Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Early Mid-Life Crisis... Sign of Times or Age?

For a few weeks now I have been reflecting on the recent times, ups and downs of friends around me, and various social and political events that have impacted our world today. Especially how many of my friends are reevaluating or rethinking their lives and what they want to accomplish. I was wondering if this is more an effect of the depressed economy, age of my friends going through such thoughts (i.e. 30-35 yrs.), or turmoil of worldwide events. Obviously, it's some combination of these factors and depends on other influences (e.g. married vs. single, children or no children, type of profession, etc.), but to simplify this discussion I want to focus on the segment of my friends who are generally more focused on their careers.

The typical profile might be a single male or female in a professional service industry (i.e. finance, consulting, law), entertainment, or a technology company. All have met relative success over the past several years. Some have been blessed with tremendous financial success from the boom times while others have worthless stock options (me!) and the sorrow of poor timing. Some stayed on their professional track and have moved up in the ranks of a major investment bank or consulting firms. Others have taken different types of risks and gave up their Ph.D. studies to pursue a dream on Broadway and succeeding. Whatever the story, most of these friends have gone through the ups of downs of the economy before the boom times (i.e. 1992 and 1993, when I graduated from college, were tough job markets). They survived the boom and bust cycles and for the most part have fared well in terms of financial success or professional rewards.

Due to their own decisions or the depressed economy, a large percentage find themselves transitioning into a new industry, taking some time off, or starting their own thing. Some were in business school and faced a different reality of not finding the 99% job placement rate typical for top ten business schools over the previous decade, but 50%-70% from schools such as Harvard, Kellogg, Stanford, and MIT over the past couple years. Some are still holding out until they get the job that they want or others had to settle for a "lesser" position with the hopes that the economy will soon pick up.

Life still moves at 100 mph for most of these people, but now a different thought has crept into their minds. Where does all this hardwork lead to? What does it mean at the end of my life? Maybe it was reaching financial security at a young age (most probably trust fund babies or wealthy parents that like to spoil their children though. some beneficiaries of the boom times), the realization that life is too short in the wake of 9/11 or personal family situations, or reaching a point of exhaustion after working 80-100 hrs. weeks and wondering "where is this taking me?"

My good friend who recently left the banking industry to start his own hedge fund told me he was reading about a study on death bed regrets. The two most prominent regrets of people at the end of their lives is a poor relationship between the person and a loved one (e.g. wife, husband, son, daughter, mother, father), and the lack of contributing to the greater society around them (e.g. volunteering within the community, giving more to charity). So for the vast majority of people in this world, it is not money, fame, or sex that is on their minds when they are passing away, but people and a sense of community or belonging that they had or wish they had. I don't believe my friend's motivation or drive will change, but the balancing of his priorities and time might. Instead of working 80 hrs. a week, it will be 70 hrs. with some time for reading or an increased involvement in his church. For others it might be writing poetry on the side, volunteering at a local soup kitchen, or more time spent with family. Or maybe more drinking and partying and wandering the earth... depends on the person but vast majority of my friends over 30 yrs. old have gotten it out of their systems.

It states in Ecclesiastes, "Naked you're born and naked you die." The material possessions a person gathers really doesn't mean much nor will it give a person true satisfaction. What will give a person true satisfaction? What is true satisfaction? Peace and comfort in life? Confidence and security? Being loved by a spouse or family? A lot of soul-searching going on around me lately.