How to Let Go of the Mid-Career Crisis Guilt

a woman stressed at work


Becca Carnahan
Becca Carnahan1.05k
Career Coach & Mom of 2

You’ve heard of the mid-life crisis, but how about the mid-career crisis? And taking that one step further, feeling guilty about a mid-career crisis. Let’s paint the picture.

Sarah graduated college at age 22 and launched her career at a large consumer goods company. Now 15 years later, Sarah’s life has changed a lot — marriage, kids, new interests, new goals - and something is missing in her career. A lot is missing actually, and she doesn’t like her job anymore.

The big roadblock in Sarah’s way of finding career fulfillment is that she feels guilty about wanting to make a change. 

  • She has spent so much time in this field, so she should stay, right? 

  • She invested in a marketing degree, so she should stick with it, right? 

  • Her colleagues have helped her succeed at this company, so she owes it to them, right? 

  • Her kids need stability, so the only way to achieve that is to stick with her same career path, right?

Does Sarah’s story sound familiar? If so, let’s break down that mid-career crisis guilt and help you move forward.

Do the math.

One way to break down the mid-career crisis guilt is to take out your calculator and put some numbers around this. For Sarah, who began her career at 22 and plans to work until 65, how much of her career is behind her and how much is ahead?

With a 43-year projected career, only 35% of Sarah’s career has gone by. That means more than half, 65%, of Sarah’s career is ahead of her. That’s a huge percentage and a lot of years. In Sarah’s case, 28 years.

If you told your childhood self that you were planning on being miserable and not doing anything about it for 28 years, just imagine how baffled she would be!

Putting some numbers around the problem can be really clarifying and help you realize that spending a relatively short period of time making a career pivot is worth it in the long run.

The changing job market.

Now let’s shift gears and recognize that the job market is changing, so changing right along with it is not selfish — it’s smart.

When Sarah graduated, her marketing degree was well aligned with a role in traditional consumer packaged goods, so that’s where she went. However, since that time whole new industries, companies, and functions have emerged and Sarah’s experience is well aligned to add value. 

For example, because she is great at understanding customers and loves that part of her work, she could bring great perspective to a customer success role at a well-funded healthy food startup. Or perhaps Sarah is amazing at marketing data analytics and she moves into a data-driven strategy role at an EdTech company.

When you step back and realize where your skills could not only transfer but add immense value, you can start shedding the guilt of “not sticking with what you started with” and embrace the fact that you can evolve right alongside an evolving economy.

Choose who is in the room.

A big factor in mid-career crisis guilt is letting too many people into the room — and by this, I mean the room in your head.

I’d advise our friend Sarah to ask herself who is in the room (read: influencing her) when she’s making career choices and who really should be. As an adult with family and responsibilities, her choices are not hers alone and she should be considering how her decisions impact others. However, not everyone’s opinion is created equal in this situation and not everyone gets to stay in the room.

Back to you! While mentors have helped you grow in your career up to this point, they don’t get to decide your next step and most likely they don’t want to. Your parent's expectations for your career may have influenced your earlier choices, but now it’s up to you to re-evaluate. Your coworker who loves her job isn’t you!

Take an honest assessment of who you are letting influence your choices or emotions around your career, and who really should get a say.

Think of the kids.

One of the reasons Sarah is feeling guilty about making a career change is that she wants to provide stability for her children and staying in the same job checks that box.

It’s great that Sarah knows one of the key factors that is important to her — stability. But could she find even greater stability at another company that offers better health benefits, more room for advancement, increased compensation, and a remote work environment that lets her be more present at home? Possibly! And how cool is that!

Sarah doesn’t have to feel guilty about making a mid-career change as long as she has thought through the criteria necessary for this change to make sense for her personal and professional happiness. Once she’s clear on that — she can make a clear-headed decision about the next chapter of her career.

Mid-career crisis guilt, be gone!

Is it always easy to make a mid-career shift? No! It takes work to define what you want and need from your career, identify and market your transferable skills, and expand your existing network.

But remember that this is the best kind of work, the work that is going to benefit you and your loved ones because you’re investing now to reap the rewards for years to come. Mid-career crisis guilt, be gone!

Still nervous? I get it! Dip your toe in the water of change with this free training for mid-career parents on how to make a career change without endlessly scrolling job boards.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Becca Carnahan is a career coach, author, and mom from Massachusetts. As the founder and CEO of Next Chapter Careers, LLC, she specializes in helping parents land fulfilling jobs they love without giving up the flexibility they need. Signup for her free job search training at

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for letting go of career guilt? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!