My new mantra for mid-life women.
The Year of Yes
The Beautiful No
Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway
The Power of a Positive No
The book titles above are just a tiny example of the mixed messages women are being sold.
It can be so confusing to know when to step out of your comfort zone and say yes to opportunities, when to step into the fear and do it anyway, when to step back, when to respect your boundaries, your own needs and know when to say No.
And then we have the books that promote the theory that women CAN have it all! Why compromise? Why give up any part of your life because if you are a strong, confident and empowered woman you can (and should) do it all!
Sheryl Sandberg, the face of the Lean In movement, urged women to “lean in” to their careers, take risks and be ambitious in their professional goals, all the while demanding more help at home. With Sheryl announcing her departure as COO of Facebook earlier this year, people delighted in “the proof” that her Lean In theory was not realistic and women needed to re-assess their expectations. 1
And now the great Serena Williams has also decided that her priorities have changed as she “evolves away” from her tennis career. The 23 times Grand Slam winner and definite GOAT of this generation has said,
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”
She continues in her Vogue article with brutal honesty:
“It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next.” 2
Reading all of this it’s easy to understand why a woman in the 21st Century could be totally confused about how to live their most fulfilled and empowered lives.
- Do I say Yes to everything and embrace every experience?
- Do I challenge myself and face my fears and move out of my comfort zone?
- Do I push myself to achieve professionally and compromise on other things in my life?
- When should I say No and honour and respect myself?
- Can I really “have it all”?
- Or Should I compromise and make space for others in my life?
- How do I live my best life in a meaningful way?
In short how do we know when to Lean In and say YES with a full heart and When to Let it go and say NO without shame or guilt.
Or is it even possible to do both and still feel fulfilled and that you are able to devote your time and attention all everything equally?
I want to answer this question from both my personal experience and professional perspective as a Menopause Educator and Coach and Hormonal Health specialist.
In my 30s I lived my life according to the moto “If you need something done ask a busy person”… and I was the busy person!
I was having my kids (5 of them!) working and trying very hard to advance in my career, running around and showing up for my family and my community (how many times was I on the class parent committee!), and everything else that goes with being a working mother running a household and juggling all the balls. I was (and still am) very lucky to have a loyal and devoted husband to support and help me. But most of the family organization still fell to me.
It was intense but thrilling.
It was energizing but stressful.
I didn’t know any better. That’s just what it meant to be a working mother.
And then things changed.
Illness of a child
Realising that this juggle wasn’t working for me or my family.
Realising that I was stressed out, shouting too much, not feeling in control the way I used to.
It was a journey, a process of really listening to what was going on. Of paying attention to what my body, my spirit was telling me. The listening never stops!
I made some very conscious and intentional decisions.
I changed my working life.
I immersed myself in the world of Yoga and then into the world of women’s health.
I became an entrepreneur.
I decided that I didn’t want to be dictated to by a boss.
I wanted to make my own decisions about my work-life balance.
I didn’t want to be running from work to collect my kids, stuck in traffic, stressed out about if I would make it to the school gates in time and wondering how I was going to fit in errands, after school activities and prepare that all important home-cooked healthy dinner.
All of this coincided with what I was learning about women’s health, our bodies, our hormonal cycles, significant stages of our life cycles, and how we navigate this all – with what assumptions, what tools, and the whats and whys of how we are making decisions.
And this is what I want to tell you:
Our brains and bodies are hormonally wired at different stages of our month cycle and at different stages of our life cycle.
Once we get this, everything else in our life makes sense!
Let’s start with Puberty – those crazy years of early and mid-teenage hood. At this stage our hormones are in flux as we begin our hormonal journey. It’s a rollercoaster of hormones, of emotions, confusion, figuring out who you are, where you fit in and all the while trying to become an independent person. For anyone living with a teenage daughter you know this is not an easy time. Decision making in impaired and decision making in usually irrational! And you can’t talk sense to them…. Because hormonally, emotionally and biologically they are not wired to hear it!
After puberty we enter our Fertility/Reproductive years. Whether you have a child during this time is less relevant. More relevant is the hormonal balance, stability and predictability of your menstrual cycle (a big assumption these days for many). Your hormones are calling you to nurture and care for others. But you also have the energy, focus, mental capacity and motivation to do and be everything. Your focus is external, creating, doing, showing up everywhere.
Of course these years can be disrupted by contraceptive use, pregnancy, infertility challenges, fertility treatment, stress etc. But our body seems able to cope with it better and the “juggle” seems more manageable.
The problem is that usually we push ourselves to the limits because we are not paying attention, there is too much noise and too many distractions and we end these fertility years hormonal and emotional depleted.
Then we arrive at our early 40s and the unexpected peri-menopause years. All the stress, the unhealthy life style, the juggle, the overwhelm begins to catch up with us. Your hormones start to fluctuate again and become unpredictable. Your body starts to whisper to you. Your hormones want you to pay attention. And if you are paying attention, you will notice the changes. Physical, emotional and cognitive. You are not able to function at the same level however much you try. You feel out of balance.
Something is clearly changing but very often we try to ignore it, trying to live the same way we did in our earlier years. But your hormones keep forcing you to listen, pay attention, stop and re-evaluate.
Finally we reach menopause – the date of your last period and you enter the next official stage of your life-cycle. Natural, dramatic, irreversible hormonal fluctuations are abound. You have arrived at the bookend of puberty. You have closed the fertility years and now you are ready to embracing the new You that is emerging.
But this transition can be fraught with confusion, struggle, frustration. Changing body, loss of identity, figuring out your new role in your family, making space for your needs against the backdrop of your family’s needs and their assumptions of what and who you used to be.
Your hormones are super unpredictable and so is your behavior. You need more time for yourself, more space, quiet, freedom. You want to do what YOU want to do without the pressures and expectations.
And then we reach the final life cycle milestone – post menopause. The time of life to stand up in joy, confidence and wisdom. Without realizing it, you have become a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it. You have lived life-experience that you want to share. You have perspective about things. But more importantly you have energy, opportunities and freedom to do it all. Your hormones are not calling the shots anymore, they have arrived at new hormonal level with a focus on giving to yourself rather than giving to others. You are more stable, balanced, in control, empowered and are happy to speak your truth.
Unsurprisingly each of these life stages and their associated hormonal states leads to different decisions, different focus, different thought processes, abilities and capabilities, energy, motivations, intentions and possibilities.
The question about where your boundaries are, what work-life balance you choose, when you say a confidence Yes and when you will say a full-hearted NO are impacted by your stage of life and your where you are in your hormonal cycle (monthly and life).
The questions mentioned above are not single one-time questions that have a single consistent answer.
Assessing your boundaries, when to do something or not do something, needs to be a continual thoughtful, daily practice because the answer is not static - because you are not static.
The phrase that has consistently comes up in all my years of Women’s Health training and study is that “The only thing constant in a woman’s life is change”.
If we begin to really understand and internalize this, then we understand that continual self-assessment, self-awareness and self-analysis is critical to supporting our daily decision making process and listening to what we really need.
So this is what I now tell my clients:
If you choose to say YES to something make sure it is with confidence, with a full heart and because it works for you. And if you say NO to something, make sure it is guilt-free, shame-free and because you are aware of your boundaries and that this ask is not within them.
I know it's not easy - but knowing when to YES and when to say NO is part of growing into a strong, authentic and confident mid-life woman!