Why a Midlife Crisis Hits High-Achieving Women Harder
I don’t know if you’re aware, but a midlife crisis isn’t just a man thing.
Women have the “pleasure” of this rite of passage, but it’s not something that’s talked about, so most women have no clue that’s what’s happening when it hits them.
For women, the midlife crisis is a what kicks off, what I call, a midlife transition. Personally, I don’t feel women are in “crisis” mode for the duration. But it’s what wakes them up to the fact that something needs to change.
As I’ve gone through my own midlife transition and talked with women from all walks of life in various stages of this transition, I’ve learned one thing:
That’s not a hard-fast rule or a guarantee because everyone is different. But, given the common characteristics these types of women share, it makes sense why this phase of life is especially challenging for these women.
So, let’s talk about that!
Why does a midlife crisis hit these women harder? And, more importantly, if you’re one of these women, what can you do about it?
WHY A MIDLIFE CRISIS IS SO MUCH HARDER FOR HIGH-ACHIEVING WOMEN
Let’s state the obvious here: high-achieving women are goal-oriented, hard workers, and success driven.
They also push themselves harder than most, have higher expectations for themselves, and thrive on getting things done.
These are fantastic qualities - many of which I embody myself - but, where it can go sideways is when these alpha tendencies push them down the wrong path.
You might think as intelligent, success-driven women, they wouldn’t allow themselves to go too far down a path that wasn’t the right fit. But, sometimes they get caught up in all the momentum that’s propelling them forward, and they don’t even realize what they’re pouring their energy into, isn’t what they want.
When this happens, I blame the disconnect between the head and the hearts; something experienced by the vast majority of people.
Or, maybe they know exactly how they’d tell their boss to kiss it as they sashay out of the office, but leaving a good-paying job, with excellent benefits, doesn’t feel responsible or wise.
There are many reasons why a midlife crisis can hit high-achieving women so much harder...
SUCCESS HAS BEEN MEASURED BY EXTERNAL MARKERS
For most phases of life, external markers are the accepted measures of success. From being graded in school as children, to promotions and job titles as adults.
But, it doesn’t stop there! Society sees success as having the right house, the fancy car, expensive jewelry, international travel, money in the bank.
What does it matter if you have a bank full of cash, a fast, shiny sports car, and a big beautiful house, if you work so much that you're either missing out on all significant milestones in your family (not to mention the little daily things), or worse, your family’s left you? How do the external markers fulfill you if you have no relationships of any depth or meaning, and despite your “success,” you hate the person staring back at you in the mirror?
That means everything you’ve known is called into question and you have to learn a new filter through which to process your life.
There’s a gap between what you are discovering to be true (i.e., internal markers are the real measures of success) and what you’ve spent years believing (i.e., external markers are the keys to success).
It takes a healthy dose of self-awareness to bridge the gap between these two concepts.
For high-achieving women, they’ve spent their entire adult lives in the company of highly externally-motivated people, so to realize that’s a facade is a hard pill to swallow.
INNER “TRUTHS” AND LONG-HELD STORIES WON’T LET ALLOW FOR A SHIFT
For many high-achievers, beliefs on things like “responsibility” or what is “selfish” keep them stuck.
“Responsible people don’t throw away a good job and great benefits to follow a dream.”
“It’d be selfish for me to focus on what I want, or even to set aside time to figure out what I want.”
“Too many people depend on me, so I can’t really change anything.”
Any of that sound somewhat familiar?
People are taught these types of “truths”, directly and indirectly, from the time they can walk and talk. These become so ingrained and internalized that they begin to take on a life of their own, so by the time you’re well into adulthood, deviating from these concepts isn’t easy.
EXPECTATIONS RUN HIGH
For high-achievers, expectations are at the root of most of their reality.
It starts early in life: from parents and teachers. Then, it shifts into expectations from colleagues, supervisors, etc.
The people you care most about - your family and friends - also contribute to the expectations that swirl around you.
And, finally, your expectations for yourself can run even higher than all of these others combined.
Personally, I hate expectations (even though, yes, as a high-achiever, I have some big ones for myself that I fight against all the time!).
From my perspective, expectations can be a huge contributor to unrealistic expectations and disappointment.
From the lens of staying stuck in life and feeling the heat of a midlife crisis: what you begin to discover you want more of in your life is in contrast with all of those expectations (at least, your Inner Bully tells you that!).
You believe by exploring a different path that you’ll let others down (or worse, yourself).
In reality, you have to push past that, because other people don’t get to decide your life for you. That’s your job, and your job only.
As for your own high expectations, you have to rein those in and give yourself some slack. It also pays to look at things through a different lens to see how your new dreams still fit in that long-standing expectation.
At the end of the day, it’s okay to release those old expectations and create brand new ones that fit better!
YOU DON’T WANT TO FEEL YOU’VE WASTED YOUR LIFE
It’s uncomfortable to feel like you no longer know yourself and the image you have of who you are is starting to feel like a suffocating mask.
When the familiar starts to feel grating and limiting, it can be challenging to know what to do with that info, so many do nothing and let it simmer under the surface.
Also, you’ve worked hard and likely sacrificed a lot to get where you are today, so to find out this isn’t cutting it anymore, is hard to accept. There’s resistance because you feel like if you’ve built the wrong thing, you’ve wasted years of your life.
Another way to spin that is that it took years of your life to gain the experience to be able to see what you need to discover what isn’t working...that’s actually a gift from the universe!
As high-achieving, successful women, you know how to fix things. You know how to take a failing project and, not only save it, but also make it a roaring success.
But, being blessed with these skills makes this process so much more frustrating! Fixing things is what you do, but this seems “unfixable.” This isn’t a work project or a home project. This is you! Your life!
This "project" is uncharted territory, and it doesn’t feel the same, so tearing it down, scraping parts of it, and starting over doesn’t seem like an option.
So, you languish and hope to just “figure it out” as you go along.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MIDLIFE TRANSITION
If this is you and you feel stuck and have no idea where to start, let me provide a few suggestions…
Lean into it: Give yourself a break and just lean into it to go with it. Don’t resist what you’re feeling or the fear that tempts to hold you back. Explore your ideas, your thoughts, the fears, and see what you can glean from it.
Learn more: Do what you do best: research, fill in the gaps, ask the questions, and learn more. How? Read, talk to people, take workshops, etc.
Get to know yourself better: The person you know yourself to be is part of what isn’t working anymore, so you have to push that aside, without judgment, and get to know who you are now. How? Journal, meditate, try new things, etc. The beauty of this is that you’ll connect your head and your heart and hear things you’ve never heard before!
Explore: Do things you’ve never done before, embrace new experiences, meet new people, have new conversations. The more “new” that you do, the better. With every experience or conversation, you uncover new aspects of yourself.
Give yourself permission to fail: External motivators imply that failing is bad. Nothing could be further from the truth! While you may acknowledge this fact in your work projects, most people are overly critical of themselves and judge themselves more harshly. So, be okay with failing when you try those new things! In fact, make it a mission to fail at something every single month to learn from it.
Set boundaries: One of the biggest challenges for high-achieving women is setting personal boundaries. They want to do it all, for everyone in their life. But, that’s not possible; because that means you’re leaving the most important person out: YOU. For this process to work, you need time for yourself, so take it; say no, leave work on time, turn your phone off, book a sitter, etc.
When a midlife crisis kicks off, it’s essentially an identity crisis. That’s what makes it so scary! For high-achieving women, they’ll feel this crisis stronger because it throws everything they’ve ever known about themselves, and the way they approach life, in a tailspin.
But, you have the power to bridge that gap and get to know your emerging identity.
Want some help with this? This is what I do...I help women over 40 experience a Midlife Awakening.
Ready to take that challenge? Click HERE to fill out your no-obligation application!