EP: 130 The Middlescence Manifesto: Building Resilience And Thriving In Midlife With Barbara Waxman

BWW 130 | Midlife Crisis

What do you think about the term mid-life crisis? When I think of that term, this is what comes to mind:

  • A mid-life man buys a Porsche.
  • He gets a divorce.
  • He gets a hairpiece or alters his appearance to look younger.
  • He starts dating a younger woman.

This is a stereotype, and it isn’t what every man goes through. But what about women? Do we have mid-life crises? Does the term “mid-life crisis” even exist, and how does it impact our ability to thrive in this part of our lives? My guest today, Barbara Waxman, specializes in this topic, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with her.

During our conversation, Barbara and I talked about:

  • ◦ Her journey to studying and becoming an expert in gerontology.
  • ◦ What middlescence is and how we can use it to our advantage.
  • ◦ Why a midlife crisis is a myth; we can thrive during this second adolescence.
  • ◦ I share some personal examples, and Barbara coaches me on the difference between 3 terms: mid-life crisis, burnout, and resilience.
  • ◦ We talk about the “used up” feeling after a long day at work and how this may be a sign that our energy management is off kilter.

We talk about her 5 Essential Elements Quiz and her book, The Middlescence Manifesto: Igniting the Passion of Midlife, available on her website.

Listen to the podcast here

The Middlescence Manifesto: Building Resilience And Thriving In Midlife With Barbara Waxman

I’m so glad you are here. How are you doing out there? I will start with a question. What do you think about the term midlife crisis? When I think of that term, this is what immediately comes to my mind. I think of a man in midlife buying a Porsche. He’s got a divorce. He has a hairpiece. That’s what comes to mind. He alters his appearance to look younger. He’s dating younger women.

That’s what I think of in my head. It’s a stereotype. We are not about stereotypes here at the show, but I want to come clean and tell you that’s what comes up for me, and this is not what every man goes through. I have not talked about or heard about what happens to women in midlife crises. Do we even have them? Does this term even exist? How does it impact our ability to thrive in this so-important area of our lives?

My guest, Barbara Waxman, specializes in this topic. When I was introduced to her, I was so grateful to have an opportunity to speak with her because I’m no secret here. I’m at this age. I’m getting to that point. I am smack dab in the middle of the midlife piece. I want to know about this. During my conversation with Barbara, we talked about her journey to studying and becoming an expert in gerontology. Spoiler alert, she gives a much better definition, but it’s about the studying of aging and what happens during that part of our lives. Also, the term middlescence, what it is, and how we can use it to our advantage.

Why midlife crisis? Spoiler alert, it’s a myth and what we can and how we can thrive during adolescence. I share some personal examples, and Barbara coaches me. She turns the tables on me and also tells the difference between the three terms, midlife crisis, burnout, and resilience. We talk about that used-up feeling after a long day at work. You know what I’m talking about.

You get home and you are spent. You are done. She talks about how this may be a sign that our energy management is way off kilter. We also weave in her five essential elements quiz and her book, The Middlescence Manifesto: Igniting the Passion of Midlife, both of which are available on her website. Here’s more about Barbara. She’s the Founder of Odyssey Group Coaching and is an aging advocate who helped define the middlescence life stage. She is passionate about building leaders, personal and professional skills so they can thrive while maximizing their effectiveness in the face of change and complexity.

BWW 130 | Midlife Crisis
The Middlessence Manifesto, igniting the Passion of Midlife

Her leadership in the coaching field has culminated in the transformative coaching model, entrepreneurship turn inward, and her science-based five essential elements process. Barbara serves as an advisor to the Stanford Center on Longevity and Stanford Lifestyle Medicine, as well as the Generations Over Dinner Project.

Additionally, she’s a faculty member at Chip Conley’s Modern Elder Academy and an angel investor in the aging and longevity space. She has been featured in Marin Magazine in Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global. She has also appeared on CBS, and she’s a frequent guest just like at Brave Women at Work. Barbara authored a chapter in The Successful Health Care Professional’s Guide and the report, The Future of Resilient Leadership. She previously authored two other books examining aging.

Before we get started, as I always ask, if you are enjoying the show, please make sure to leave a rating and review either on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. If you have already left a rating and review, I say I appreciate you. This small act helps the show gain traction and grow. Just for fun, I looked at our statistics for the show and we reached 33 countries around the world. When you leave a rating and review, what you are doing is you are spreading the good words. I thank you.

You can also share the show with your friends, family members, or colleagues on your social media feeds. Last but not least, I want to remind you, I have amazing freebies and new freebies on my website and I’m excited to give them to you. The three of them are the 24 Career and Leadership Affirmations that you can use every day to bolster and boost that mindset, which we know is so important. The second one is on negotiation. It’s called Get Paid: 10 Negotiation Tips that pay and the benefits that you deserve. The final one is very important. It’s 5 Steps to Managing Imposter Syndrome when it strikes. You can grab all of these on my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com. Let’s welcome Barbara to the show.

BWW 130 | Midlife Crisis

Barbara. Welcome to the show. How are you?

I am great. Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you so much for being here. I’d like to start by asking everyone about their background story. Tell us a little bit about your journey and how you have gotten to where you are now.

I call this my genesis story. It’s an interesting journey that, like all of us, I have been on. The journey is been so interesting because a lot of my greatest insights and where I am now come from both my childhood and my pain points more than they have been from my highest points. When I was a kid growing up in New York, my dad, who was a physician, would take me when he would go and volunteer in particular at a place called the Menorah Home & Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.

I was probably about seven years old. He would take me to this nursing home, he would go and see patients, and I would wander the halls. I will never forget, even when I talk about it now, seeing that white-blue light from the fluorescent lights, hearing that buzz, and smelling the antiseptic smell of a nursing home. I would peek around doors, people would look at me and say, “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

From a very young age, I learned that secret sauce that when you shine a light and add some joy to someone else’s day, you end up happier for it. I’d believe in not being scared of old people or any of those kinds of ageist things that are so prevalent in our family systems being taught to us in our culture, but rather I would leave feeling great. Over the years, I kept going back.

When I was in college during the summers, I would be a recreational therapist. In fact, I thought I was going to be a nursing home administrator. I studied the psychology of aging and did an honors thesis on perceptions of the aged in college. I then went out into the work world, worked in a management consulting firm, and realized that I could marry this idea of aging and gerontology, which was a very new field in the 1980s when I became a part of it with entrepreneurship and making the world a better place.

That started my journey into adult development and aging because we continue to grow up and age even when we are supposed to be grownups. I then moved to California. When my daughter was about eight years old, for any of you parents reading, she wanted to leave her birthday party. You know that when your eight-year-old wants to leave their birthday party, something is seriously wrong.

At that point, I professionally had been doing work mostly in the aging sector for architects, advising them, and leading retreats of groups serving the elderly and general businesses as well. When Jill became sick, I benefited. I had been struggling as a mom for years with how much I could work and feel like I could be a good mom, and then feeling like a good mom. I wanted to commit to my career.

Once Jill got sick, that was resolved. I stopped working and focused for two years on finding a resolution to what was an autoimmune disease. That clarity led me to understand that I became her navigator, and at the same time, I recognized that people, professionals, CEOs, and other entrepreneurial leaders had been asking if I would coach them.

Just like I became a gerontologist when the field of aging was in its infancy, I also was invited to open my eyes to the coaching world when it too was very young. For the longest time, I didn’t hear the questions. I heard the questions I should say, but I didn’t listen deeply. After Jill’s experience, when I was ready to go back to work, I recognized that I should explore what people are asking me about when they ask about my coaching them.

I looked at it and recognized that coaching is a very powerful skillset and toolkit that, along with gerontology, could help thousands and millions of people if I had a large enough stage to recognize their potential and put it to work. I would say my journey has been, from my childhood, having a passion for aging.

We all have passions that are different. Unearth them, own them, and see where it takes you. I put it together with coaching and became probably the first Master’s level Gerontologist and certified coach in the US, but I will say one of the first because I can’t exactly quantify that. I started Odyssey Group Coaching in 2005, and it’s taken off from there.

Just so we know gerontology because we might use that term again, is that simply the study of aging? What does gerontology mean?

Thank you for asking because it is not being a geriatrician. Most people think I’m a doctor, an MD. A gerontologist is someone with expertise, a Master’s level degree. We are used to hearing about child development specialists. I specialize in demography, social policy, physiology, cognitive behavior, and all the aspects of adult development and aging.

As a gerontologist, a utility player calls it. I keep up with the meta-research and I discern it in ways and then communicate it out so that each one of you can learn about what we used to refer to as the field of aging. Now we have shifted even our terminology to think about longevity. It is way more aspirational. None of us wants to age, but we certainly want to invest in our longevity. I help people do that by taking information, making it workable, doing presentations, speaking engagements, and coaching.

I’m going to go a little out of order. When I was doing research on your background and the work that you do, your newer work that I understand is on personal and professional resilience. Since we are talking about the study of midlife, aging, and all of that, your earlier work was on a topic that I have never heard of. One of the reasons I was so excited to have you on the show is this term called middlescence. What does that mean?

When we boil things down, when we can name it, we can tame it. We need to be in a relationship with a concept of feeling so that we can identify what it is and where to go with it. The moment I say to you, “Do you remember when you were an adolescent?” what are some of the first things that come up for you?

We need to be in a relationship with a concept of feeling so we can identify what it is and where to go with it. Share on X

It’s so funny we are doing this now. It was tough. It was like all the body changes. It was the painful friendships and first breakups and all the firsts. It is not knowing how to navigate it and feeling painfully awkward. How’s that for an honest answer?

It is exactly right on with what I’m guessing most of the readers are going to be feeling as well. It’s an awkward time. It’s an uncomfortable time. Guess what? It was a time that was only created, made up by a psychologist named Stanley Hall in 1911. He recognized there were various reasons, economically, socially, and politically, that it was time, for example, for kids to have to stay in school even when they looked like they were becoming grownups.

They can’t be sent to factories in the early-1900s, for example. He created the term adolescence. Now most of us think it’s a thing. It’s part of growing up. I took that concept, and now I will ask you to think about a time. When you are in midlife, guess what? Your hormones change again. Your relationships shift. There’s this identity, not a crisis, but deep questioning. Whereas in adolescence we say, “I’m not a little kid, but I’m not a grownup.” Now we say, “I’m not young anymore, but I’m not old.” We have so many of the same qualifiers.

Stanley Hall named it adolescence in 1911 and it’s a gift to all of us. In 2015, I was in a gap year. I can talk about that later if it’s of interest. I spent the time looking at the qualitative properties of all the hundreds of people I’d worked with, all the quantitative research data, and recognize that the 30 years we have added to our life expectancy aren’t at the end.

We tend to think to default thinking, “I’m going to be old longer.” That is not how we experience them. The middle of our lives has expanded. We have effectively added a second adolescence when we are supposed to say, “I have decades ahead. Did my decisions in my twenties have to define the rest of the next 3 or 4 decades?”

It’s a time to revisit, plan, dream, and struggle. Just like I found coaching after having been a navigator through my daughter’s illness, a pain point, the struggle is part of the beauty. The light comes in through our cracked Japanese pottery. It is a beautiful art. It’s where the broken pieces are and they cover it with gold.

That’s where the light comes in and where the learning happens. Middlescence is an important time for us to embrace. I’d ask every one of us reading here, what if we lived life anticipating a second adolescence and an opportunity to try things out, make mistakes, and figure out what we care about and move forward with it?

It’s so great that you are touching on these topics. First off, my daughter and I got back from a camping trip. It’s not real camping. It’s glamping. I don’t camp. Anyone who knows me really knows me. It’s like, “No. I’m not tenting on the ground.” Anyway, we were talking because this is my older daughter. They are having the adolescents talk, and I wanted to have that conversation so she didn’t get it firsthand from school.

It’s so timely we are talking about this and that second adolescence when we are in midlife. There is one thing I wanted to ask you. When we hit 40, people say, “The man will go by the Porsche. The woman will like whatever.” Whatever she does, it’s so stereotypical for men. I think that each of us has this “crisis,” but you say it’s a myth. Why do you think that midlife crisis is a myth?

First, say something in response to your glamping experience. Another reframe of aging, one of my closest friends is turning 75. What is she doing to celebrate? She’s inviting 60 of her closest friends to go glamping for the weekend. She’s creating a whole revenue of a talent show at night just like going to camp for the weekend. It’s awesome. Who would think a 75-year-old would be choosing to do that for their birthday? Karen is amazing.

It is absolutely true that the midlife crisis is a myth. First of all, there’s never been any research that proves it and yet we assume that it’s a thing. It was created first in the 1950s by a 47-year-old White male who probably was going through struggles of his own and didn’t know what to do with it. He happened to love classical music.

BWW 130 | Midlife Crisis
Midlife Crisis: The midlife crisis is a myth. There’s never been any research that proves it, yet we assume it’s a thing.

He looked back at the lives of composers like Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert, all from the 1800s or late-1700s, and looked at the crises in their lives. That’s what it was based on. When he first brought it up in the 1950s, no one listened. He brought it up in the 1960s again and it stuck. Why did it stick? Why do we associate the red Corvette and Harley-Davidson? That’s when advertising in the US took off as a cultural phenomenon. They said fear sells and that this midlife crisis is awesome.

It was like so many things including retirement, which retirement didn’t exist before. It was created in 1935 and Social Security was enacted. A guy named Del Webb said, “People don’t know what to do with retirement. I will tell them. It means leisure.” Do you ever hear of the leisure word? It is all of these creations, midlife, crisis, and retirement. There are so many aspects that have to do with aging are myths. It’s because we live in a highly ageist society.

Not to blame ourselves too much, but the truth is we have lived, since the birth of people, a millenniums ago. We didn’t age. We died. People’s life expectancy for thousands and thousands of years has been about eighteen. It then moved close to 30 and stayed. It is only in the last 150 years, which is less than a blip on our historical humanistic radar, that we have had the advent of three things, antibiotics, pasteurization, and understanding hygiene.

It’s not that we lived longer. It’s that we didn’t die in childhood. Those have been the biggest factors. We have added those decades I talked about before, and they are in the middle. It’s a confusing time because our society hasn’t caught up. Part of what I do is break down the myths so that people can work with what they have got and understand, for example, based on research, the U-curve of happiness. Have you ever heard of it?

I have never heard of the U-curve. Tell us a little bit about that.

This one is true because it’s based on research. When we are in our twenties, imagine a smiley face, and so the U-curve is that smile. When we are in our twenties and we feel like life will go on forever, where we can make all the mistakes we want and we are allowed to, things are feeling pretty good. That’s the high point.

When we are in our 30s and our 40s, let’s face it, even though we have families, it’s a very fulfilling time, but it’s not our happiest because it’s a slog. How do we support our families? How do we keep our relationship alive? If we don’t have a relationship and we are a single parent or we are alone and we don’t have a relationship, how do we create our lives while also supporting ourselves? This hard slog happens. We start feeling like, “Am I living my dream or someone else’s? Do I have regrets? Do I still have time to fix it?”

When we reach about 47 and a half, according to research, we hit rock bottom. That’s about the time of the midlife crisis. What if we expected because the research is there and say it’s a reckoning time? It is a challenging time. It is the time when people in general around 47 to 50 or 52, start saying, “Something has got to give.”

We recognize. We no longer have all the time in the world. Our time is limited. What happens when something is limited? It’s more expensive. It’s precious to us. Think of diamonds. Think of something that you want that is hard to come by. You want to work for it. We realize each moment is sweeter because there are fewer of them. We have this reckoning and then the U-curve goes up the other side and we are happier.

Even in our 80s, it is a myth. People have higher self-reported levels of happiness from the 50s onward because we don’t care as much, especially women, about what other people think, and we make the changes. Not that this is a change I would look forward to for anybody, but according to ARP, more women ask for divorces after the age of 50 than men.

A lot of people think it’s the other way around, and why? When some of the life transitions, including becoming an empty nester, are complete or towards completion, women are saying, “It’s me time. I have decades. I’m going to empower myself to create a good life and make the changes.” The U-curve is fascinating. Why I love this work with people who are what I call midlife and better is to help each one of you empower yourself to be a leader. To lead your life, lead your family, work in your community, lead your company from whatever chair you sit in, and make the world a better place.

I have got to tell everyone that you have a book on this. It’s called The Middlescence Manifesto: Igniting the Passion of Midlife. Go pick that up as a resource. Here is one other question before we switch gears. People that read this show know many times because I have talked about it. It’s well-known now that I went through burnout in my early-40s. Can you start hitting this what next thing earlier than 47? I feel like I’m maybe an early riser or an early adopter of the midlife crisis or this midlife transition.

I would need to know a little bit more because there is a distinction between burnout and midlife crisis. Burnout is a resilience issue. The so-called crisis, but I prefer to call it a reckoning, has more to do with what’s next. We can go both ways on this. Where do you want to start?

This is a nice transition into your work on resilience, and we will use me as an example. Probably many of your clients are, “I was always being a good girl chasing all the gold stars. I’m always getting good grades or achieving.” I have been reading a lot about achievement addiction, and I was always on the next wave looking for the next hit of dopamine or whatever that I had an achievement, and then my health bottomed out.

I think that’s what you are saying about resilience. I interviewed someone and we talked about post-traumatic growth. I feel like I’m in the work I’m doing with women. It’s like, “I’m now finding my purpose. This is going to be part of my midlife transition.” It’s interesting that I have found this even before what you are calling the midlife period is from 47 to early-50s. I feel like it’s going to be part of that for me, which is cool that it happened to me a little early.

Thank you for sharing some of your history and background with this. I put out a newsletter. I only send them once a month and people can sign up for them on my website. I talk about post-traumatic growth. The timing is incredible. I relate it to the importance of a gratitude practice which will come back to as part of helping solve burnout.

The first response to what you are sharing is leadership and self-preservation, conservation, and empowerment is an inside job. We need to be present with ourselves enough to recognize, and most of us don’t. We get up and we are going to power through the day. We have things to do. You probably were working out of that mode, I’m guessing. Does that sound familiar?

Leadership, self-preservation, conservation, and empowerment are inside jobs. We need to be present with ourselves enough to recognize. Share on X

Yes, my whole life.

There’s that. Number one is to stop. Before you get out of bed in the morning, the first practice I will share is to consciously take three breaths in your body and say, “Here I am,” and think about three things you are grateful for before getting out of bed. It can be as profound as, “I have no pain in my body,” if you have been someone who has struggled with it.

I have had two hip replacements, believe it or not. I can do a split better than some twenty-year-olds, but I was living in pain. I thought, “We have the technology. I’m going to put it to use.” It’s a very personal example that when I wake up and I don’t have pain. That’s something I’m grateful for. Many of us take it for granted. What’s something that you woke up and now you could think, “I’m grateful for this?”

My daughter and I were finishing our glamping weekend. I was so thankful that I was spending time with her in this beautiful tiny home with a beautiful view. Those were the things that I thought of right away.

It colors your world. Research shows if you practice those 3 breaths and 3 things before you get out of bed, that your day will be changed. You will start your day by being caught up with your day. When you have that feeling that you wake up and you already feel behind, how is that even possible? That’s what we need to solve when someone feels stressed and burnt out. Number one is that practice.

Number two is this leadership is an inside job. Self-knowledge is important. It is understanding what the things are, the quick hits that enable you to what I call get back on your cushion. If you have ever meditated, there’s this analogy of falling off your cushion. What helps you get back on? For me, I will share another tool. It’s a power nap during the day.

If I’m not feeling clear, if I’m feeling stressed and my heart is in my throat, if I’m feeling tired, it is not a nap. It’s not sleeping. Research shows that when you can sit back in a chair or you can lie down and if you deeply breathe and clear your mind and go into that zone for 8 or 10 minutes, you will feel refreshed. Avoiding burnout is practicing self-care that is not selfish but purposeful. It gets you to a place where you feel like, “I am the best version of me.” That’s what we are going for. Those are a couple of ways to get there.

That’s great. Those are good examples and things that we often forget because we are too busy with the to-do list. We got to take care of kids or we are busy at work. Are these foundational practices? I want to switch gears to personal and the concept of personal resilience. Are that examples of how we build that muscle?

Absolutely. I will mention here these five essential elements. My daughter was sick all those years ago. Thank goodness she has a baby now. She’s healthy and whole. Through that experience, I was introduced to what we call integrative medicine using the best of what we have in Western medicine and integrating all kinds of modalities, Chinese medicine for example, and other things.

When I did that, I started to study energy and how we understand what keeps us not from being sick but what can keep us exuberantly well. I recognize this from ancient research and current data. I published a chapter in a book for healthcare professionals because the rates of burnout amongst nurses and physicians during COVID have been tremendous. I was asked to write a chapter about avoiding burnout.

How do we do it? We have five core areas. The first is so foundational, rest and renewal. You can’t fake it. That’s one of the things that happens in that downward slide of the U-curve. We get to a place where we try to use and abuse our bodies in ways we could get away with when we were younger. We all need a different amount of sleep.

Fewer than 2% of the population needs less than six hours. We need between 7 to 8.5 hours. How much do you need? Get the sleep you need. I won’t go on more about that here, but rest and renewal are the first. The second is the tip of the iceberg where we all think, “Here’s what I need to do to be resilient.” Exercise and nutrition. That’s 20% of what we need. It is not the tail wagging the dog as we think it is, but we are what we eat. We need to do strength training as well. There’s exercise and nutrition.

The other key three areas are focus and growth. Most of us are in what I call the intellectual property business. We are not out there. I love to garden, but my full-time job isn’t out there tilling the soil and doing physical labor. Most of us are modern-day thinkers. How are we exercising our brain and keeping our focus and clarity at its highest point? We typically don’t invest in that. Let me focus on meditation. There are a few apps like Calm and Headspace. They offer free ten-day trials. I highly recommend using them. The more you can meditate and empty your brain, the more successful you will be at all the rest. That’s the third area. Focus and growth.

The fourth area is what I call joy and passion. I don’t call it purpose. I feel like, in the US, we have an obsession with finding our purpose. People get upset and they get stuck because they think, “I don’t know what my purpose is. I’m not Mother Teresa.” We all have multiple senses of purpose. Some are little P purposes. Working in my garden brings me joy. It makes me a better person that I take into the world.

It is working in my garden, growing enough things that I can give them away and share them with others. Those are some of my little P purposes that add up. I’m fortunate that I’m clear. I changed the world by meeting awesome people like you, Jen, and speaking on podcasts and to groups of hundreds if not thousands when I’m doing this, and that’s my big P purpose.

Here is the last, the only assessment that looks at your relationship with time. Burnout happens because people say, “I need to be a better time manager.” You can’t manage time. Einstein showed us the time warps. We can only bring the energy we have to the time available and use it wisely so we can manage ourselves and our energy and apply it diligently to the time.

I will give you an example. Most people are clearest first thing in the day. The exception is typically for creatives. When I work with creatives, oftentimes they say, “I come alive at night.” For those people who come alive at night, flip this script. If you are someone who is most clear in the morning, my hunch is you typically use that morning time to clear a ton of things off your plate and go for low-hanging fruit so that you can then get to the tough thing that you have to do, but you can get through these things pretty quickly and you feel like you have accomplished a lot.

You don’t feel like you have accomplished a lot, because, at the end of the day, it’s like, “I didn’t get this thing done.” Do the hardest thing first. If you think, “What is the one thing I need to do tomorrow that will make me feel like at least I got that thing done?” do that when your applied energy is the greatest. The rest, you will tick through in no time.

This assessment is free. It’s on my website. I give it away to individuals. People who are coaches license it to use for their clients, but otherwise, I give it away because I want people to be able to understand and assess themselves. Let’s say 25 questions true or false quiz, and then you can get your score to know if you are thriving or languishing and what to do about it.

There is a book that I read as another resource for everyone reading. It’s called The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth About Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It does talk to what you are saying like focusing on the one thing first rather than having this huge to-do list, and then our most important rock is at the end of the day and we are already spent. We don’t feel like we have gotten anything done because that one thing is still on the list.

It was on your site. You mentioned the idea of being used up. When I saw that on your site or maybe a blog, I was like, “I totally know what that means.” I’m so used up by the end of the work day that I’m glazed over and then my kids are like, “Play with me, mom.” I also have a four-year-old, and she’s like, “Do the mini-matchy game with me. Let’s play outside and go and ride bikes and things like that.” Honestly, not the best parenting moment, but I’m exhausted. Is it because maybe I didn’t get to the one thing or maybe I’m low in the tank of these elements that you talked about?

First, I would take the assessment, and then I’m happy to chat with you offline about how you do. Let me ask you this. When you are thinking about your energy throughout the day, when are your high points and when are your low points?

I’m high in the morning. I’m a morning lark, like 5:36 AM so about 10:00 or 11:00 AM. I probably shouldn’t be allowed to work after 2:00 PM because I’m done. I do my team. I will tell them like, “I’m tired, people. I’m tired right now.”

I hear that one of the elements that have you concerned is, “I don’t want my four-year-old to think I’m not available and I don’t want to have regrets.” Regret is a big issue associated with burnout. Tell me your little one’s name.

Olivia.

For you to feel Olivia is getting her due or what you want to be giving to her, what does that look like over the course of a week? Would it be, “I want her to feel like I played with her at least four times or every day?” What would it look like to you?

I would say like 3 to 4 days a week of really being present and having energy. I’m using me as an example for everyone reading because I know this is real life and I have no problem being vulnerable. I’d say 3 to 4 days a week where I’m present with her and we are having a joyful experience.

Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing. I have a feeling that a bunch of your readers are thinking, “I got to get my notes out and take them down.” 3 to 4 times a week, and for how much time? Give some examples of what she loves, what you love to do with her, and what would you love to introduce her to. What are some things?

I would say bike riding. She’s a new bike rider. She’s still got training wheels, but she moved up to a bigger girl bike. It is being present with her and watching her. The other thing she loves is crafting. She loves painting, loves Play-Doh, and Kinetic Sand, that squishy sand that you can buy. It is being present and making fun creations, complimenting her, pouring into her, and not having her worry or me worry about like, “Is my brain fragmented somewhere else because I’m not being fully present?”

Here are two tricks for everybody reading. Number one, I want you to think about work-life balance. Write it down on a sheet of paper and tear that thing up. Work-life balance is not the goal. It doesn’t exist. Rather, what we are going for is work-life integration. “How do I integrate well enough so that I feel that, on balance, I’m a good mom and I’m good at my career?” You might say great, but you might say good enough.

Go for integration, and what do I mean by that? Some weeks, you are going to say, “Olivia, this is a week that mommy is not going to get to play that much,” because you got a ton going on at work. There may be other weeks where you say, “Guess what? Every day we have got a plan.” You are going to integrate and not expect there to be balance every week.

This is an extra one. You are going to role model for your kids. As they are growing up, talk about life has so many wonderful things and, as you can see, you are going to get to choose what you do. Sometimes there are tough choices. Be a role model and talk to her. They are never too young to understand and to learn the beauty of relationships, the beauty of self-care that isn’t selfish but is impactful for yourself. Children need to know this, too, especially when they are so distracted by technology and other things that pull them down rabbit holes that aren’t self-care.

Back to my number two for you. As working moms, part of our good work is being a mom. Like you had our show time scheduled, look at the next week and schedule Olivia time. It is whatever you need to do. Is it a power nap for 20 or 10 minutes and I’m going to chill and then bounce out to her? What could that look like for you if you scheduled it and did whatever you needed to do to get yourself in the mindset?

That’s good because I don’t have that on my calendar and you reminded me like, “Why not block out time for her? Why not know it’s on my calendar color-coded in purple, which is her favorite, so then I can be like, ‘There’s my Olivia time,’ rather than trying to squeeze it in or rush it in?” That’s a very good reminder.

By the way, you get to show her and say, “Look at mommy’s week. Can you find the purple?”

That’s true. That it will help me energetically too to be like, “I’m excited because there’s the purple block.”

Think about those days. What do you need to do for yourself to prepare to be who you want to be at that time?

That’s good. One thing I have been hearing a lot is energy management or energy ROI. Another final reminder for women reading is that I’m used to always saying yes, and now I’m starting to think, “What is the energetic ROI or Return On Investment for this?” If it’s not going to help me with my energy or like we have talked about with resilience, help me to stay full in my own tank, then why am I doing it? I didn’t know if you had any comments on that.

To be a game changer for yourself and your family, and I don’t mean children but for your extended family, because a lot of us are caregivers for our parents, you have to have the energy for the game. To have the energy for the game, you have to say, “For everything I’m saying yes to, what is the no I’m saying? Where am I going to do that?”

ROI is the perfect analogy because it’s the return on your investment that people used to ascribe to the ROI as money. Money can’t buy time, and time is what we crave. Surveys show people want more money. We pay a ton for time to have those efficiencies. It is looking at, “What is worth it to me?” Oftentimes, especially for women, we don’t know how to say no to relationships or things that draw our energy down.

When I think of ROI and I think about our energy, there are three kinds that people need to be aware of. The first we talked about was the five essential elements. It’s your personal energy. Women often think of this or typically think of this like an ocean. “I’m going to keep drawing and then I will pass out in bed for the night.”

Your reservoir is that it can be depleted. It is not an ocean. Think about your personal energy as a reservoir, not an ocean. It’s distinct from your interpersonal energy, which is whom you are with, and does that energy feed you? Are there people who are depleters? If they are and you have to see them, PS, some of them are family members sometimes, think about, “When I look at integrating my days, what blocks can I put this person in so that I have my energy for Olivia and that I’m not doing the most challenging thing, which is a relationship issue that’s going to draw me down? I’m going to do that another time.”

Be conscious and self-aware of yourself, your energy, and these activities, even the interpersonal ones, and then finally universal energy. Take a breath. Taking two breaths takes five seconds and yet it feels like a minute and helps settle your blood pressure. Your spirit gets you back on that proverbial cushion that you may have fallen off of. Universal energy, interpersonal energy, and personal energy are the things to be self-aware about and understand which parts of them speak to you and how to use them to invest in yourself so you get the ROI that you crave.

Be conscious and self-aware of yourself, your energy, and these activities, even the interpersonal ones. Share on X

I do ask all of my guests this one question. If you have time, then let’s do it. What are 1 to 2 ways women can be braver at work?

One way women can be braver at work is to show up owning their power. By power, I don’t mean power over others. I mean rules of authenticity. It is the power to own your story and not hide. Know that you are enough even though you are not perfect. No one is perfect. Cultivate your courage by being vulnerable. That’s one way to be authentic and empowered. The other way is to build your social network. We are a tribe. There was a great book written a number of years ago called Tribal Leadership and it describes the different levels of tribalhood at work. It’s a great easy read for people to understand how to build their networks and be empowered.

One way women can be braver at work is to show up, owning their power. Share on X

Where can women find you and your work online?

The best way is to go to BarbaraWaxman.com. There are quizzes there. You can download various materials for free there. You can sign up for my once-a-month newsletter. That’s the easiest place.

Thank you so much, and thank you again for being on the show.

Thanks for having me. It was great.

That does it for my chat with Barbara. I hope you found our discussion both valuable and inspiring. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show in Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts and Stitcher. Until next time, show up, thrive in midlife, and be brave.

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About Barbara Waxman

BWW 130 | Midlife CrisisBarbara Waxman, Founder of Odyssey Group Coaching, is an aging advocate who helped define the Middlescence life stage. She is passionate about building leaders’ personal and professional skills so they can thrive while maximizing their effectiveness in the face of change and complexity. Her leadership in the coaching field has culminated in the transformative coaching model, Entrepreneurship Turned Inward© and her science-based Five Essential Elements© process.

Barbara serves as an Advisor to the Stanford Center on Longevity and Stanford Lifestyle Medicine, as well as the Generations Over Dinner Project. Additionally, she is a faculty member at Chip Conley’s Modern Elder Academy and an angel investor in the aging and longevity space. Featured in Marin Magazine and Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global, she has also appeared on CBS This Morning and is a frequent podcast guest. Barbara recently authored a chapter in The Successful Health Care Professional’s Guide (Springer Publishing) and the report The Future of Resilient Leadership. Barbara previously authored two books examining aging.

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