Once you are in your forties, you are in a unique time in your adult life. Some mornings you wake up wondering, "Is this all there is?" Other times you feel a sense of gratitude and excitement at the possibilities! You realize that you are in a position to focus your time and energy on things that really matter to you.
Your desire to experience a sense of purpose and meaning in your life and your work is amplified…and you may feel an almost unstoppable urge to connect with yourself and your career in a deeper, more meaningful way as you are navigating midlife. At the core is a realization that you have finally arrived at a place of "Me Time".
And, given that people are, in general, living longer lives, this prime-time of your life can be decades long! You can explore multiple careers and live a long and full life that is healthy, vibrant and exciting.
While midlife is a normal stage in adult development, it can be a confusing and challenging time for many women. And, because senior executive and professional women are visible to so many, responsible for so much, and may have few, if any, confidants in the workplace, it can be a difficult experience. You have a lot on your plate and now you are perhaps feeling:
• your skills are underutilized
• curious and excited about the future and what you might be doing
• getting used to an "empty nest" and looking to exercise some new-found freedom, time and energy
Let’s take a look at these developmental stages. There are five primary stages and to make things more confusing, the journey through these stages is usually nonlinear with overlaps and switchbacks along the way. Many aspects of the journey are reminiscent of adolescence and are referred to as middlescence - essentially adolescence with the benefit of some wisdom and life experience. There are a lot of highs and lows along the way so having some guideposts along the way helps!
The first stage of midlife, Accommodation, overlaps with your late 30’s. As a young professional you struggle to find the balance between looking for mentors and peers for guidance and examples, and your own instincts and sense of self. These are feelings that women struggle with in young adulthood and that continue throughout your life and career while you are working on defining your success. As you climb the ladder to that success you usually tend to define it by the expectations and the accomplishments of others.
The next stage is Separation. In this early period of the midlife journey, you begin to distance from what others seem to want from you and reject the “accommodated self”. This can manifest as a bit of acting out, or at least the impulse to do so. Remember that time of wanting to become “the boss of me” during your adolescence? Not everyone experiences this as what they would consider to be a “crisis” but it can be a bit of a challenge as your attention turns from what others want you to do and be to what you want to do and be.
The next two stages comprise some really juicy times of midlife! Liminality or “being at a threshold” can be a very uncomfortable or unsettling time. It can also be a time a great spaciousness and exploration. To me, this and the next stage can be the most interesting stages of the midlife journey and where I focus a lot of my work with clients. You may feel restless and without direction. Some of my clients struggle at stage and need help avoiding rash or hasty decisions like quitting a job prematurely or jumping into a new opportunity without clearly understanding the consequences. I call this “being out of sight of land and hunting for a horizon”. If you can go with the flow, you can move into greater intimacy with your true self and move into a deeper, more aware relationship with yourself. You might also find that you are experiencing some deep grieving for what you let go of, rejected, or lost during the time of “separation” including your sense of what your youth was. You may begin to confront your mortality and a hunger for deeper meaning and purpose in your life.
This is the “Is This All There Is?” moment in your life when you tend to ask:
• Am I in the right position?
• Am I in the right organization?
• Am I in the right career?
• Am I in the right relationship?
• Do I want to leave my job and start something completely different?
• Do I want to run away all by myself to a distant land far, far away?
Having someone who knows the territory and can guide you can be crucial.
Then - welcome to Reintegration. This is the time for gaining clarity about who you are now and becoming comfortable with that emerging identity. This can be a time of extreme creativity and entertaining lots of new ideas about what you want to do and contribute to the world. New adventures are sought and experienced; different aspects of yourself are revealed and welcomed or rejected. This is a time when you come back to solid ground. You examine what you want your life to look like at this stage. You will tend to make decisions and moves to new choices. You will take concrete steps toward those things that give you a sense of purpose and deeper meaning in your life. My clients appreciate our partnership in creating a clear and strong action plan and then the support of being held accountable to that plan.
Individuation, the final stage in the midlife journey, is one of recognizing and integrating the various conflicts that have existed within you and appreciating achieving a balance between them. It is here that you come to accept all of who you really are - limitations and all. This is a celebratory time with my clients as they redefine "what is success?"
By the way, this all is happening while you are living your busy, demanding, stressful life at home and at work. And likely, this is all happening while your hormones are going crazy with peri-menopause - giving you hot flashes, sleepless nights, fatigue, migraines, fog brain…
Are you looking for a lighthouse to guide your journey? Contact me!
I am Dr. Barbara Mark, an executive, career development and life strategies coach for professional women in their 40s, 50s and 60s - the prime of life and the most dynamic decades of your professional life! If you would like some support in your career and/or your life please feel free to schedule a free consultation with me or sign up for my newsletter.
San Francisco Bay Area