The Female Midlife Crisis
Join us for our GirlsGone50 Unfiltered Salon with midlife career expert, Dr. Barbara Mark, in LA on October 12, 3-5 PM
Whether you're going through a life transition or a career challenge, Barbara Mark, Ph.D., has worked for decades with women in their 40s through 70s, many of them senior level executives, to listen, guide, support, and cajoles them to clarity and decisive action; fulfillment and deep satisfaction. She is a recognized expert on the psychology of women, the stages of adult development and how these stages impact career development and leadership in women.
We spoke to Barbara about modern midlife, navigating the female midlife crisis, and dealing with menopause in the workplace.
GG50: How would you define the Female Midlife Crisis?
Barbara: It‘s the point at which we confront the question: “What is my life purpose?” Partly because of the realization that there is only so much time in our lives and partly because of the fluctuation of hormones, women can go through this with feelings of deep grief and loss – loss of people in our lives, loss of youth, changes in energy levels, loss of choices no longer possible, and maybe regrets about choices made.
This can feel like a crisis. Trust me—it resolves and the fear diminishes. In the midst of all of this, there comes a feeling of rebirth. You wake up one morning hungry, maybe ravenous, for something new.
There is a wonderful mix of feelings such as curiosity, passion, restlessness, ambition, and a bit of fear. While it may feel confusing, it is exciting, because there is a willingness to take that journey into the unknown and paddle your boat to a shore that is just now becoming visible.
There are important choices to be made and they will be the guiding forces for the rest of your life. It is an important time to seek support and make this a fruitful experience.
GG50: Many of us are becoming empty-nesters, losing a spouse or partner to divorce or death, experiencing a career road-block, or the loss of one or both parents. How do we keep it together?
Barbara: Midlife is a time of loss. We may lose family members. We may also lose friends who decide to go off in their own new directions. This, of course, provokes that confrontation with mortality and the possibility of deep sadness, if not outright depression.
This can be complicated by the physical, emotional and psychological accompaniments of perimenopause. Failing memory, lack of concentration, migraines, hot flashes, night sweats, crying spells, irritability and rage hardly make a woman feel creative and successful.
Along with these symptoms may come feelings of boredom with life, career, friends, or spouse. Many of us at this time want nothing more than to move into a cottage by the ocean with a good glass of wine, a good book and their cat or dog. This is a definite “Eat, Pray, Love” moment.
But as we let go of what has become familiar and move toward what is to be, we experience both a loss and an incredible craving. We grieve the loss of the patterns and the roles we have had in our lives up to this point, while we long for and connect with a new and deeper sense of meaning.
Midlife is not all doom and gloom of loss and decay. It is simply a transition time in our lives that leads to a newly experienced vitality, shifts in priorities that open our hearts and minds to a different sense of what we are capable of and wish to create.
GG50: How can we feel like accomplished women instead of old women at work?
Barbara: For many women, midlife is the beginning of feeling irrelevant. Even women who have reached the seeming pinnacle of their careers face the question, “Is this all there is?”
We begin to feel old as we notice not being noticed and valued, feel a difference in energy, and view endless media messages about how to look and feel younger. We are concerned with feeling the need to keep up with younger co-workers so as to not be discounted. As elders, we are not valued and revered for wisdom born of life experience and broad institutional knowledge that can be used to create success for a company and to mentor younger women to be great and confident leaders.
Fortunately, women do have more peer support these days. We’re feeling a sense of power about what we have accomplished and a freedom that comes from having proven oneself. There can also be feelings of restlessness that lead to an urge to do something more, something different, something that will leave evidence that we were here and mattered.
“Me time” is an absolute necessity. We need time to reflect, to listen to our inner voice, to explore our passions and gain clarity about our next steps. Getting together with other women to get support, share insights and develop strategies is important; it is another good way to take that needed “me time.” The relationships we develop in a small group environment can be a gift as we go through this self-redefining process.
GG50: Menopause in and out of the workplace is also a uniquely female midlife challenge.
Barbara: There are about 32 million women in the US workforce who are between the ages of 45 and 64. Eighty percent of those women will experience symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Of that, 25% will experience symptoms so severe they will consider quitting their jobs.
Many women don’t know enough about menopause to know how to best prepare themselves so that it is better manageable. Many women don’t know what perimenopause is and don’t know how to identify what is happening when it starts. And, many women don’t know how to manage the symptoms that they are experiencing when they are in perimenopause. Some of the symptoms can be scary and cause one to think that there is a serious medical problem.
Added to this, we live in a very youth obsessed culture and there is a lot of gendered ageism that women experience. Nothing says old woman like menopause in the minds of people in our communities and workplaces - including in our own minds!
As a result, there is a big stigma attached to being perimenopausal/menopausal. Most professional women are loathe to have anyone know that they are experiencing symptoms.
Many women who have a difficult time with symptoms are often seen by their teams/direct reports, their peers and their bosses as not performing well in any number of ways. This can be very damaging to your career.
What is a woman to do? Well, instead of hiding out or suffering, take care of yourself. Little things you can do on your own are:
Dress in layers to adjust for hot flashes
Don’t wear silk which holds in body heat. When you start sweating it can spell disaster
During a presentation always have a glass of ice water handy. Holding the glass as well as sipping the water can help cool you down
Avoid spicy foods and coffee which tend to bring on hot flashes
Get a small battery operated fan for your desk
These days, some managers both male and female are open to providing support when you need to come in a little late or take a “work from home” day when you are feeling exhausted or anxious.
Go for a short walk around the block - both a moment away and the opportunity for some deep breathing and a bit of exercise can help a lot.
For more more conversation with Barbara Mark, come to our Girls Gone 50 Unfiltered Salon on Saturday, October 12, 3-5 pm. Subscribe to our newsletter below to receive an invitation.