I have worked with the same company for 20 years and have reached the point where I no longer find my job challenging. I applied twice for promotion but was turned down in favor of younger staff members. I could look for work outside of the company, but I’m in my 50s so it’s unlikely I’ll get an interview. My wife says I should accept what is happening and develop new interests. But I feel like I have more to give. I don’t want to watch the clock between now and retirement.

A mid-career crisis is a story as old as time and shared by some of the greats, including Michelangelo and Dante. While Michelangelo completed the sculpture of David and the roof of the Sistine Chapel before he turned 40, it was at age 55, after a lull of 15 years, that he created the Medici tomb. This masterpiece was followed by The last judgement, considered by some to be his most complex work. Covering the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, the famous mural was recently captured in a cheeky photograph of actor Russell Crowe (58) at a preview. There’s something appropriate about a man in his 50s being impressed by the work of another man in his 50s.

When did society decide that aging and productivity were incompatible? I believe we have been handed a dubious playbook for this stage of life, a playbook perhaps written by industries dependent on the belief that our value is tied to youth. The reality is that our creativity can paradoxically experience a rebirth as our focus on death sharpens.

Your request may represent a confrontation with your status quo and a willingness to explore how you are now pursuing your “North Star.” For much of our lives, we are guided by our family, societal, and professional systems, and this can send us on various, yet often rewarding, tangents. However, as we enter the second half of our lives, we begin to look within and wonder if we have reached our full potential. Perhaps the growth of the life coaching industry over the past few years reflects an emerging demographic struggling to make sense of its purpose. You may want to consider connecting with an accredited coach to help you navigate this new phase of life.

In our 20s and 30s, we are often preoccupied with achieving professional and personal goals. This stage of life often involves a period of learning, followed by the implementation of these new skills. As these skills are integrated, we gain in mastery and our expertise is perfected. For some, mastery allows for the development of skills that become an extension of who they are. For others, this step will allow them to explore other modes of expression and different ways of feeling fulfilled. In this case, the work is no longer center stage, rather it plays a supporting role, allowing energies to be directed elsewhere.

It is clear from your letter that you are not lacking in energy. Over the past few decades, external forces have influenced how you have focused this energy. Although you have accomplished much, I feel a loss in building a hard-won position and perhaps an identity, as well as a loss of youth. It’s normal to feel this struggle. But when the desire to generate rather than stagnate takes over, you can choose the area in which you want to contribute.

I also hear a sense of urgency, which is reasonable as your awareness of time takes on a sharper focus. Therefore, I suggest that the situation you find yourself in is an opportunity.

Your letter seems to favor messages from your wife and employer. These are external forces, and I wonder what you might hear if you tuned into your internal drivers, your values, and your sense of purpose. Your current business may not be able to provide you with the opportunity to feel challenged, grow further, and hone your expertise. However, upon reflection, you may determine that your work can now support a new philanthropic or creative position. Take the time to reflect on what you want to achieve or become without the constraints of youthful ambition or the quest for perfection. Perhaps it is wise to consider the words of the French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne: “There is nothing more remarkable in the life of Socrates than the fact that he found time in his old age to learn to dance and play instruments and thought it was time wasted.”

The “big quit” is a term coined by organizational psychologist Dr. Anthony Klotz to reflect a pattern of behavior that has emerged during the pandemic. The pandemic can be interpreted as a collective crisis. In such cases, the mortality is undeniable, so it’s no wonder that 40% of your same-aged peers have considered quitting their jobs in search of something more fulfilling. The role that will meet your newly identified goal may be waiting to be filled by someone with a level of mastery and passion that only comes with experience. But, before you take that leap, maybe learn to dance, play an instrument, or admire the accomplishments of others in their 50s.

Take good care.