When in life are you the most miserable? Is it during your frustrating, zit-filled teenage years? Maybe it’s when you are retired and bummed in your seventies?
Somewhere in between?
Actually, the US’s National Bureau of Economic Research thinks it’s the precise age of 47.2. Of course, all studies need to be taken with a mountain of salt, but the more you think about it, the more it might be true.
47.2 years old could be the time when your kids are graduating from high school and getting ready for college — the empty-nesting period looms. It could be the time when you start to see your parents declining in health. Now it’s all up to you.
These crossroads cause many executives to pause — and the "What have I been doing with my time?" questions begin to fly. What do you (and your life partner, if any) want to do now that you are in the middle years? Do you need to keep climbing that ladder to get into the C-suite? Are those joints creaking a little extra loud on the golf course? Can you get away with doing less? Enjoying more?
This introspection is natural and expected. Ask yourself the following three questions early this year — and be better prepared to shift your life and career in a more fulfilling direction.
Is My Work Truly Enjoyable?
Let’s be honest — it’s easy to make excuses for why your work brings you joy. Lots of people do it.
Does this sound familiar? “I’ve just always had such a passion for software and spreadsheets — oh and leading cross-functional teams across the globe. It’s why I leap out of bed at 3:30 a.m. each day, run six miles, hit the Peloton, walk my dogs, and read a book before my 15-hour executive workday.”
Hey, if that’s you, more power to you. But I’d wager that’s likely not how you feel. Are you really being honest with yourself?
If you are like millions of others — maybe even drifting through work in an aimless or apathetic way — it’s time to take action. Start by grabbing scratch paper and putting pen to paper; write down five things you’d rather be doing right now. What’s on that list? Traveling? Fishing? Hiking?
Now ask yourself, is there anything that you can do with your career to bring you closer to those passions? Odds are, the skills you’ve developed over the years can be useful in a more fulfilling direction, as well.
Is My Career Building Toward The Future I Want?
The most fulfilling careers grow with passion and excitement — they are alive and fluid. They get better with time, commitment and intentional decisions that build toward a reality greater than a solo act. A legacy.
Fulfilling careers are not past triumphs and glories — they are not stagnant financial safety nets or placeholders until you figure out what you finally want to do when you grow up.
When you talk to others about your career, do you talk about everything you’ve done in the past — or do you talk about all the ambitions you’re working toward?
If you find yourself telling the same old story, and you share a tired narrative with others, you’re doing yourself a disservice. People either won’t know how to help you, or they’ll only think about you for what you’ve done before. This means opportunities that come your way will likely be more of the same.
Rather, start talking to others about the future you want (even if you have no idea how to achieve it). Start to reframe your future and share with as many people as will listen. People will start to think about where you’re going next — and if they know how to help you or make introductions. This means your opportunities will likely be fresh and exciting.
Is My Career Still Relevant In 2022?
Career relevance is pretty hard to face, but it must be addressed. You know, when every subject you are an expert in was the industry status-quo ... eight years ago.
This is a particularly tough pill to swallow in the tech world. It ties into a fun stat — humans double their data creation every 18 months. This means your skills become outdated faster than ever before.
Think about how you’re positioning your expertise and whether you are truly marketing your most valuable skills. The more experienced you become in your career, the more you need to create distance between your expertise and the younger generation that’s filling the labor market.
Consider shifting your career narrative to discuss more about your soft skills — your team leadership and the x-factors that only a tenured senior executive could compete with.
The reframing of your career requires an introspective look and gut check at yourself, with careful attention paid to make sure you don’t unintentionally position yourself for weak-fit roles or anything that distances yourself from your future ambitions.
Actions That Speak Loud
Simply asking these questions shouldn’t be the end of the line for your future plans. You should be exceptionally mindful about how to be in a career you truly enjoy and how to build toward a legacy you can feel pride in.
This year, shift the way that you talk about yourself. Consider how to be more authentic with how you approach your life.
Uplevel how you are perceived publicly. Update your résumé, polish your LinkedIn, reflect on your other social channels, explore new networks, start interviewing with new industries — break the rut.
Reach out and call people who you trust and care about to get honest feedback about where you are in life.
Avoid the ruts and the second-nature way many approach their career. What you’ll get in return is a feeling that the future is wide open instead of being miserable about the present or living solely in the past.
A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.