Midlife Malaise

Due to an unfortunate decision in my choice of major in my college years, I have been an administrative assistant my entire adult working life. I’ve been in my current position for nearly 13 years with the same company and my job has changed very little in that time. I don’t really foresee it changing very much in the next 13 years either.

The work is not challenging, my coworkers are not my friends (I am the only woman among 8 men), and culture of my company has changed from  we’ve-got-your-back to it’s-all-about-the-dollars in the last 5 years. Within the next year, my office will be moving inside an industrial plant where I will be forced to dress like a construction worker (goodbye cute summer sandals!) and share a space with my blue collar coworkers (they are good guys but there’s not a lot of talk about arts and culture if you know what I mean). Those are the cons of my current job.

Here are the pros: the pay is decent, the benefits are excellent, I have a mere 17 minute commute, I can pretty well come and go as I please, and I have 4 weeks of paid vacation plus 8 paid sick days per year, plus 10 paid holidays.  My boss is a good boss – my only complaint is that he’s an over-thinker to the nth degree and sometimes that can be exasperating, but overall I enjoy working with him. My job causes me very little stress and I don’t have to work evenings or weekends, or be on call.  Also, and this is a big PRO – I don’t have to work with the general public. On paper, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, especially in today’s job market.

I feel like I outgrew this position a long time ago, but it was a good fit for my family and see also the pros above – it’s hard to walk away from all that, especially since my husband is self-employed and doesn’t bring in any health insurance or a regular bi-weekly paycheck. I feel that I have more to offer than simply being able to do my job quickly and efficiently, but do I really? When I look for other jobs, I see gaping holes in my resume that hold me back from applying for those positions. I haven’t developed any marketable skills over my time here that would be useful elsewhere. And there’s a lot of fear of the unknown too – fear of starting over at another company, fear of rejection when going for interviews, fear of getting into a worse situation…lots of fear all around it.

I hear all of the talk about following your dreams! and dream big! Do what your heart wants you to do!! Honestly, that all sounds exhausting. Hustling sounds like a lot of work when I feel like I should be slowing down and settling in at my age.

I think what is really happening is that I have hit midlife and don’t have a career I can be proud of. I sort of hate that my kids say “my mom is a secretary” when I’d originally had such lofty goals for myself in college. My best friend’s title is Senior Director of Development at a major university…she gets to travel and go to fun events and talk to different people every day. I come to work and sit behind a desk and listen to podcasts so that I can distract myself while I do the same work I’ve been doing for 13 years. I’m not jealous of my friend – she has worked damn hard for her career and deserves every accolade that comes her way – she’s very, very good at what she does and I am so proud of her. I simply wish that I had a career that I could talk about with some sense of accomplishment and pride as well. I feel almost embarrassed to say “I’m an administrative assistant” when I have a French degree under my belt (also embarrassing: I remember very little French now, seems like a waste of tuition).

I heard a term the other day in a Ted Talk I watched on YouTube – “Midlife Malaise”. I think that perfectly describes how I’m feeling. I’m not having a midlife crisis as much as I’m just sort of bored, really. And I’m actually not bored with my whole life – my marriage is solid, my kids are good and healthy… it just seems to be my career or lack thereof that has me feeling inadequate.

This feeling cycles around every so often. A lot of times I can squash it down and ignore it, but it always comes around again eventually. Not sure what to do about it – do I simply need to learn to appreciate what I have or do I need to put myself out there and risk it all for something that may or may not be better? Should I develop one of my hobbies into a side gig and look for fulfillment there? Should I volunteer somewhere and hope I feel useful? Should I just go buy a lottery ticket and pin my hopes on a mega-millions win??

If only I could get paid to read books and drink tea all day…my life would be complete.

photo of teacup on top of books
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com



32 thoughts on “Midlife Malaise

  1. Your last line was priceless! But you know, that do what you dream of doing…that is darn hard!!! I did have a dream of helping premature babies. But it was hard. If I had gone the way of staying a dog groomer, or trying to be a fiber artist, the same thing you said. No one pays you to be sick or go on vacation. No one pays you to have great insurance. I recommend you stay with this job and eventually you will be able to do whatever you want. Like me. After I exercise every day, I sit in my chair and do fiber work. Yay! And I don’t have to worry about selling it or anything.

    1. LOL!! I remember that and Sacre Bleu!! Also I remember a lot of talk about Monique – Monique sure did get around a lot back then!

      I like what you said though, this is a good job and a lot of people would love to have a set up like mine. I sometimes feel like I was meant for more than this, but maybe I just need to be patient. Thanks for being a voice of reason!!

  2. I hear you! I’ve been at my company for 20 years (and another one for 5 years before that). I never expected that I’d still be here all this rind and my job title hasn’t changed much – though I havdd Ed had the opportunity to grow but that meant longer hours, more travel, which didn’t make sense once I started having kids. I’ve only been embarrassed when talking to men I worked with 20 years ago and they wonder why I don’t have a higher title (I have had 2 promotions but mainly because my salary was too high). But my parents are definitely embarrassed that they can’t name drop about me with their friends. But that is their problem, not mine. If they had their way I’d have married a Harvard MBA and be a SAHM, to which I say I didn’t want to marry someone I’d never see.

    I am hitting the big 5-0 next year and part of me worries about what if I am let go before retirement, will I be able to find a job? And the other part of me is thinking “Gid, retirement is still another 20 years away!” (That I am hoping not, but at least 15). What can I do to be really fulfilled in the next 15-20 years? I like my job, it can be challenging but allows home/life balance. But I do need to do more Home stuff for me – not just the diet and exercise and reading books and watching tv – like taking courses, using all the craft stuff I bought that we didn’t use, things that don’t require my phone or a computer (or too much money because if I had all the $ in the world I’d want to travel, travel, travel – but I don’t have all that $ or time).

    1. YES – you get it too. I’ve had that same thought “what if I get let go before I’m ready to retire?” because that has happened in my company – people who have been here for years and are only a couple of years away from retirement suddenly get let go. It is bothersome, but I just tell myself that there will be SOMETHING I can do, even if I have to work at Lowe’s or Home Depot or someplace in retail. Not ideal, but I would be able to find something.

  3. I also would recommend keeping your job.

    And I would suggest picking up something on the side.

    Two ideas:

    a class of some kind (professional, creative, fun – take your pick).

    A side hustle where you risk little to no money that would fill a void. (Might be a little extra $$$ or creative outlet or just something different).

    1. I have a couple of hobbies that I do at home – I have my book club, which I love; and also I do brushlettering. I could turn the brushlettering into a side gig but that would actually take a lot of time at first and I don’t think I’m good enough /ready to do that. But yes I will most likely keep my current job.

  4. Yes! I’m so with you. I’ve been an administrative assistant for a church for the last 22 years. It was great when my kids were at home as I was able to take them to school and pick them up, attend sporting events, etc. At that time I had a pastor/boss who really appreciated my skills. Now that my kids are grown, I’m like, “What’s next?” It doesn’t help that I haven’t had a real raise in more than 10 years and the current church leadership acts like any trained monkey could do my job. I feel like this job has rotted my brain and made me unemployable elsewhere.

    1. Oh Bonnie – you should definitely negotiate for a raise and if they think anyone can do your job, then you should call in sick for a few days and watch them scramble! 🙂

  5. I had a job I absolutely loved for years i loved going to work every day and I would tell my husband even on my bad days (there are always those) I never once wanted another job. Then one day it was gone. Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control and I was working for a new company. I never felt the same so one day I left. I have regretted it since. The grass is always greener. I had so much and now I don’t.

    1. I’m so sorry Jan. That’s awful. I think that’s one thing that’s kept me here is that I’m afraid I’ll leave here and what I find WON’T be better. I hope you find something soon that you love.

  6. Boredom is what kept me changing jobs every 4-5 years so I’m impressed you’ve lasted 13 years with your job. I agree, doing secretarial work gets old, but I never wanted a career bad enough to do anything about it. Hope you can find something that spikes an interest so you can focus on that instead of work.

    1. Thank Shelley. For a long time, this blog kept me distracted enough – I started this blog a few months after I started this job so that was fun! And I do have a few other hobbies at home that I do – I read a lot and also dabble with brushlettering. It just gets frustrating when I think about where I could have been if I had just made different decisions in the past, but I guess that doesn’t solve anything. I will say that I feel a lot better since I wrote this post – misery really does love company! Lol!

  7. First and foremost, administrative assistants are the glue that keeps the team together. Every department I have ever worked in was able to function solely because the admin was amazing. I have SO much respect for the position you hold and the work you do, so you are definitely not “just” an admin.

    Four years ago I left a job I absolutely LOVED because the company’s financial future was looking more and more bleak, and although my job was fulfilling and my coworkers were like family I knew it wasn’t sustainable. The job I have now pays a much higher salary, I have the fancy “Senior” in front of my job title, and my resume is definitely a lot more impressive. But….there’s always that but. In four years I’ve had four different positions, not because I kept getting promoted but because I never had the same job satisfaction again. I do like the work I do now and the pros outweigh the cons, so for now this is where I’m at and this is what works. I still believe that leaving that last company was the right thing to do, and arguably I am more successful now….but I’m definitely not happier at work. All that to say that if you find yourself that job reading and sipping tea, may I please come be your coworker?

  8. You are so sweet, THANK YOU for that pat on the back and YES you will absolutely be my tea-sipping coworker someday!! I will admit, I AM the glue that keeps this place together, and one of the benefits of being here as long as I have is that I remember how and why certain practices came about and why we still use them today. I have a lot of knowledge that comes from being here for so long and because of that, I am often a go-to source for upper management and I have earned some degree of respect for that. Okay, you may be right, I’m not JUST an admin – I’m a freaking Wonder Woman at my job! 🙂

  9. Oh boy, do I feel you on this one. Started working secretarial/office jobs right out of high school. I’m 43 now and SO unfulfilled by my work. I have no friends here, either. Just not the type of folks I would hang out with socially (they like golf and hedge funds, I like art and music).

    Since I started submitting my writing to literary journals in the past year, it’s been a real game-changer for me. I still have my full-time boring office job, but I also get to live the life of a writer (without the unreliable salary of a writer)! It’s helped me tremendously with that stuck-in-a-rut feeling. I’ve made so many excellent writer friends on social media, too. It’s a wonderful community!

    1. That’s so great!!! (The writing part, not the boring job part) Good job on taking action – and you’re right, at least you aren’t struggling on a writer’s salary. 🙂

  10. I was/am lucky enough to have a husband with a steady well-paying job. I left my ten-year unsatisfying job almost as soon as I got married and did various part time things while our children were young, then restrained as a Library Technician. Now I am paid to read and drink tea…. just kidding! I only get to read on my breaks, but the job is varied and interesting without being stressful.

    I am a cautious person though, and I would never advise jumping blindly into the unknown. If you are concerned about transferable skills, can you do evening or online courses in something that would help you in a different career? Then get the next job confirmed before you leave the current one!

    1. Hi Natalie – I also am a cautious person, which is why I’m still at this same job 13 years later! 🙂 I have thought about taking some courses and I might still do that, but for now I think I’m staying put. It doesn’t make sense to leave here without knowing exactly what I want to do next. And if I leave here, I want it to be for something I really want to do! Thanks for your advice!

  11. I worked a job for 18 years. I loved it and it worked so well when my kids were little and all throughout their lives when they lived at home. I turned 49 this summer. I never got much of a raise at my job and I didn’t have any benefits. I got bored the past few years and felt like I wasted time not getting any retirement etc. Over the years I applied for other jobs and even had offers but I turned them down. They just didn’t feel right. This year I saw an ad for a job I thought I would love. But I wasn’t sure. I was scared. I decided to throw my resume in and guess what 3 nerve racking interviews later I was offered the job. The benefits are amazing. I found out during my interviews that even though I had not had much staff development in 18 years this company loved the skills I had learned just from being at my job so long. They liked me and I couldn’t believe it. I was still so scared. What if the other staff didn’t like me. What if I ended up not liking the job as I thought I would. What if I sucked at the job and they fired me. I have been there for almost 3 months now and I am thankful everyday that I took the leap. Scary as hell but I did it. I actually feel like I can be proud of my career now. Good luck in whatever you decide. Apply for a few jobs. You can always turn them down.

    1. Yay Julie! I’m so glad it worked out for you!! I am going to keep my eyes open and if an amazing opportunity presents itself, I’ll act on it, but for now I’m going to stay put. Thanks so much for the encouragement – I appreciate it!!

  12. Such an astute observation on midlife, I believe many of us can connect with these very same feelings, and general malaise! But I truly believe there are a multitude of possibilities just awaiting our notice. Maybe we need some down time at this stage of life before we break into something new, as if storing up our energy fro the next adventure. All my best to you.

    1. Thank you Cheryl – maybe you are right – maybe this is the downtime before the next big thing!! I should probably just relax into it and not worry so much about it. Great perspective, thank you!!

  13. Sassy Pear is a fantastic weight loss community. I loved this post and it really resonated with me. I’m thinking about starting a blog too but not sure where to start. Reading yours has helped me immensely. It’s not easy once you’re over 40! I started a little webpage but it’s pretty generic at the moment (fullweightloss.com) – hints and tips would be welcome! My friend put me onto something as she had some good results and I wonder if anyone else has had success with it too? I search for products all the time that might help me lose weight, and this one worked for me: http://bit.ly/cinderella20. It helped me not only lose weight but also keep it off! I hope it helps out someone else. Have you tried it too? Stay healthy and happy!

  14. Hi there! It sounds like you’ve decided to stay put and that was going to be my advice too. I got bored and left a job at 13 years once. The move I made would have been a good one except that within a year, the corporates closed our branch. I was offered a position in the company in a different city. I took that position with my husband’s blessing and we began plans to move our family when school was out that year. Unfortunately, in the interim I discovered my husband’s affair and that he had been in favor of me taking the new position because it would leave him more time to spend with his girlfriend. Anyway – lots of life changes later, I found myself at entry-level employment again and it took a long, long time to get back to the salary, etc. that I was before I left that first job. If I could go back in time, I’d have not left that job but rather examined my situation closer to identify the real source of discontent. Maybe it was the husband, not the job that had me bored! This is in NO WAY to imply that you have that going on, it’s just to say that sometimes I think we expect too much from our jobs. Just accept it as a job, enjoy those FANTASTIC time-off benefits and find life’s fulfillment in other areas. I have a senior leadership position with a very good company and you know what? It’s still “just” a job. I don’t want my eulogy to be about my life’s work – I want it to be funny stories, recipes and family!

    1. Thank you so much for this Renee. This helps a lot!! And you are so right – we DO expect a lot from our jobs. I love your last sentence – even if I had a fabulous job, is that what I want to be remembered for??? Thank you again. ❤

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  16. I go through the very cycles of depression in my own life due to similar reasons. I had a very good paying job as a software consultant at a big company. Then due to my husband needing to move I resigned my job and started working from home. A little money here and there. No steady income. Over the last 20 years I always think back why I did not go back to work. Agreed I had a little baby then but she soon grew up and I sort of fell into a rut. I have an engineer with an MBA but for some reasons of a lack of self-confidence chose not to go back to work. Here I am 20 years later wondering why I never went back. All my friends have a solid 25 years of working life with top positions in big companies. It’s hard to say I am self-employed when my pay check is a pittance compared to them. But over the years I have learnt to not compare. My life is my life and my choices are mine alone. I did enjoy watching my child grow up and was closely involved in everything she did. That is something which I cherish with all my heart.

  17. Thank you! very well written.

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