Whatever the merits of individualism and its contribution to human freedom and social progress, it comes at a price...:alienation from others and its emotional consequences - loneliness and confusion. Perhaps what's worse, is when the drive of individualism is used for purposes that are not even true to your deepest aspirations and talent.
The downside of individualism...
This is the point at which you may wake up in your career and wonder what it's all for. Hitting career milestones and receiving accolades may be pleasant but the positive impact is usually short lived.
Career crisis in the mid-thirties to mid-fifties is a relatively widely recognised phenomenon (although poorly addressed, let alone prevented). Research suggests that it is more common than we might think and may be a function of life-stage and/or the way organisations function (or rather don't function). See this Harvard Business Review article.
As a high performer, you may be encouraged or even goaded along a path that uses your cognitive abilities and competitive spirit but may neglect your creative, collaborative and intuitive side. This can create a sense of frustration, confusion and a deep yearning for "freedom".
The way out: three paths...
If you find yourself in this situation, you will be called to making some decisions and take real responsibility. You may even realise how sheltered your life and career has been which can take time to digest.
Everyone is different in terms of their situation, personality and capacity/resilience. No path is better than any other provided, you are honest with yourself about your reasons.
1) You can stay where you are. Research suggests that career satisfaction drops in our thirties and rises again in our fifties. So you could just ride it out.
2) Make adjustments within your current situation to do more or what you like and less of what you don't like. This is a low risk, incremental approach.
3) Jump into the unknown. This is the most risky and unpredictable path but plenty of people have taken it. The "unknown" will be different for each of you and is informed by a passion of some kind that you haven't had the courage or time to do something about until now.
The most important principle is to be honest with yourself and know why you are doing what you are doing and why you might want to do something different.
The power of "why" and the bigger picture: using felt sense versus logic
Simon Sinek, who wrote the oft cited book Start with Why, in which he exposes organisations for focusing on the "how" and the "what" and missing the "why" that people crave both as employees and clients of the organisations.
He did gave an insightful talk at the RSA last month (on the same day as the launch of the RSA Coaching Network which I take as a good omen). He addressed some of the frustrations employers might have with millennials, who have a growing reputation for being unmotivated by traditional incentives and much more attached to doing meaningful work. See here for the talk
Contrary to more rationalist approaches (that recommend having solid, logical reasons for finding your career path), the more intuitive school of thought would say that once you've reached a felt sense (a term coined by Eugene Gendlin) indicating that a particular choice or next step is what you MUST do, then you have found that elusive why/purpose that so many seek. I try to explain how to use this felt sense (sometimes equated with intuition) for career decisions below.
Everything else you do from then on is the practical steps to ensure that you can look after your needs and make the transition with integrity, etc. From a motivational perspective Tony Robbins often says that you get your MUSTS not your SHOULDS.
The "felt sense" that your decision is the right one is a shortcut to that thing that is greater than yourself. On the outside it might look like a cause, a person, an ideal, a philosophy, etc. but these are just the external manifestation of the bigger context that is right for you (which may look like a mission statement/big intention and a set of values). It's a sense that you are doing what you are meant to be doing within a bigger ecosystem that transcends organisations, professions, disciplines, etc. That's why disconnecting from day-to-day life, relaxing and spending time in nature can ignite this sense of the "right next step. I reconnects us to our deeper intelligence and intuition.
Tony Robbins talks about passion. Eckhart Tolle talks about the stream, others talk about the flow of life and the life impulse that animates the universe. This is the deeper current of life that we are an integral part of. Our overactive minds and ego constructs can get in the way but we can tap into the flow at any time and find new pointers on our path, with a little practice and help if necessary.