Can you reframe your responsibilities?
A new series called Midlife Management
Because the hardest thing about midlife for women is the inhuman amount of expectations and responsibilities we have, this is first in a new series I’m calling Midlife Management (with the emphasis on the life!)
Women at midlife are the busiest cohort of society, and the least supported. Sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone, so once a month I’ll write about a specific issue a client has had and show how we overcame it.
As the Midlife Coach I work with women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s to help them manage their life better for them.
It could be because they’re at the coalface of life, struggling to juggle career, family and relationships and they need the space to figure out how to keep themselves in the mix.
It could be because they’re facing signifiant change like the end of a marriage and they need some scaffolding to hold them up while they rebuild.
It could be because they’re at a new stage of life and are looking to change career, or to figure out who they are after raising a family, or any mix of it all.
These will be real problems and real attempts to reframe them.
So in my #1 Midlife Management, this one I’m calling -
“Get out of your own way!”
This client (I’ll call her Mary) is setting up home in a new country after years of being embroiled in dissolving a family business which dragged her off course on the creative life she had been living. She is a little burnt by the interactions, and burned out by the years of being on what has felt like constant Emergency Mode. (So much of my coaching is helping women realise they have been in Emergency Mode for months or years, and how to come out of that survival mode into thrival mode.).
Between covid and the context of the difficult family situation, she learned to just get on with things herself, carrying it all on her shoulders. She has developed an emergency modus operandi which is to get her head down, do the work, and keep herself isolated.
What she is slowly realising is that that way of living in Emergency Mode is no longer going to serve her now she needs to build a community in a new country. Although her new situation is very different, she is still operating in the old way. (Again this is a very common theme that comes up with women in midlife, and why checking in regularly is so important.)
The big picture
Often when we have a problem, we do one of two things. We focus so much on one small problem, it impacts the bigger picture. Or we attach the problem to everything (the big picture) and never focus on the actual issue (the small problem). This means that often my job is to either help them zoom out to see the bigger picture, or zoom in to find the small problem that is affecting everything.
The big picture for Mary (and the reason for coming to me) was to get a grip on her time and try to get back to a more creative way of living. But she was still trying to use the method of making every aspect of her life into a To-Do list rather than explore, or connect back to, a way of living where she had had more agency in how her day pans out.
Together we’ve been exploring where she is right now in life, what are her priorities now, and what does she want her life to look and feel like as she gets off emergency mode. Last week she told me she’d worked out what was the main nub of her problems were… “the success of everything depends on me being able to find the time to do two main projects - write, and study French. And I’ve neither the time nor the impetus to set aside two hours each morning to write and two hours each afternoon to study. So the whole thing is a disaster. I’ll never integrate into my new community and I’ll never return to creative living.”
She had turned two passion projects into work problems - jobs to be done in isolated and scheduled time. Everything is then tainted by the fact she isn’t able to do this. She will fail at living here, and she’ll never be a writer again. What I needed to show her was how to zoom out and get a sense of the bigger picture.
The small problem.
Part of coaching is to try and integrate several parts of your life so that everything you need isn’t a stand alone effort, or a stand alone benefit. Fixing health will affect money, career and relationships, for example. Working on a relationship will affect job, home environment and your emotional health etc. In this case, shifting her out of emergency mode will impact nearly everything.
So in Emergency Mode, Mary had learned to do everything herself. To just get the work done in a scheduled, isolated form.
So I asked her what it would look like if she changed the approach to both writing and learning French? How else could it look other than this fixed time to sit alone and write or learn grammar? How could she be more creative in her approach now that she doesn’t have to manage the way she’d been managing before?
As she struggled to come up with answers (this is initially normal because she has a fixed mindset from being in Emergency Mode where there was no room for creativity or experimenting), I drew her a graphic on a piece of paper.
The centre was a circle. That represented either the core work of writing or learning her French grammar (this exercise works for both). I then drew a circle around that circle and then anther and another. Each space represents a version of writing or learning French. Each layer offers a chance to keep connected to the core goal - writing or learning French - but isn’t solely dependent on finding two hours to sit alone and work. Each circle represents a chance to integrate the core goal into her every day life so that they became a way of living, rather than a time-specific tasks.
Each circle represents a chance to integrate the core goal into her every day life so that they became a way of living, rather than a time-specific tasks.
How can she expand the process of being creative and learning French outside of sitting at her desk for two hours morning and afternoon?
What else is involved in being a writer? Reading, research, creating the right ritual to get creative, exercise and inspiration, listening and interacting with other writers, for exsmple?
What else is involved - or could be involved - in learning French? Speaking French in lots of arenas, practising new words that she learns each day, journaling new sentences in Frnech as she comes across them on the TV and local newspapers, sitting with the discomfort of knowing it won’t be easy but putting herself in situation of speaking and listening more?
She immediately saw the possibility.
Zooming out allows her to see that integrating these into her every day life will ultimately help her with other areas - building community, working with others (one idea was to join a local group who also care for animals so that not only would she re-learn how to work with others, but if she tries only interact in French with them, she can use that time as learning time too).
Mary’s “problem’ of finding dedicated time to sit alone and work on her projects diminished significantly once she realised they’re not mutually exclusive with everything else in her life, and that she can integrate them more fully into her life - and stepping out of her emergency mode mode into a way of better living.
Here is an example of the concentric circles do do with her writing.
Once Mary zoomed out and realised that there are many ways she can bring writing and learning French into her day, she can integrate multiple priorities with connecting to a new community and actively stepping out of the modus operandi of Emergency Mode.
Where do you need to zoom out and get perspective? Where do you need to zoom in and isolate the real issue that might be affecting much more?
Where can the concentric circles exercise help you bring some creativity into a problem?
For paid subscribers I’m attaching a little exercise below that you can use to tap into your internal GPS and just get a better sense of what can guide you better in your decisions.
If you’d like to take a moment to check in on your life to see how you can manage things differently, you can book a one hour 1:1 Discovery Coaching Session where you get to think about you, how to manage this life you are living, and invest some time and thought on you. Radical idea that, is it? To invest some time and thought on you? Details are here.
The GPS Compass exercise is for paid subscribers below.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Your Midlife Matters with Alana Kirk, the Midlife Coach to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.