I know a lot of frustrated, miserable people in their 40's – men mostly, who appear to be successful.
They have money, position and all the stuff that goes along with those but they carry with them an undercurrent of anxiety and emptiness that manifests in things like poor health, nervousness or frequent exhaustion. Of course, most have become adept at concealing these symptoms with ‘busy work' and a bulging social calendar but the fundamental problem persists.
I believe this problem is widespread in mid-life workers yet it is rarely discussed. Its source is an inescapable fact that in order to feel truly happy and fulfilled we need to know that whatever we have, we earned.
A lot of us, if we're honest, don't believe our reward (our income) matches our service. Stretched out over a period of years, this produces an outcome that's not so different to a teenager running off the rails because their parents gave them everything except the skills and the muscle to earn their own way. Your subconscious rebels.
If you've ever done great work, where you know you created real value, where the results of your work are self-evident and you've finished the day exhausted but proud of yourself, you know how awesome that feels.
Thousands of well-paid men in the corporate world almost never experience that feeling. Whilst their efforts may be genuine and their line of work honourable, the impact they have is usually minuscule at best, so the lack of demonstrable purpose distorts the effort/reward equation. And though they'd like to think otherwise, they are almost certainly dispensable; compounding the effects further.
Deep down we all want to be valued and while we can fool people with misdirection, we can't fool the man in the mirror.
The Baby and the Bath Water
I sat down with a good mate last night. Bob is going to be 42 this month and he's just decided it's time to stop bullshitting himself. He hates his work, his daily routine and the endless cycle of buying stuff just to experience brief (and ever diminishing) hits of pleasure.
As we sat in my garage and he laid out his plans for reinvention, I could see the lights were well and truly on again! He'd just begun an intense health and fitness makeover; he's quitting his soul-destroying job and he's buying an open-ended ticket to Europe!
He's tired of being paid for work that lacks purpose and he's had a gut-full of conforming to societal norms. For the very first time, he's going to start with a blank canvas and recreate his life on his own terms and he will only work on stuff that matters to him.
It's a dramatic and some would say reckless approach to reinvention but given Bob doesn't have a wife or kids, it's an exciting, brave and thoroughly authentic way to do it. It illustrates what can happen when we realise that doing something we care about is more important than the money we receive and that being who you really are is the reward that all of us ultimately seek.
So work hard, yes. But if your own opinion of what you do, who you serve and how you deliver value doesn't fill you with pride and an honest sense of gratitude, you're probably being paid more than you earn. And as Bob discovered, the only person who can decide how to fix that is you.
Tips for Earning what you're Paid
Always do more than you're paid to do. Real achievers don't ask for promotions – they simply work their way into them until one day it becomes evident that their new position should be made official with the corresponding title and income (and extra hours!).
See the human being at the end of every transaction. Commerce is one of the oldest and most human interactions. Simply stated, I do a job which ultimately helps someone provide for their family and in return, I'm rewarded so that I can provide for mine. Ask yourself how you can help each person more than is expected and enjoy the instant satisfaction of knowing you're going an extra mile to earn your reward.
Look for meaning in your work by translating what you do into benefits enjoyed by others. If you can't find those, start looking at ways to augment what you do with something you genuinely care about – whether you're paid for it or not.
Start thinking about some ways to translate what you know into a business that you can control. One of the best places to do this is through an online training and support community for solo entrepreneurs called Fizzle. I've worked through many of their courses and they are honest, professional, well-constructed and enormously helpful.
Recognise that your current work provides enormous opportunities to hone your skills, refine your network and cement the foundation for your second act. With this mindset, your work isn't a burden. It's your life-support system and part-time teacher as you prepare the ground for your second act.
Also published on Medium.