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  • Judy Sims

What the Hell Happens at Age 38?

Soneeka feels stuck. She knows she could be doing more. She just doesn’t know what she should be doing more of. She used to know exactly what he wanted. But lately, she’s felt a creeping malaise sucking all the energy and joy out of his life.

Hearing all this in our first coaching session, I ask her, “Is there any chance you’re 38?”.

“How’d you know?” she responded.

Clarissa has been with her current employer for seven years. She’s good at her job. She has good relationships with her colleagues. She’s in a good marriage and has two good kids. Yup, it’s all good. It’s just not how she envisioned her life. Or maybe it is. She doesn’t know anymore. Should she look for a new job? No. With two small kids, this isn’t the right time. Or is it? All she knows for sure is that she’s bored, stressed, and frustrated.

Hearing all this in our first coaching session, I ask her, “Is there any chance you’re 38?”.

“How’d you know?” she responded.

Over the past seven years as a coach, I’ve developed a strange little party-trick of sorts. In ten minutes or less, I can guess when someone is 38, even over the phone, having never laid eyes on them.

How am I able to do this?


When I was writing the Unstuck Leader, I interviewed 100 people about their experiences with being stuck and getting unstuck. And sure enough, of the interviewees who experienced a major incidence of stuckness, the average age of its onset was 38. And now in my coaching practice, I see the same thing.

These findings are consistent with loads of academic research. The most quoted study, published in 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that a person’s self-reported state of wellbeing drops beginning at age 38 and doesn’t begin to improve until age 53 or so. You can see it on the fun chart below.

Now here’s the good news. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m here to tell you that the years between 38 and 53 can be among the most interesting, challenging, creative, and generative years of your life. If, that is, you do the work to manage them effectively.

So, if you’re feeling bored, stalled, frustrated, and/or disconnected, take heart.

And then, take a step back to re-evaluate.

What’s most important to you?

What do you need?

What do you value?

Who do you want to be in this world?

And how do you want to act in this world?

From this place of grounding, you will begin to identify the limiting patterns of belief and behavior that have been holding you back. As you let go of those patterns, you will find it easier to open to new ideas, people, and situations.

Your focus in life will shift away from limitations and toward possibilities. You will apply for that big job, go for that promotion, launch that project, or start that new business. You will most definitely feel unstuck.

The best part is your new actions will be aligned with your values and purpose. And because of this you will reach new heights of growth and achievement.

And then one day, you’ll feel stuck again, because that’s how life works. But this time, you’ll know what to do. You’ll take another step back and do another re-valuation. You’ll grow and change and get stuck and re-evaluate several times throughout your adult life.

And what a good life it will be, because you were willing to do the work to make it so.


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