Mid-30s angst – there’s no cure for it except age

Workers in their mid-30s are far less content than older employees.

The UK’s Vodafone survey has found that older workers are happier than younger ones.

Apparently, those over 65 are the happiest of all, while those aged 30-45 are the most likely to suffer from ‘mid-career depression’.

The differences between age groups shown in the report are quite striking – 97 per cent of workers over 65 feel ‘enabled at their jobs’, and 70 per cent of those aged 50 and over said they were fulfilled in their work. But only 50 per cent of 25-31-year-olds could say the same thing.

The 31-35-year-olds are the most negative, with 59 per cent of them feeling undervalued, 49 per cent of them saying they are unfulfilled and around 43 per cent being actively ‘demotivated’.

The report concludes that an "inevitable disillusionment" appears to strike workers as they reach their 30s.

Nick Rand of Opinion Leader, one of the firms that conducted the study, said: "Our research showed that Generation Y (those born after 1980) is highly ambitious and wants to succeed in a shorter time span than ever. But with these new, higher expectations comes the risk of greater disappointment." It leads, he says to: "a feeling of mid-career depression brought on by the pressures of the family-life stage.

"This consensus did not come only from those currently in their early 30s but also from those more contented workers in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have emerged on the other side. By most, it is seen as inevitable."

I well remember that feeling of depression at work in my early 30s, that feeling of who am I and what the hell am I doing?

After studying hard at school and college, and gaining qualifications – playing the career game the way you’re meant to – I excitedly entered the jobforce in my early 20s. Pretty quickly, I found that it was pants – you’re ordered around by complete jobs-worths and given all the menial tasks to do. But you’re young, you’re fancy-free, you can live on a low salary because you have no commitments and you work your way through it.

By the time you hit your 30s, you’ve had a few promotions and you’re into buying cars and houses and owning things, you expect there to be some sort of reward. 

But there isn’t. This is the stage that it dawns on you that this is what you were struggling to obtain, and maybe it’s as good as it gets. For every 20 workers there’s only one manager. You thought you’d be that manager, but maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll just be a drone like everyone else. Maybe you won’t make the board of directors. Maybe, just maybe, life won’t be all it was cracked up to be.

I didn’t have children, and for child-free people it’s bad enough, but anyone who becomes a parent quickly finds that the working world doesn’t give a stuff if you feel lousy while you’re pregnant or Jimmy’s got flu today and you have to stay home. Devoting too much time to your family will cost you promotion, preferment and God knows what else, and as a woman, all that equality you thought you had counts for diddly squat – nine times out of ten it’ll still be you that gets to take an unpaid day off work. 

Meanwhile, men who married women who were equals can often find themselves becoming traditional breadwinners in a way they hadn’t anticipated. Once you get up to two kids, childcare probably costs more than one salary and couples either find themselves working long hours to pay for it or bite the bullet and one of them stays home (usually her). Trapped between up-and-comers on the rungs below, all of them packed with energy and enthusiasm, and career wallahs on the ladder above, keen to hold onto their positions, it can leave men in their mid-30s with a gigantic feeling of ‘is this it?’ Life in these years is a struggle.

But the truth is, yes, it probably is ‘it’. It’s in realising this – in accepting that maybe you’ll never set the world alight after all and the best you can do is to provide for you and yours, that those of us in our 40s, and moving on into the 50s and 60s mellow out. By this age, we have learned a few tough lessons about life and the disappointments it affords. And we’ve learned to enjoy the quiet pleasures of having a loving spouse, kids that don’t care how important you are, a coterie of sound friendships. 

I think that’s a lesson that only comes with time, though, and the only cure for the mid-30s angst is to grow older. But they’ll manage it, poor loves. After all, the rest of us have. 

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