How to Avoid Mid-Career Doldrums: Rediscover the Joy of Learning

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If you’re an experienced professional, once-exciting work can start to feel like a daily grind. You know your job inside and out, few things about it engage you, and fewer yet offer inspiration to perform at your best.

This slump can be especially dispiriting if you love your organization and are invested in its success. Jumping ship—possibly the quickest way to shake things up—isn’t really an appealing option.

We spend so much time at the office or working after hours, that job unhappiness can easily affect our non-work lives, too. If you don’t think you need to make a change for yourself, consider doing it for your loved ones.

From professional development to personal growth

What if I told you that going back to school for even a couple of days could give you just the boost you need? I am not talking about college or an advanced degree—you probably have those already—but simply attending a professional development course can provide you with the ideas, tools, and techniques that can help you rediscover your passions and purpose and ways to achieve them.

Some professions require continuing education for its members to keep in good standing skills-wise and legally. Medical doctors, school teachers, architects, and even hairstylists, among others, all take a number of classes a year to maintain their licenses. Sure, these classes tend to be more skills-focused and cater to highly specific professions, but they also provide less tangible benefits like staying connected to a professional community, learning from experts in the field, and keeping abreast with the latest advances and best practices in the profession.

Making a time investment in yourself

In fields where licensure is not required, professional development is often an afterthought or a “nice to have,” and, if unaddressed, can lead to deepening job dissatisfaction. Business is one of those fields. As a mid-career executive or senior manager, you are probably thinking that you can’t afford the luxury of time to invest in your own professional growth. You may go to industry conferences or networking events when you can or when you have to, but these activities are not designed to re-ignite your passion for your work or equip you with enhanced tools and techniques to be more effective.

Executive education, on the other hand, is a way to cultivate the skills and the mindset you need as a mid-career professional to continue to do the job and the work you love.

Course content can range from general management subjects to more specific topics like law or digital marketing or international trade. The course material is developed and presented by knowledgeable faculty who give you the latest insights into your field.

Your fellow learners are people who bring the same level of experience to the conversation, giving you the opportunity to learn from peers in other industries. And last but not least, being out of the office for a couple days and away from distractions, can be incredibly refreshing.

Rediscovering your purpose

As the associate dean of Executive Education at MIT Sloan School of Management, I am in the fortunate position to be exposed to all the great learning and ideas in our executive education programs. We have over forty to choose from, but it’s impossible for me to attend anonymously. Yet, getting fresh ideas and new perspectives are important to me, so I also look further afield to find that inspiration.

This is why I find attending conferences and workshops like FRED Forum fulfilling, rewarding, and highly inspiring. FRED Forum is an annual event that brings together leading innovators and senior executives responsible for developing leaders from the business, education, social and government sectors. I make a point of attending it every year, and each time I leave with a lot of new ideas and the energy to implement them as soon as I get back to my office.

Last year’s theme was Purpose. On the first day of the conference, Richard Leider, a renowned executive life-coach and author, guided us through a workshop on how to identify and articulate our individual purpose in life. An interesting experiment in self-reflection, it was no small task by any measure. While each person’s purpose is a deeply personal matter, Leider pointed us in a general direction of leading a meaningful life by growing and giving, as people and as leaders in our fields. Of course, having a clear purpose does not guarantee that you will succeed, but striving in the right direction will get you closer to leading a fulfilling life. Leider returned to FRED this year, along with an array of equally impressive speakers and facilitators, and the amazing community of leadership development professionals and business leaders.

Choosing what’s right for you

Just like picking the best college to attend, finding educational experiences later in life that are meaningful and effective for you personally is key. Granted, events like FRED Forum or TED conference tend to be about big, inspirational ideas, and if that’s not your thing, there are many more practical options out there. Executive education could mean anything from classes at your local business school or university up to travelling to one of the top schools that you wouldn’t have thought to attend—but now, with executive education, you can! And if you’re lucky enough to have one of these schools right in your city—don’t wait, check out their calendar and sign up.

Some people have found such an oasis in MIT Sloan and keep coming back year after year, either taking classes or working toward an Executive Certificate—a popular option for professionals who are committed to lifelong learning. Others we know like to sample across a whole range of offerings. (Of course, they always tell us that ours is the best!) Whichever route you take, continuing your professional growth through education will always keep your thinking fresh, make your day-to-day more exciting, and make you a nicer person to be around.

Peter Hirst leads the team of professionals who partner with clients and faculty at the MIT Sloan School of Management to develop, design and deliver innovative executive education programs for individuals and companies. Here are 7 books that the faculty at MIT Sloan recommend.  

4 Proven Techniques to Grow Your Greatest Asset

 

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Some time ago I wasn’t confident in myself, didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted in life and I wasn’t moving forward. I was constantly feeling insecure, had doubts and fears, and these prevented me from taking action.

I was also seeking happiness from external sources, trying to go after many things at once (the wrong approach!) and do what others expected me to do (to be accepted and liked).

But all that led to unhappiness. Nothing really felt right no matter how much I followed conventional wisdom. I was investing time in all these little struggles when in fact I should have been fixing my relationship with myself.

Because I am my biggest asset.

And I realized that the only way to build wealth and live a happy and meaningful life is to keep learning and growing spiritually.

That was a big realization. And a much needed one. Once I asked myself what I really wanted, kept my why in mind, stopped listening to others and connected with my inner self instead – great changes started happening in every area of my life.

So if you’ve been neglecting yourself in some way and wonder why you’re not living a better life, here are some ideas to keep in mind:

1. Understand that you are your biggest asset

Be aware of the powers within you first. That simple thought will keep you motivated and consistent on your journey to personal development. It will also give you the confidence you need to take action, without listening to the naysayers. Remember to visualize your success.

If you think about it, all this makes things so much easier. I, like many others, was trying to find assets in outer things in life. I felt under pressure, struggle and disappointment because of the lack of progress. All this because I was looking in the wrong place.

All the answers were inside me. And yours too can be found deep within.

All we need is already here. We just need to get clear about it and go after it.

2. Start doing work you’re passionate about

One of the greatest ways to find contentment, contribute to the world and be productive, is to do work that matters, work we’re passionate about and work we are already good at.

That’s why defining your passion is a crucial step to greatness. It’s what will turn your life around once you find and follow it.

However, many people aren’t sure what that is, don’t know where to look, or are convinced that they don’t have a passion.

Don’t worry, we are all passionate about at least one thing and our passion has already found us. We just need to see it between the distractions in daily life.

Analyze how you spend your time daily. See what topic you love talking about and what you can be doing for hours without getting exhausted. Look for signs of enthusiasm and increased energy and focus when you’re doing a particular thing.

Your passion doesn’t need to be obvious, like painting or writing. It can be the way you do things – maybe you like to teach others or give advice, or make their life easier in some way.

Whatever it is, your path will be a lot clearer once you define what you love doing. Then, your job will be to follow it and find a way to turn it into your career.

3. Improve your focus

Productivity is the ability to fully engage in one activity and get it done in a shorter period of time. That’s a skill that can be learned and improved over time. It’s really powerful as it saves us time and guarantees quality results.

So take small steps daily towards finding focus.

Here are some habits to develop:

  1. Do one thing at a time – stop multitasking.
  2. Eliminate distractions you can control – tell people not to bother you while you’re working, put your phone away, don’t indulge in emails and social media in that time and let go of random thoughts about the past and future. Just be present.
  3. Find your most productive time – for everyone that’s a different part of the day. Defining and making the most of yours will double your productivity.
  4. Say NO to more things.

If you find what you love doing the most, and wake up an hour earlier every day, for example, just to do some focused work on an idea connected to your passion project, you’ll soon get closer to leaving your job because of it. Big things start small. If you hustle on the side first, results and opportunities will come pretty soon.

4. Grow your strengths

One of the mistakes I made was concentrating on trying to fix my weaknesses.

Big mistake on my part!

Don’t be like me.

Instead, spend time getting better at what you’re already good at. That’s a great investment with a lot of potential.

Everyone has weaknesses. But it’s pointless to try to turn them into something useful, while we can get better and faster results growing our strengths.

So define what you’re good at and go master it.

Following the advice above will lead to other amazing changes too.

You’ll be a better leader by becoming the best version of yourself and become a role model to others.

You’ll contribute to the world by doing your best work. This will be your legacy too.

In time, you’ll feel so good about yourself knowing you’re growing your biggest asset and seeing all these results both on the inside and in your life. That will create happiness and confidence within yourself.

Eventually, you’ll build wealth, live happier, and build great relationships. And that won’t happen by taking something from others. Just the opposite. You’ll use your own resources and constantly be on the grow.

So what about you? What step can you take today towards growing your biggest asset?

Sarah Williams is a Berlin based lifestyle blogger, passionate about self-development. She believes that true happiness stems from controlling your body with your mind and maintaining happy relationships. Sarah shares her thoughts at Wingman Magazine.

Alternative Sleep Cycles to Improve Quality of Work and Life

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On average, we sleep for almost one third of our life. That’s a lot of time, if you think about it.

Now, imagine if that time was spent doing, constructive and useful things like making breakthroughs in scientific research, discovering the secrets of black holes or watching Gossip Girl reruns in your pajamas (We aren’t judging).
Want to maximize your potential during your awake time?

Well, read on!

I’m going to give you a crash course on all things sleep cycle related, looking at which one works best for your occupation.

The key is that hours of sleep do not equate to the amount of rest your mind and body gets. There are a lot of factors at play. Quality of sleep is one but most important is time spent in REM (random eye movement) sleep. So you can get more rest with fewer hours spent sleeping.

The monophasic sleep cycle

For most of us, our sleep cycle is monophasic. As the name suggests, we go to sleep at night for around 6-7 hours and then wake up in the morning. We stay awake for around 17-18 hours each day.

Forty-five to 55% of a typical monophasic cycle is spent in light sleep and only about 20% of the time is spent in deep sleep. The majority of us follow this monophasic sleep cycle. This is your garden-variety sleep cycle, pretty tame stuff, yawn.

Polyphasic sleep cycles

Did you know that there is also something called polyphasic sleep cycles? And, that there are four types? Some people actually DO sleep more than once every day and (if done right) they are better off for it. In fact, companies in Japan encourage their workers to sleep on the job!

Yes, you read that right. Workers are encouraged to take 20-30 minute power naps if they are feeling sleepy.1 Employers believe that it enhances their productivity and efficiency and improves their quality of work. Keep that little trivia fact to casually mention to your boss next time you are getting chewed out for dozing on the clock.

Planning sleep for productivity and efficiency

When and how we sleep is not something to be taken lightly as it affects our productivity and efficiency at work. Just like in Japan, a lot of research is being done on Polyphasic sleep cycles globally, as they are related to increased workplace efficiency.

So, here are the four Polyphasic cycles and how they affect your body and increase your efficiency. These cycles are very carefully tailored to match the healthy human body and its highs and lows, and used by some high performing individuals that have stressful, time constrained jobs.

The Biphasic Cycle total hours slept

For this cycle you need to sleep twice a day, Get 5-6 hours of sleep at night and then take a nap at midday. Adhering to the biphasic sleeping cycle improves cognitive and memory function and reduces stress. It is ideal for people who work multiple shifts or, desk jobs that involve complex calculations. It is also a very effective sleep cycle for students, especially during exam week crunch time.

The Everyman Cycle

Don’t get fooled by the name, it’s not to be taken literally. It may sound like this cycle is for every man, however, If you want to follow this cycle, you need to get 3.5 hours of core sleep daily and three 20 minute power naps during the day.

This cycle has the least sleeping hours at a stretch and you get to spend the maximum time awake. If you have upcoming projects or deadlines that you have to meet, this cycle is best for you. Naps will keep you refreshed and the lower core sleep duration will give you maximum time to focus on your work.

This cycle can be viable for a senior manager at a busy workplace, financial analysts who have to keep tabs in real time on different world markets and even programmers working across different time zones who are awake at odd hours.

The Dymaxion Cycle

One of the most difficult cycles to adopt since it consists of a total of four 30-minute naps throughout the day. That equals to just two hours of sleep per day. Whew!

This cycle is perfect for the people who don’t require much sleep and can stay awake for longer periods of time without it affecting their productivity.

This is sometimes necessary for high-stress professions like doctors dealing with emergency rooms, air traffic controllers, or other professions where being available and alert is crucial and may even mean the difference between life and death.

The Uberman Cycle

Start taking 30 minute naps after 4 hours and Voila! You are now following the Uberman sleep cycle.
This cycle is most suitable for people whose activities do not last more than 3 hours. Pilots and long haul truck drivers can benefit from this, taking a short nap after each stretch to keep them alert and avoid risking bungling up important operations due to lack of sleep.

Musicians and entertainers can also make use of this cycle. It gives you the flexibility to perform acts and gigs throughout the day. The short naps keep you fresh and relaxed, for a brilliant performance.

The most common and approachable Polyphasic cycle is the Biphasic sleep cycle. You might have used this without even realizing it. Students follow this cycle most often.

Needless to say, this is the most recommended cycle to improve productivity and efficiency at work.

The Uberman is another commonly attempted (and most commonly failed sleep cycle). Many who attempt this cycle don’t realize how difficult this is to adapt to it, with your body only adapting over time.

The Dymaxion sleep cycle is also seen as a cycle that increases alertness.

Apps to monitor your sleep

There are a lot of mobile and smart wear apps available which monitor your sleep. With these, you can figure out which sleep cycle suits you best.

These apps monitor your movement to track the stages of sleep. With the importance of creativity and intellect today, creative and alert minds are often the difference between a successful or a failed project. Creativity needs fertile ground to breed.

Polyphasic sleeping has highlighted the way sleep cycles affect work performance and efficiency. It gives the brain the right amount of sleep at the right time, increasing alertness and productivity.

So if your regular sleeping cycle isn’t working for you, try something different. But be warned, it takes a little patience and discipline, which can go a long way to optimizing your sleep.

Ali Jan Qadir is fascinated by sleep, a boring subject but this idle act is crucial for an enriched life. He regularly writes about effects of sleep on work performance and quality of life. Follow him on twitter @alijqadir