I want to start this post with the Truth.
The promise of midlife is this: Your experience is ready to come together and renew you in a way you cannot imagine. Your brilliance is already created for you, all you have to do is claim it if you haven't already.
But it doesn't always feel that way, does it?
Have you noticed lately? Everyone in stores and restaurants looks about 24 years old.
We have to speak up to order at the bar whereas before we attracted attention just by standing there.
The man who smiles across the room is looking behind you at a younger woman.
We show up to situations feeling the same inside and people begin to react differently based on our changing looks.
These moments can ruin your day, or your week, or your life, if you let them.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You may be jolted with the realization your family hasn’t seen you for years.
Did you see the movie Bridges of Madison County? Francesca, Meryl Streeps character, is a WWII Italian bride, living on a farm in Iowa years later with her husband.
He and her children have a very specific mirror they hold up to her, the only problem is the reflection is a simplistic line drawing that only reflects her domestic role in the family.
She has an complex, passionate colorful dimension hidden inside that is unleashed by a handsome stranger during a visit one week when her family is out of town. With him, she feels “seen” for perhaps the first time in her life.
If you saw that movie, I imagine many of us were holding our breath as Francesca sat at a red light in the pickup truck with her husband, debating jumping out and rushing through the rain into the waiting arms of her lover, who was in his truck just in front of her about to make a left turn on his way out of town.
How did you feel when the light turned green, and the truck in front didn’t move, and still she stayed put? When her lover finally turned left and drove out of of her life. When her husband switched on the radio as she started to cry?
That scene still gives me chills to this day. And to think the book was written by a man! Wow.
But we are not in a movie.
Feeling invisible is something we need to tackle head-on, because its the biggest threat to you living the most amazing 20 - 30 years of your life.
Its the biggest threat to you staying with or finding a passionate relationship.
Its the biggest threat to our responsibility to be strong, positive mentors for our young people.
Its a big threat to society because it weakens our collective contribution, from a generation of women that is quite frankly the best equipped to be leaders in this moment. It’s not the Boomers and its not the Millennials. Its Gen X.
I do not feel invisible. My outline is crystal clear now, I know who I am now and don’t care too much what others see or don’t see in me.
However, it is pretty rare for an American woman to come to that place of confidence without a fight. Losing my edges was the core of my midlife crisis, and something in me that refused to become invisible rose up and fought back.
Redefining my edges again is the outcome of my midlife transformation.
Before we go on, I want to put “feeling invisible” in perspective.
I saw a poignant response in a FB group for midlife women where the “I feel invisible” thread was on fire. The comment was from a woman in a wheelchair who had never felt conventionally attractive. She pointed out that there are many of us who have been “invisible” our whole lives.
Minority women have also grappled with feeling invisible for decades.
We can learn from and admire women who craft inspirational lives even though they were never celebrated in our mainstream cultural messaging to begin with.
Can you imagine a teen girl who may be realizing she has no interest in attracting boys, trying to sort out her emotions while navigating the hypersexualized ads targetted at young people? Where does she “see” herself in all of that?
This at the same time when her straight friend is suffering a lack of self-esteem from over-identifying with advertising, beginning to believe that she has to be thin and sexual to be noticed.
And that, of course, is where it all started for most of us. Our looks = attention = approval = being seen.
Here is another truth: whatever our situation, once we get clear on our edges and our gifts, we will attract people and attention that is authentic, not just based on what we look like - which is mostly about their ego noticing ours.
We feel invisible because we don’t know what we look like without someone else’s mirror reflecting back to us. We look to others to define our edges.
Feeling seen is about self-acceptance and self-confidence. Its about recovering your feminine brilliance no matter what society says. Then we can be strong mentors and help the young people in our lives navigate toxic media, too.
The inner critic starts out there
If you are in midlife - your 40s and early 50s - you probably already know you are sandwiched between 2 huge, very different demographic groups - the Baby Boomers and the Millenials.
Marketers have tripped over themselves for years in a frenzy to be relevant to one or both of those demographics. Women do 85% of the buying in the U.S. - so you can imagine the amount of ads targeted at women over the years.
For better or worse, in the U.S., marketing defines the collective ego of our culture. Marketing messages are woven into storylines of popular shows; product placement in shows, movies and videos accelerate this affect. Marketing has become our social narrative.
Midlife women today, who are by default members of Gen X, are not very well represented in this narrative. A study of midlife women by SuperHuman marketing agency found that 91% of midlife women don’t believe advertisers get them.
So in a society where marketing is so influential and pervasive, it is easy to confuse being invisible to marketers with being invisible in general.
Let’s turn that around and consider it a gift that we have not been as heavily marketed to as women in their 60s and 70s.
I have interviewed many women over 65, retired from successful careers, lives filled with contribution to family and community. For too many, you would never guess that from talking with them.
Their language is peppered with self-doubt. Second guessing has become a reflexive habit. I have a theory that life long exposure to advertising is one reason for a lack of generational confidence among many (not all) baby boomer women - which is crazy considering what they have accomplished.
For decades, on a daily basis, society’s messages have told them that they are lacking and need to buy product x to be whole, beautiful, loved and accepted.
Fast forward to today, where the marketing landscape for women is all about the millennials. In the same SuperHuman survey, 84% of the (midlife) women surveyed used products and services they felt were aimed at younger women. This is why we raid our daughters’ closet.
This is potentially toxic for us as we spend time immersed in advertising and media that is aimed at younger women. That is not going to help us feel better, much less celebrate, our middle age changes.
Internal vanishing point
When we are young, we see ourselves through our parents. Later, through our peers and still later through our lovers and partners. Some women see themselves through their children.
This is natural, I think 99% of women do this to some extent without knowing it.
In our 40s and 50’s, we start to look for ourselves again. Who am I without my roles - if my parents pass on, I split from my partner, and my kids leave the nest?
We feel invisible because we have lost track of our definition. After so many years of seeing ourselves through others, we can’t even feel our edges anymore.
Here is the problem: If you feel invisible, you are looking for validation in an unreliable place - other people.
Can you see yourself in any of the following?
If you feel invisible, try this:
Think of Francesca in the rain - will you turn left into the unknown with a new muse to rediscover yourself, or stay comfortable and rarely seen on the straight and narrow?
Choose to fight for your visibility and brilliance - it is one of the turning points in midlife.
Questions? Beginning February 7 I'm once again offering a free 30 minute Mirror Your Brilliance Sessions, including a Dream Speed Date. Book your session here.
Note: this is a part of our Boss of Me series, addressing 10 common midlife mindset traps head on, and what to do about them. If this limiting belief is a challenge for you in moving ahead, I'm offering complimentary "Mirror Your Brilliance" sessions - 45 minutes to focus on you and mirror back some insight. Now through Jan 19. Spaces are limited so book your session now: Schedule my session.
This is the first of a special free daily "Boss of Me" series for 10 days to help you take action around some common midlife challenges.
Today's all too common thought for the day is "I'm so tired. "
When my kids were little, I would sometimes bribe them with Disney video on Saturday afternoon so I could get a cat nap in just to make it through the rest of the day. I learned to sleep with Pinocchio and Cinderella in the background.
When I worked for a big corporation, my low energy level was a real challenge in keeping up with a full time job schedule. I thought there was something wrong with me.
Turns out I was right. This may be TMI but I share it to let you know I have deep experience with fatigue. I have a diagnosed hypothyroid and have been on a supplement for several years. This was a BIG pain point for me in the past.
What I learned, however, is just taking a pill does not give you enthusiasm for your life.
How about you?
Are you tired? Is it good tired or bad tired? You know the difference.
Good tired is how you feel after a really great day, really great sex, really great workout - your mind is clear, your body relaxed, there is a warm glow in your core.
Good tired comes from having a daily list of to-dos that mostly relate to our soul’s goals and having a lean strategy to achieve them.
Bad tired is exhaustion with no stress relief. You are tired but can’t sleep, and if you do you often wake up in the middle of the night.
Bad tired comes from a schedule filled with too many to-dos that suck you dry. Bad tired can lead us to skip workouts, eat sugar or drink more to feel better and that messes with our sleep, too, so we wake up tired.
Bad tired = bad cycle.
The activities themselves are neutral. Two women can have exactly the same schedule, and one will be good tired at the end of the day and the other will be exhausted. I had a beautiful friend with 4 busy boys and she loved it. (She ended up with one more baby - a girl!) Her schedule would have put me into a coma.
Don't fall into a comparison trap. Don't ask yourself "How does she do it?" -
Ask yourself "What can I do that will leave me feeling good tired instead of exhausted?"
What to DO
These tips have worked for me and others:
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Got time for one more?
Boss of Me Series #2 - I'm Too Busy
Recently on a trip to see my daughter, she took some candid shots of me. Honesty time - as I cruise through midlife, I'm beginning to at times think, "is that me?"
I look a little bit like Mimi, my grandmother on my mom's side, when she was in midlife. I've also noticed my "look" is changing more rapidly as I move through menopause.
At first I thought, "that's weird".
Then I thought, "Well, OK it makes sense, I didn't hatch from an egg".
(Do you talk to yourself like this? lol)
Of course I'm going to resemble the women I grew up around - I totally have my mom's smile and have been told I favor an aunt on my dad's side who passed away when I was young.
My earliest memories, which I had forgotten, of my female relatives now emerge with a jolt when I see myself in photos or a side glance in a mirror.
And I kind of like it, actually. My grandmother, slim with an acerbic sense of humor that could draw blood, was not your stereotypical rotund cheery lady baking cookies. She was, however, beautiful and witty when she was relaxed and happy.
One thing Mimi did not do was spend much time at was sitting at a desk. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, or even standing around in one place (like in a retail job), check your look in the mirror.
I notice in some pictures (see this from a recent trip to London, where we stayed in a cool loft) that I'm starting to develop bad posture around the shoulders and upper back area - this used to be known as the "dowagers hump" - a sign of aging in the past. I'm not an expert but I think it really is simply lack of tone in those areas that gets worse over time. I have seen a rounded back and shoulders in younger women who are out of shape many times.
This is not a fitness blog and like I said, I'm not an expert, but I don't think its inevitable that we get a hunchback over time.
Another point about good posture is this - it definitely affects our confidence. Alegre Ramos, a public speaking coach I worked with, says, "Do some Wonder Woman poses before you speak. Or anytime, really, that you want a confidence boost".
The below photo is a great example. I noticed a few years ago what beautiful posture Samantha Bond from Downton Abbey has. I googled it and didn't find anything about her workout routine, my guess is she has some classical dance training.
Power poses are rooted in our animal brains, and send a powerful signal to our psyche. Notice the difference between me and my grandmother in the above photos. I didn't plan my pose, but it shows the real me coming out after I had finally come to end of a grueling separation, divorce, and downsizing the majority of our shared possessions to only what would fit in my car. I had given up my lease on the house in Santa Rosa, and was literally leaving the driveway that day to take off on the next phase of my life. I was READY.
Now, however, I realize my potential for adopting a permanent turtle profile is a natural result of spending a lot of time hunched over my computer and looking down at my damn phone.
Given that my time on the computer is not likely to decrease anytime soon, I use exercise and this tip from Kathryn Anne Flynn's IntelligentEdge.Yoga blog to start making small improvements over time. Its an inexpensive way to remind yourself to sit up straight. I now keep a strap at my desk to use for a few hours a day as part of my 2018 routine upgrade:
Bonus - if you have upper back tension and pain at the shoulder blade, its like a miracle cure.
I use a karate belt Sergio had laying around in a drawer. He loves this new use for an old belt - it makes me sit up very, ahem, straight. It's like an instant boob lift. lol.
A yoga strap with the folding buckle, like Kathryn's, the pretty lady above, is probably the best for holding tension.
We are so fortunate to live in a time when we have more than enough knowledge about keeping physically whole as we age, and no serious social disapproval for moving and using our bodies as we age. I'm pretty sure the authorities would have been called if my grandmother had worked out in a public park the way I do - burpees, downward dog, and partner yoga with Sergio. Even today at times we get raised eyebrows from some señoras walking their cute little dogs.
How about you? Are you beginning to see the shadows of your beautiful grandma or other female relatives in the mirror? How does it make you feel?
Can you hear her lovingly saying, "Stand up straight, honey, inside and out"?
What would you like to have in your life in 6 months that is not here, now? I'm offering complimentary Mirror Your Brilliance strategy sessions for select women through mid-January - a one on one conversation about your goals. More info at www.mirroryourbrilliance.com
This is the shape of our generation, ladies.
I just finished some research in prep for facilitating the 566 Sprints - goal crushing 6 month groups for midlife women leading with change in their lives.
I was curious about what has been different for us - what happened while we were growing up. I knew from experience that I have a blind spot about my own youth.
A few years ago I did some extensive reading about the civil rights movement, and I was shocked at the extent of murder and mayhem inflicted on African Americans and other civil rights workers in the south in the 1960s.
I knew it was bad, of course, but I was chagrined to be in my early 40s and just be learning the scope of what happened. How did I not know this stuff?
Well, my parents, in whose home respect for others was non-negotiable and racism not tolerated, sheltered me from it. TV was kept in its proper place, turned off and in the corner, except for evening shows we watched together and Saturday morning cartoons. I lived in the Northeast in my early childhood, what was happening along the back roads of the deep South certainly didn’t show up in school or our community.
The point is, sometimes its hard to see the reality of your own childhood until you step outside of it.
Through my more recent work producing videos for organic farms, non-profits working with homelessness and community health, and triple bottom line organizations, I sensed a difference in the pace of change. I can remember standing at Home Depot a few years ago, looking at a nice gas grill made in China , priced at $150, and thinking, "Things are too cheap right now".
I had not stepped back to get a broad overview until now. I was jolted into action by the natural disasters of the past year, which felt oddly personal to me even though I have not suffered to nearly the same degree as others have.
Every single place on the planet that my gypsy soul considers home was hit hard. Houston, where I grew up, Mexico City, where I live now, and Santa Rosa CA, where I lived for 5 years among natural beauty and an incredible community that nurtured my own midlife awakening.
I know, without drama or hype, that this is the new normal. Climate change is the hockey stick meta-metric. It doesn’t matter anymore if we agree on the reasons.
So off I went, googling major societal trends in food supply, consolidation of agriculture, (I was born in Iowa), rise of GMO and pesticide / fertilizer use, industrialization of meat production, cancer rates, prescription drug use, other health indicators, fast fashion, climate change, chemicals in breastmilk, chemicals in polar bears, rise of plastics, number of screens in public spaces, social media and smart gadget adoption rates. I posted a few of the results in this blog post.
If you were to paste all the graphs up on a wall and stand back, squint your eyes and blur your vision, the graphic above is what happened while we were growing up. I'm generalizing, but we pretty much bumped along for most of the century and then took a big ol’ upward swerve between the 70’s - 90’s, depending upon the indicator.
This is not your mama’s midlife ladies.
I did go looking for some good news, and of course it does exist - women reps in congress have increased, albeit not at anything close to a hockey stick spike. Lead levels in the air are way down in our major cities. Title IX was transformative for our generation. More women attending college and entering the workforce. Growing awareness of the importance of women in the global economy. Medical advances. Increased sexual freedom due to birth control, especially the Pill, although the long term effects on women’s health due to the hormones and menstrual suppression are in question.
I have felt for years like there was something out of sync with the “traditional” response to life changes, and particularly midlife. Now I see that “out of sync” is the exact term. We’ve been using a midlife map better suited to the early 20th century to navigate a more rapid pace of change.
The dark side of this is that, at a time in history when we don’t have a second to waste, women often internalize the challenges of midlife as something that they are doing wrong, and they get stuck.
Staying stuck is the exact opposite of how we are to experience midlife.
Women need a new, supportive approach to dealing. The struggle to juggle we’ve been patching together is not going to cut it going into the next 20 years.
What social statistics and the challenges of global climate change tells us is this - for women called to create impact with their lives, this would be helpful: take a fresh look at our environment and our life goals, do a quick and dirty SWOT, and adopt a framework that helps us build resiliency and mimic the rate of change around us.
This is the midlife mezcal cocktail that we need, not our mama’s gin and tonic toddies.
The risk if we don’t do this is that we lose the opportunity to contribute a balancing, healthy influence as the world rockets up this change curve and leaves us behind. Our young people who, quite frankly, could use our help and would like our leadership, are on that curve, too.
The challenges are immense. So is the opportunity. It doesn't matter if your journey is a passion for cupcakes or the cure for cancer, the thing that matters is that you make time for it.
Our families, communities, societies and the planet needs our collective female influence, resiliency and example.
Speaking of example, here is one of my favorites. We can see successful analogs of the framework above being modeled in pockets of society - The number of businesses owned by African American women grew 322% since 1997*, making black females the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. This progress against the backdrop of continued social challenges is particularly impressive.
There are a variety of factors that make up this statistic, of course. For the purposes of this piece, we see a group of women with strong sense of why they are here, many with deep spirituality grounding, leveraging today’s tools to connect with each other and resources online and create massive change. Their progress in this example is mimicking the overall trend of society.
The female journey, resiliency and impact is my jam, as the cool kids say. I’m producing a whole lotta content and related topics in 2018, we invite you to join us.
*“2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report” commissioned by American Express Open