A recent story in Career Journal begins:
"The "midlife crisis" has long been thought of as something that afflicts men and often involves expensive toys and second wives. But the Wall Street Journal's Work & Family columnist, Sue Shellenbarger, says that as gender roles change, women are increasingly experiencing their own version of these upheavals."
I've certainly seen evidence of this in my own work as a personal development and business coach. My practice is comprised primarily of women and although it tends to be my male clients who volunteer the term "mid-life crisis". When describing their current state, however, the women are certainly running a parallel course.
What constitutes a crisis?
For many, it appears to be a realization that life is finite. The older we get, the more we are apt to say, "Wow, this summer FLEW by!" "Where did the month go?!" And then friends start to lose parents. I personally know of 35 deaths this year! Two of my clients have lost parents just this week. At some point the awareness dawns on you. It's not the month or the season that is flying by. It's your LIFE!
What do you do with that realization?
The Chinese symbol for "crisis" combining "danger" and "opportunity" could not be more appropriate. The fact that many people at mid-life have accumulated the skills, financial cushion and talent to make true consideration of career and life style changes possible is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The trickiest part for both the men and the women that I have spoken with appears to be in making the distinction between a "risk" and a "gamble".
How can you tell the difference?
Simply stated, a risk is calculated. You know you could lose, but you are able to take an educated guess as to what is at stake and how the loss could impact you. Having a "worst case scenario" in mind helps you to know what kind of safety net needs to be in place in order to make a mid-life transition possible. Analysis of the situation with a confidante or coach also helps an individual differentiate between psychological "heebie jeebies" and rational fears that need to be taken into consideration. Very difficult questions are faced directly and no actions are taken until careful consideration of the answers.
What if I do lose my job? Could we still survive?
What if my new business fails?
How bad would it be if we did have to sell our home?
Will my family allow for a change of lifestyle in order for me to try to make my dream come true?
A gamble, on the other hand is impulsive and often based on emotional needs rather than logical analysis of a situation leaving one vulnerable to losing more than one can afford. Unfortunately we have some cultural beliefs that can seduce people into taking leaps that they can ill afford. "Build it and they will come" is a common mantra in this set.
Can you always know what is a gamble and what is a risk?
This is a hard one for people who are facing significant burn out and who have begun to feel desperate in their circumstances. Many times I have listened to people fantasize about the choice words they will use when they quit their job. (I was one, myself!). Some people are so afraid that they won't get family support to make a big change that they try to do it with no one noticing. As a result, they avoid difficult conversations about needed changes in family spending habits to build a cushion or anticipated changes in roles to allow for a return to school.
The key is to recognize burn out and desperation before it becomes intolerable and to pay attention to that little voice that keeps whispering in your ear that maybe there is a different road you should be on. If it's too late, and you don't feel like you can stand your situation any longer, it's critical to take your self care seriously and implement some stress management strategies to help you get your focus back so you can lay a solid foundation for what could be one of the most interesting and exciting chapters of your life.
Laura Young is a personal development and business coach. She is a contributing author to A Guide to Getting It: Purpose and Passion and Become Your Own Great and Powerful: A Woman's Guide to Leading a Real, Big Life. She has recently been featured on By, For and About Women and Artists First Radio. To learn more about her, visit http://www.wellspringcoaching.com
To visit Laura's blog, visit http://antwatching.blogspot.com