If color has a hometown, it must be Oaxaca City, Mexico.
The streets, stores and people are brimming with colorful handmade items. Food here is a picturesque patchwork of dishes that satisfy before you even eat. The flowering trees lining the stony streets mock the stern reserve of the Spanish architecture. It is a beautiful, energizing place to reflect on the changes happening for the women here as well as some conversations I’ve had recently with American women. It has me thinking about the colors of our dreams.
The conversations I've had recently were with women in midlife around changes they would like to see in the next 6 months. Nearly all of them referred to some sort of change in their work.
It’s not always comfortable but it’s totally normal - it makes sense that after a couple decades of working we would step back and say, huh. What am I doing and why?
I’ve thought about that as I’m learning more about the changes that are occurring as Oaxacan society continues to respond to an increased demand for weavings and other crafts that started in the 1970s. Oaxacan women and men have participated in efforts to retain majority control in the development of their economy. Women are now better educated and leading in ways they did not before; managing businesses, showing up at meetings that were previously male only, making collective decisions that may have previously been handed down by one or two male leaders.
(That gives a very broad brushstroke to a complex subject that I can’t cover in depth here. I’ve noted a reference that I’ve been reading at the bottom of the blog post. )
We can see an analog in the U.S. with female entrepreneurs, especially women of color. An American Express Open study from 2016 reports that women-owned firms are increasing at five times the national average rate, and nearly 8 in 10 new women-owned firms are being launched by women of color.
Like the women in Oaxaca, many female entrepreneurs of color in the U.S. are organizing around a common cause - to share learning and resources, to have a say in how changes affect them and their families, and to keep each other accountable to their bigger goals.
Contrast this with another approach that many women fall back on. They have worked like crazy for years, many have gotten to a place of accomplishment, but are feeling like something is missing.
What got them there isn’t interesting to them anymore. One woman said “I tend to be extremely resilient, no matter what comes up, I focus, follow through, and then get back to where I want to be. Until now. I just can’t seem to find that motivation right now. Its really surprised me.”
The challenge I am observing ( and have lived myself) is one reason we get stuck is that we are bringing the same set of tools that worked before for us (or our mothers) to try to progress, or bump along, or even procrastinate to stay in our comfort zone.
Does this sound familiar - “I need to think about it, do some reading, research, plan a little more, see where I’m at in…” - in when?
I’m not saying that research and planning are unnecessary. I am saying that by this point in our lives we know a hell of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for, and for sure more than our culture gives us credit for. Why don’t we give ourselves credit for our hard-earned moxie?
We live in a society that is so obsessed with youth that American women, with all our education and first world trappings, are less validated for our wisdom than middle-aged indigenous women in Oaxaca!
The messaging of our popular culture is this: the older you get, the more irrelevant you become.
Try this: take a moment and disconnect how that feels emotionally - step back and look at that as a fact and not have a feeling about it. Now, who or what is served in our society by this messaging?
It serves commercial interests, primarily.
I’m calling it out because we cannot expect the message to change for us.
We can choose to see it for what it is and to take action in spite of it. We can choose to work compassionately with our fears around money, aging, our changing body. (More on that in future posts, I only bring it up here because nothing in midlife happens in a vacuum. If we are disconnected with and resentful of our amazing bodies, it affects everything else. )
What is happening, especially for this generation of women in midlife, is that we are being called to leap.
In general women in midlife way overdo the planning and thinking. Studies and our experience tell us that women are actually fairly confident in our zone of expertise. We are much less confident than men when we are out of known territory. One study showed that women were much less likely to apply for a job if they couldn't check off every requirement. Men applied even if not completely qualified. Men tend to do, women tend to wait
Yes, there are external obstacles to our progress, but we also hold ourselves back.
f you’ve been feeling unsettled or discontented for awhile now, you don’t need to think, research, plan or see how it feels 2 weeks from now.
You need to take some action, something sharp enough to get your attention, something that pokes a hole in your routine or comfort zone.
Macro view: As I’ve pointed out before, while this generation of midlife women was growing up, the world began trending at an exponential rate on almost every major indicator. For those of us in midlife, it may not seem like it matters personally, but changes in society and the planet are moving faster than ever and it IS the energetic backdrop of our lives.
Micro view: Many of the women I talk to are accustomed to figuring out their lives by themselves, really. Some have had extensive leadership development paid for by their employers, and that's fabulous, but we all know that we show up differently to things when we have sought it out and paid for it ourselves.
In my own journey, I woke up one day at 52 years old, newly single, with lots of question marks around my “job”. I had always put my spouse’s career first; he made more money, and we unquestioningly prioritized money as the priority goal in designing our lives as a couple with young children.
After my divorce, I had some savings to work with. I looked at it and thought, I could shrink my life, get 2 jobs and several roommates (I was living in Northern California at the time), and spoon feed my retirement account in little bits for the next 15 years. I could spend my 50s - the last decade or so of relative youth and energy - working for someone else. I could put my faith in the questionable ethics of Wall Street and cross my fingers that the market wouldn’t crash again in the meantime.
For what? Let’s face it, at 52, if you don’t make much money, the amount you can put into savings is not going to move the needle much in terms of return. I’m not a financial planner and actually would love to find a brave one help me create a chart of diminishing lifestyle returns.
What is the flexion point in your 50s where saving doesn’t make much difference to your retirement budget unless you can sock away a good chunk from one salary or double income?
For me, the outcome of being “sensible and safe” would have (maybe) been a few more dollars every month from Social Security at 65, at which point I would shrink my life even more, and probably still work at least one job on the side for low pay so as not to endanger my monthly check. That seemed like a life drained of color.
Leaving my former husband was the hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t tear a piece out of my family’s heart to settle for shrinking my life.
I decided to sell what I owned, get scrappy about side work and cutting expenses, take some risks, see the world, meet a bunch of new people to enrich my network and influence - so I can begin to contribute to them and others as well.
I’ve had anxiety attacks looking at my numbers sometimes, but I’m the Boss of Me, right? I have a plan and I’m working it. My progress is imperfect and fabulous. Money doesn’t get to rule my life anymore, it’s a part of the puzzle but it's not the only goal. And right now I’m working to make ends meet, just like most of you and the women I have talked to.
This is my experiment now. Unlike most “how I did it” stories on the internet, I can’t tell you that this approach has made me wealthy in monetary terms. (Yet!)
I can tell you that I’m living my dream. One of my motivations is I'm creating a scrapbook for my 80 year old self (Try it!)
I show up to life in full color. I’m traveling the world, living where I want to, and making significant trade-offs (such as drastic downsizing) to make it sustainable because I don’t have a trust fund or alimony to rely on.
I’m not saying that my dream is yours or that it should be. Its different for everyone.
What I am saying is I know you have a dream, and I know you are capable of so much more than you probably give yourself credit for. It is the risk is what makes your dream pop! It fills your dream with colors. If it wasn’t risky, it wouldn’t be a dream because you would be doing it.
How do we do this?
If I had stayed where I was, trying to figure it out on my own, as I had always done, I would have stayed stuck.
Its almost impossible to blaze a new trail in your heart, soul and life alone. The difference is I am connected to and accountable to other women now. I have a mentor and a coach. When those arrangements end, I’ll look for creative ways to replace that accountability.
The reason I’m so passionate about connecting us to one another is that it’s the only way to make our own rate of change and progress match the rate of change in the world around us.
And that is the way our contribution stays relevant and we increase our influence, something the world desperately needs right now.
I invested in some personal development programs and coaching in the last couple of years. What I see is that there are basically 2 camps.
The women who break through and really leverage what they have learned the first half of their careers are the ones who invest in themselves - yes, spend money on a program or coach - so that they are accountable to other women for some significant stretch goals. This is because knowing we have to show up pushes us to move a little faster and take a little more risk.
The point is, I used to sit on my couch, alone, and try to recreate my life in a silo. Guess what happened? I was chronically discontented with my progress. I had friends and clients, of course - but that is different from the accountability of other women when you have put some skin in the game. That is what gets us taking action and risk, learning faster, and increasing our impact.
And here is the proof: The women who are changing society and their lives in a big way are organized and accountable to one another. Just ask the strong women of Oaxaca and thousands of female women of color entrepreneurs in the U.S.
Ahh money. Moola. Dinero. Cash.
Money issues are like a vine that spreads into every area of your life. It can be a blooming vine that helps tie things together, or an overwhelming dark growth that chokes out the light - or something in between, a work in progress.
We can prune back the most aggressive tendrils. We can be the boss or our pesos, but we may have to fight for it, like a warrior queen. More about that in a minute.
Here is some context for the money landscape we face in midlife:
Middle class squeeze:
Healthcare costs - I know you know. Raise your hand if you are putting off important check ups, dental preventive care, and have unanswered questions about your changing body. If you aren’t 65 yet, you are paying a ridiculous amount of money for health insurance and out of pocket costs.
I lost my US based health insurance a couple of years ago when I decided to travel for 18 months. I switched my permanent residence and the great state of Texas declined to offer me insurance based on my new single person income at that time. That’s fine with me because I don’t want to pay an insurance premium in a state I don’t spend much time in anyway.
I had surgery last year in Mexico City, with excellent care and outcome, that cost probably 25% of what it would have in the US. Health care costs are one major reason more people - including single women - are considering living and retiring outside of the US. More on that in a bit.
Higher education: the cost of a college education had increased exponentially in the last 20 years, far outpacing inflation. For those of us wanting to go back to school, or trying to save for kids college fund, this is a challenge.
Cost of housing - this is good news and bad news, depending upon where you live, if you own a house, and how much equity you have. On the emotional side, that house might be taking a big chunk out of your emotional energy if it is filled to the rafters with years worth of stuff that you “can’t get rid of” but that does nothing for you. More about that in a bit, too.
Divorce: The divorce rate for women over 50 is over 50% and climbing. More women now are initiating the split, as compared to 20 years ago. In spite of the chance to start a new life, there is no question that except for the very wealthy, divorce is hard on the finances for both men and women.
For a variety of reasons, the “typical” retirement .is becoming more and more rare - a dual income pension that comfortably covers the high standard of living most Americans are used to. The ripple effect of the 2008 crash still shows up in many people’s finances.
Pensions are being cut and layoffs happen. I know of a woman who made major life tradeoffs to stay with a good job into her 50’s, counting on retirement in her early 60’s - when she would finally do what she wanted to do. The corporation she worked for was acquired and the new owners systematically started laying off people in their 50s and replacing the with younger people. She lost her job.
We are starting to see the reality of this play out as more couples and single men and women are retiring overseas. The place to start is to take a couple of vacations to areas you are interested in, get to know the expats and the locals in that area.
I could go on about this at length, in face, I’m thinking of creating a “blueprint plan” for women considering retiring overseas - step by step process of discovery and implementation - let me know what you think.
Ostrich or warrior queen - our own accountability to the numbers. I just had a fascinating call with Donna Colfer, AFC, CMC, a Money Coach and owner of Building Wealth from Within, and also a very generous, intuitive person. She uses a quiz that tells what typical behavioral “archetypes” we use to respond to money in our lives.
(Archetypes are symbolic figures that represent personality types recognized as common to all humans, this work was pioneered by psychologist Carl Jung, a student of Freud).
I have to say Donna diagnosed my relationship with money more clearly in 60 minutes than any therapist I ever saw in the past could in several weeks.
One of my archetypes is the Warrior. (I know that sounds so cool, right? Before you think I'm bragging, I'll tell you another is the Fool. ha!)
I say Warrior Queen because it helps me see the Warrior in female form and, not to get all woo woo on you, but the Queen showed up in my meditations as a new Guide about a year ago. In my experience, she's not a warm and fuzzy Guide, and if I don't keep up my end of the bargain she is outta here. So when Donna started talking about the Warrior I thought, huh. I'll ask the Queen about her.
Ostrich is not one of the archetypes, although I certainly hide my head in the sand sometimes!
What energy do we bring to our money relationship? Do we have a healthy relationship to a budget? Do we know where the money goes? Do we understand the basics of our retirement fund, if we have one? Do we have goals for saving?
I will be honest with you - 3 years ago the answer to all of those questions for me was, no. I was not just in Ostrich mode, I was totally underground about it, more like a mole.
I spent some time catching up on that situation after my divorce. It’s definitely a work in progress to this day because I don’t want money to always be the primary deciding factor in what I do next. I also factor in the value of new experiences, what I am going to learn, who I am going to meet, into the equation, too.
No surprise, this sometimes leads to risk and spending more money than feels comfortable in the moment.
Unless we are wealthy, we have to make tradeoffs. I don’t have the funds to maintain a house in the US, travel like I want to and start a business. My tradeoff has been to live very simply in less expensive countries with few possessions.
Did I have to get rid of sentimental things? Yes, of course. But things sitting on shelves and in boxes do not pay my Visa bill, help me with my business plan, or teach me anything new, to be honest.
That isn’t everyone’s dream - to downsize in order to have more flexibility and a seed fund for a new start. I don't bring it up to say you should do it.
It may become your reality, though, if you reach retirement age after a divorce or a financial downturn in the market, with half the pension you were counting on, a houseful of stuff, maybe some debt, and a lot of questions. Then you are facing a wall of emotional challenges at the exact moment your confidence is shaken and your emotions are in tatters.
Money and Relationships
Money may or may not be the root of all evil, but it certainly can be the root of lots of tension in a relationship. If these conversations are hard to have with your partner, perhaps your next ''investment" can be with an objective money counselor or coach.
Looking money in the eye with your partner may unearth some challenging relationship issues. How we respond is different for everyone but here is one thing I know - those issues do not go away. They get worse as the reality for both you sinks in that you will not live forever, there are things you each have dreamed of doing, and have not done yet.
When my youngest child was in high school, my husband at that time and I started talking about what our life would look like after she graduated. It became painfully clear that we were not at all on the same page.
I had plans I had put on hold for my kids, I know he did, too.
My dream for us mostly involved radical downsizing, some intentional travel (as opposed to leisure travel) to refresh our minds and relationship with new perspectives, and craft a vision for what our next phase would be, perhaps starting an interesting new business together.
Which is basically exactly what I have done as a single woman.
As I started sharing some of those ideas I realized I should have been talking with him about this much earlier and more often.
I didn’t because they were hard conversations to have, raising a lot of fear and questions I didn’t know the answers to yet. And one reason was because I was not in touch with our money and I was not showing up to my own ideas and capacity to generate more revenue.
I didn’t know then what I know now - the answers to almost any goal come in having a plan, networking with others who know something you don’t, and taking some baby steps. The answers don’t come in tense conversations on a couch about what may or may not be an outcome in 10 years.
When I downsized I took hundreds of pictures of sentimental “things” - souvenirs, children’s artwork, wedding gifts we never used, decorative objects, love letters and cards - and then I let it all go. Now those photos are stored safely in my Google photos account, where I can actually find them, see them, enjoy what they represent without having to pay to store them someplace while they deteriorate.
Money and downsizing with less trauma are closely related - if you can sell those treasures and turn them into a seed fund for a dream you are excited about, it may be much easier to let go of them.
My hope for you is you make a money date with yourself - a weekend where you get all the information out in one place, get clear on your accounts, set up a simple budget, and start your list of questions. Then you can put a weekly money meeting on your calendar - a time to keep caught up and get your questions answered.
I did this early last year and then, well, quit coming to my own money meetings. My talk with Donna made me admit I have been putting off a refresher date with myself and my money.
Time to let the Warrior Queen help me dive into the numbers.
This is what I’m doing this weekend. I’ll be thinking of you. Anyone with tips around this tricky topic, I would love to hear them so please comment below.
PS I'm offering Dream Speed Date sessions through January 19, free one on one calls to help you get clear on a 6 month goal and 3 immediate steps you can take to get started. More info here
Got time for one more?
# 7 in the series was " I'm Behind Again".
# 9 in the series is "How Do I Get Out of My Own Way?"
Selected Sources, I have tons of research so if you are curious just email me:
In-state tuition and fees at public National Universities increased 237 percent since 1997. There are too many reasons to go into here, but I very much hope the day is coming when more parents consider helping their kids start a business around their passion for $40,000 instead of helping them take on that much and more every YEAR in student loan debt. They can always go back to college if they want to later. The institutions certainly aren’t going anywhere, as they have a sweet deal that is heavily subsidized by tax dollars in the form of federal student loans, which have also increased at the same upward curve in the last 20 years.
Fear of failure or loss has become the new saber-tooth tiger in the bushes.
Let me explain with an example.
Q: Would it be helpful to talk about your DreamBiz or Passion Project idea with someone objective?
I bet your first reaction was "Yes!"
And then your brain immediately said, Wait - what are the details? is there a catch? If we talk about it that might make it real. We'll just get excited about something impossible. I don't have time right now.
Naaaaah. Thanks anyway. I need to go re-arrange my sock drawer, I've been putting it off.
See how this works?
I have known for awhile, and you probably do, too, that fear stops us from doing many things. More things than we can imagine, really.
Fear on autopilot = habits our brain thinks are keeping us "safe".
Here is what I did not know a couple of weeks ago - part of our brain is hard-wired to hesitate. If it senses we are contemplating something new and different, stepping out, it will kill our initiative with hesitation while we "think about it".
This was to keep us alive in the days when stepping outside of our cave could get us eaten by a tiger in the bushes if we weren't careful.
The problem is that this section of our brain doesn't know the difference between the tiger in the bushes and what might happen if we take sign up for that new class, take that trip, start that blog, or take action on any other thing that is new and different today.
All our brain sees is the stress (perceived threat) associated with the action.
I imagine that women, as the main caretakers of children around the hunter-gatherer campsite, developed this tendency to hesitate - in the form of evaluating risks - to an even higher degree, keeping track of several things at once.
What to do about it.
In brief, this is what I've learned from a few different sources*:
This is how it works:
First, breathe deeply. This send oxygen upstairs and signals to our brain that its OK.
Second, procrastination is not a bad thing you do because you are bad. It is your brain trying to keep you safe. Don't take it personally.
Third, you are the boss of your brain, right? The way you change it is by taking fast action - like in 5 seconds - on things you are avoiding, and spending at least 5 - 10 minutes on that which you are avoiding. This is how you chase the tiger out of the bushes, because in reality, its just a mouse rustling around.
Fourth, baby steps are key. You could give your notice to a job you hate in 5 seconds, and I'm not going to say you shouldn't. If you've been unhappy for years it may be exactly the antidote. Deadlines work for a reason; quitting your job immediately gives you all sorts of real deadlines. But it also ratchets up your stress level.
Instead, you could turn a more prudent approach (see how nice that sounds?) into a platform for action (instead of an excuse not to act) by grabbing a piece of paper and list the top 3 things to do, now, to transition out of that job in 6 months. For example, start a savings account, update your resume, get help having that difficult money conversation with your partner, get serious about generating part time income from a passion or idea you have.
Then, what is the next fast action you can take on each step? Do that one. I bet after spending an hour of 5 second baby steps you will feel a little woozy and more alive than you have in weeks, months or even years.
This small shift towards a bias for action will change your life. Why? Because life is a series of small decisions, many of them we make on auto-pilot, also called habits.
Here is the piece that was missing from what I read. All of the advice was focused on individual change, and yes, change starts with you.
However, no one does this alone. Women in ancient societies developed collective safety nets for their children. If you are considering birthing a business or passion project, you need 2 things:
Lets take on the tigers together. <3
Growing up in southwest Houston, I remember the ominous darkening skies, strong winds, and seemingly endless rain of tropical storms. Businesses, schools and stores closing; homes losing power. I felt a bit like Dorothy in the tornado as I read books by flashlight, grateful for my house, my parents and my poor trembling dog hiding under my covers.
I can remember wondering when life would return to normal and the feeling of relief when the lights came back on, like waking from a scary dream.
In the immediate days surrounding a national disaster, donations to Red Cross and charities experience an uptick, and that is great news. The problem is that after the news coverage dies down, the real work of rebuilding begins.
An Uber driver in New Orleans told me his story of being displaced by Katrina, ironically he rebuilt his life in Houston and later moved back to be near family in the Big Easy, he recently told me that there are areas in New Orleans that are still not rebuilt.
One organization that loans to small entrepreneurs is Lift Fund, a regional fund that operates in Houston and the surrounding area, and also has branches throughout Texas. Here is their info:
YinCaravana also supports KIVA, an organization that enables people like you and I to loan as little as $25 to small entrepreneurs all over the world. I searched and unfortunately they have no entrepreneurs listed needing loans in Texas right now.
If you know of any other crowd-funding or impact investing organizations accessible to individuals like you and I and others who want to help, please share in the comments below.
(Update: Here is another organization that focuses on mid-term and long term assistance. http://disasterphilanthropy.org/)
Last quick tip - if you want to have a bigger impact than a one time disaster relief donation, put a reminder in your calendar for 6 months from now to check in and consider a second donation. Sometimes the need is still very present.
Thank you and please keep sending strength to the resilient people of Houston and the Gulf Coast of Texas. If you are feeling personally upset or stressed, check out this post for tips on how to deal..
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