of things, but not really know who you are anymore.

Dancing with fear and confidence means befriending your emotions—knowing them by name, recognising them more quickly, listening attentively to what they tell you.

Mastering this step: Experiment with an emotions journal for a few days to gain some insight and practice naming them. 

Insight 3: Reinvention is really about liberation (not satisfaction)

Many mid-lifers feel like a hermit crab peeking out of its shell.

Over time, the hermit crab senses the shell getting tighter and tighter. It feels squashed and uncomfortable. It knows it needs to find a better shell but feels anxious about heading out into the open. It could dash into the nearest shell, will it make it, will the new shell fit any better?

A surprising finding from my research was that all re-inventors needed to be sufficiently dissatisfied to embark on a major shift; and actually emerged feeling liberated rather than satisfied.

Reinvention is often more about a shift in how people worked, or related to their work, than a big change in what they did. You can reinvent how fulfilled your work is by shifting how you connect with it, whilst staying in the same profession.

Mastering this step: Take a moment to consider how your ‘shell’ fits you now – where are the pressure points, how easily can you move, how ready are you for a shift?   

Insight 4: Meaning turbocharges your dancing

Meaning is a big deal in mid-life. Our need for meaning grows and grows, only peaking beyond 65.  Some people try to search for meaning as if it were a game of hide and seek – counting to ten, shouting “coming, ready or not”, then running around looking in dark corners expecting it to jump out at them.  Research, however, shows meaning is far more multi-faceted than that.

People typically draw meaning from multiple sources including family, love, work, faith, community, personal projects. When you dance with meaning your posture is better, you are energised, you throw yourself into the dance gladly.

Mastering this step: What are some of the sources of meaning you’ve found through your life so far?  

Insight 5: Others need you to dance well, even if they make it hard

By mid-life, most people have accumulated an impressive number of roles. It can be a lot, and feeling overwhelmed is common.

We are the linchpins of our families, businesses, and society – holding everything together. It’s not unusual for linchpins to become stuck , neglected and seized up. The evidence for needing to become unstuck is compelling.

When mid-lifers thrive, those around them thrive too. When we are engaged and committed to our work, colleagues from other generations are more engaged too. When we are happy in our lives, our families are happier too. Becoming unstuck begins with creating movement, shifting the dynamic that is keeping you stuck. A small movement can make all the difference.

Mastering this step: How many roles from the graphic can you relate to? Are there others? In each role, what do others most need from you, and what do you most need from them? 

Insight 6: To dance, you must be ready to stop not dancing

Thinking about dancing is not dancing. Watching dancing is not dancing.

Pausing to take stock is good, but not for too long. You need to step on the dance floor, try a move, learn a skill, dance with new people. By starting, you can discover more as yourself – what you feel, think, want, and don’t want. It may feel awkward at first, but it does get easier.

Mastering this step: Try saying “yes” to every opportunity that presents itself for a week or two – socially and professionally. Some you’ll really enjoy, some you won’t – but either way you’ll learn something about yourself.  

Laura’s book, Dancing with Fear and Confidence is available in paperback and kindle. Find her at

Laura Walker | LinkedIn

Laura Walker (@lauramidlife) | Instagram

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