Four ways to break out of a mid-career plateau

Breaking out of a mid-career plateau

It happens all the time. It could come as soon as your early 40s or as late as your mid-50s: the dreaded mid-career plateau. As you progress through higher levels of your organization’s hierarchy, you’ll find fewer positions available – and more people vying for them. As a result, upward mobility begins to stall and your career trajectory begins to flatten.

Symptoms of the mid-career plateau include boredom, listlessness, or even burnout. Day-to-day responsibilities become repetitive and stagnant. Fortunately there are things you can do to break out of this slump. When you feel that your career as stalled, try these four strategies to break out of your mid-career plateau:

Travel abroad

Spending time in another country volunteering, freelancing, or performing informal paid work is a great way to freshen your perspective. By being exposed to new experiences and new people in an environment outside of your comfort zone, you’ll learn, grow, and become more resilient.

Studies have shown that foreign experiences strengthen your sense of self, increase cognitive flexibility (the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas) and depth of thought.

Whether you’re feeling like you’re stuck in a rut or actively disengaged at work, you’ll likely return to your job reengaged and reinvigorated after an extended period of travel.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine

Make a lateral move

While there may be no opportunities for advancement in your organization currently, there may be other pathways to diversify your skill set and broaden your experience. Secondments, job shadowing, and special projects are all great ways to acquire new knowledge and apply your skills in a way you haven't before. You’ll also be gaining additional knowledge about your organization – a key attribute that may give you the edge on your competition when an opportunity for advancement becomes available.

Engage your professional network

Sometimes there are simply no opportunities for advancement in your organization – it might be time to move on. When entering the job marker, it's important to know that only 30 per cent of jobs are advertised. To land on your feet in a new and fulfilling role, it’s likely you’re going to have to network. 

While social networking has made it easier to keep track of professional colleagues, it’s important to continually engage those contacts to nurture the relationships. Take an interest in what people are sharing on social media and join the conversation. Keeping lines of communication open increases the likelihood that one of your contacts will be amenable to introducing you to key players: hiring managers and senior leaders.

Conferences are a great option to meet like-minded professionals in your field, all while staying current on trends in your industry. Joining a professional society is another way to expand your existing network and build working relationships outside of your own workplace. Get involved in a committee or help plan events and or workshops.

If you have maintained your professionalism throughout your tenure, your colleagues and manager will respect your move to a role with more room to grow.

Invest in yourself

Feeling stuck or bored can mean you’re ready to take on new challenges and learn new skills. You may use this opportunity to change the direction of your career path, amplify your strengths, or work on your weaknesses. As billionaire investor Warren Buffett said in an interview with Forbes, “Ultimately, there's one investment that supersedes all others. Invest in yourself. Nobody can take away what you've got in yourself, and everybody has potential they haven't used yet.” 

Returning to school is a great way to explore new interests in your current industry or explore new fields altogether. For those who aren’t able to – or simply don’t want to – make multi-year time commitments, executive education programs are a great way to acquire marketable skills.

The Ivey Academy’s Ivey Executive Program is a three week program offered in a two-module format. It’s the ideal mid-career refresh. You’ll take a deep, personal dive into your own leadership by using assessment tools paired with three full days of intense executive coaching. It’s the most important, relevant knowledge you need for the most important stage of your career.

The Ivey Executive Program is a great way to further your skill set, while building a powerful peer network. Each program cohort is comprised of a diverse group of professionals who have similar challenges as your own, but have been developed and trained in a different way than you. They’ll be in your corner when you need them most – as a sounding board to provide perspective, or as a potential link to new opportunities.

Following the program, you’ll return to work reinvigorated and re-engaged, armed with the confidence and ability to lead in today’s complex, global business environment. In addition, you’ll have enhanced your executive presence and amplified your personal impact so you can maximize your influence within your organization. For more information on the Ivey Executive Program, download the program brochure


About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.