When people ask about my coaching practice, I usually tell them that I largely coach women in transition. Women who are moving from one job to another, or who are leaving careers to start businesses in midlife, or who are ready to take their existing businesses to the next level, empty-nesters, or the newly-divorced. Women who are restless, longing to actualize their dreams, or who are longing for an elusive ‘something’ and want clues to what it might be.
Often I coach women in organizations who are taking on leadership roles, or ready to stretch into new territory at work or in their personal lives.
The unique thing about working with these women is that almost universally, they are not only going through profound personal change, they are going through physical change as well.
Let me speak for myself here. I took up change coaching in my late forties, alongside an already thriving business as a communications consultant. In some ways it was a natural extension of the existing practice. At least it’s an arc I can trace – from initiating strategic communications plans, themselves a signal of organizational change, to getting leaders on board to support the strategies, to coaching the leaders and teams as they navigated the change.
But there was something else going on. There was a sea change in me. I took my coaching certification - a rigorous yearlong international program, while I was in the heart of peri-menopause.
I felt called to do something else, something new, something risky. I was restless. My hormones were telling me something.
A couple of years later, my coaching practice new and me still running a successful communications company, I underwent a full hysterectomy. This sent me into the advanced class menopause-wise. After I recovered from the surgery, my business went into dramatic acceleration – social media had arrived and my company was at the leading edge of this new frontier. At the same time, I went into the full meal deal of menopause symptoms – severe hot flushes, insomnia, mood swings, and anxiety.
During that period, I relied heavily on process coaching techniques, and writing and mindfulness practices, grateful for my training and for my professional and personal support network. That, along with dietary changes and a program of low dose hormone replacement therapy helped me cope.
After five years, I stopped HRT and as I neared sixty, spent about two years sleepless, anxious, hot, and bitchy.
My waist is thick, where it was always slender. I was often unpredictably crabby and irritated, where previously I was even-tempered, sunny even. My hair is thin and my skin is dry.
I am changing and the change is a disturbance, but I know from training and experience, there is wisdom here.
It is a fierce wisdom, more sure than the wisdom I had in my twenties and thirties which was a kind of sureness born from urgency and a need for action. I have learned to pause, to ponder, to reflect. I ask myself more questions, and I question others, too. I say no and I mean it, and when I say yes, it is wholeheartedly.
This is a deeper place, richer. It is a place where I do not have to slay, or boss, or crush or hustle. I have faith in the unfolding of circumstances, rather than the need to control them. I love my journey of becoming. Menopause is teaching me to just ‘be’ with myself and to trust my experience. Years of it, in fact.
Menopause is such an apt name. It is a place to stop, take stock. It is a new phase of life, one where can ask ourselves, at last: What is it time for?
The answer, invariably, is ourselves. It is time to lay claim to our intuition, creativity and longing.
Why do I write this? Partly, it is to talk about what-we-never-talk-about. Menopause happens to all women. Everywhere. It is completely democratic. The women I see in my practice are devoted to themselves, their families and their dreams. They are intense, loving, creative, funny and wise. They are also scared, tired, sweaty and confused, and still rocking it.
My practice isn’t limited to women. I coach men, too, mainly executive-level leaders who are managing organizational change and need to call on new muscles and skills to lead their teams into the desired future. It is satisfying work. But the women!
Sisters, we are amazing. What I’ve learned from you, and from my own journey through midlife, is that there are no shortcuts. The only way to get through it is to simply go through it.
Step by step, honouring the process and saying ‘yes’ to ourselves, unfolding into new truths. Becoming. Older, wiser, and oh-so-ready for the next chapter.
I'd love to hear about your experience of midlife. We're in this together. Spill the beans in the comments section...