What women in business over 40 need to know…
Well here it is. I can’t quite believe I am writing this. For no other reason than for the last 3 months my brain and my body have been locked in mortal combat and the thought of getting in front my computer and being creative was something I feared I would never be able to do again.
I thought I was losing my mind and will confess to several frantic google searches which ended at website for Alzheimer’s and early onset dementia, not to mention the vast array of mental health awareness sites.
Turns out I haven’t caught a rare viral disease from the Congo – I simply caught the menopause. Well perimenopause to be precise.
So, what better way to get back to writing, but the very thing I have been struggling with. I was tasked with writing a new article many weeks ago and it has taken me till now to even begin. I have no idea how far I will get before the “Can’t Be Arsed” kicks in but here goes.
For women working in any capacity either as a mum, going to work or running a business of your own, we will always face challenges that men will not. It’s a fact. One I celebrate. I love that fact that I got to have my babies and that just by being a woman, makes me feel stronger and more empowered when it comes to endurance and resilience.
Chasing down the carbs!!
But we have more than our fair share of bad days. Days we feel like crap. Days we struggle with energy and mental wellness. And as we get older it gets harder to power through. Over the last few months this has become my reality.
For months I thought my feelings of self-doubt, procrastination, paranoia and anxiety were caused by my business. Not my clients, but the business of business. Trying to compete online in a saturated market. Putting myself out there at networking events. Constant need to justify my skills and my very existence, not to mention chasing down and consuming every complex carbohydrate that came within 100 feet of me. It was all taking its toll.
Feeling like a failure
I know all too well that anxiety and depression are not social diseases. You don’t have to have a crap life, no money and no friends to feel depressed, isolated and confused. So even though the evidence was that my business and I were succeeding, I felt like a constant failure.
Then a chance conversation with a mum at the school and the penny dropped. “that sounds exactly like the symptoms I had in menopause” was the reply to my rather be-fuddled list of bewildering symptoms. “what? So I’m not crazy then?” “Nope just hitting 50”.
I wasn’t sure if I should be devastated or relieved. Menopause or perimenopause like many women’s issues is far more publicised and talked about than it was a generation ago. We kind of all know it’s coming, however with such a wide parameter of time scales and symptoms we are often unprepared.
I was unprepared. I’d like to say I have been distracted over the past 5 years. Training as a coach and trying desperately to turn my new skills into a profitable business. But that seems like a poor excuse now. I guess I always thought it would begin with the more publicised signs such as hot flushes, and a messed-up cycle. I never imagined it would begin with panic attacks, off the scale paranoia and the words “OH my god I actually think I am losing my mind”.
Running a business in your 40’s and 50’s
Running your own business is so hard. All the things you thought you were going to gain like time with your family, freedom to choose when you work, being in control of your day and your finances, become a distant memory. They do come. It is worth it. However, they rarely come off the bat and to navigate that journey can be perilous at times.
So perilous in fact that this is now the sole focus of my coaching business. Helping others to navigate the early stages of start-up and the emotional journey.
So, when I started to feel like a couldn’t think straight. Like I was doubting my every move. Panicking and over analysing every comment on social media and retreating into my pyjamas at the mere mention of networking I felt like the biggest imposter ever. “Come on Abbie YOU are supposed to be the one helping other people to overcome this. You are supposed to be past all this shit WTF are you playing at?”.
Arghgh dramatic yes, real, absolutely. Ok so I am no expert on menopause and honestly still can’t bring myself to read much info on it, but for now just knowing that I am not bat shit crazy has helped me to gain some perspective and begin to formulate my plan of action.
Let’s talk about Perimenopause
Conversation is where I find all my answers. The process of talking through and bouncing off ideas and experiences is where I gain my greatest realisations. So, this is what I have been doing. As a coach I am skilled in creating conversation wherever I go and once I began to dig a little deeper I realised very quickly just how many women in business were crying out to talk about their own experiences and they asked only I thing … what do I do to fix this?
Clients who had to give up their teaching career because of brain fog. High level IT consultants being chastised at work for fatigue and low productivity. Therapists who have reduced their consultation hours dramatically to combat feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.
This is not new information. I get that. Perimenopause and its symptoms have been talked about openly for many years and like other subjects such as anxiety and depression it is no longer a taboo subject.
How do I fix this I hear you ask?
What is missing is a coaching approach and reality check. So, you realise you have brain fog. Great but the next question I would be asking is so what the hell do I do? I have a business to run, clients to see, bills to pay. I don’t get sick pay so what can I do? How can I manage this? Or should I just give up now?
Ok so we are not giving up are we. So, what are we going to do? Here are a few strategies and tips that I have come up with that have helped me to get to this point. A point where I can sit here and write and one that might even get me to clean my bathroom afterwards.
We are talking more, and yet still not enough. Particularly when it comes to women in business there is still a huge amount of stigma attached to this type of issue. We need to educate ourselves our family and our work colleagues (men and women alike) so that we can continue to function successfully and effectively within our lives and our business.
These tips are created through my experience and training as a coach and through my own observations and realisations. With the invaluable insight and contributions from my wonderful friends, colleagues and clients, to whom I will be forever grateful for the “conversation”.
Top Tips to stay productive in your business during perimenopause
Choose to work when you feel most productive
I confess. At times it has felt like I have been possessed. My body and my mind in complete conflict. Voices … so many voices in my head all saying something different and the loudest one that says “Just go back to bed”. Brain fog and memory loss are common as is fatigue. In the past my creativity was a constant flow and my biggest challenge was controlling it. Now it’s more of a let’s see how I feel today kind of thing. Learn to be ok with this. Try the 5 second rule. If a brain fart comes, go with it. Write it down. Bullet points and post it notes are great and then when the flow begins you are ready. I used to pride myself on my memory skills and have now had to admit defeat. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Make notes. Get prepared and be productive when you can.
Take time don’t make time
Getting our head around time is a great behaviour for any stage of our life and business. And for me this has become a vital part of my weekly planning routine. Set time aside for the things you need to do. Limit the time you spend on exhausting tasks. Factor in the important things and do them if you can. If you are a naturally organised person and like to plan, this won’t disappear, you just need to tap into it and create more inventive ways to apply it.
As a start-up or single person business, working evenings and weekends is a must. At least to begin with. Be sure to make time for rest and relaxation. Remember why you set out to work for yourself and the things you thought you would gain? You must choose to set those boundaries and often when we let go and do less, we actually create more.
Yep so you can’t do everything and honestly why would you want to? The joy of getting older is you get to give less of a shit about what other people think. Embrace the changes and use this opportunity to make your business work for you and not the other way around. Take time to think about what you really want. What makes you happy. What brings you joy and create the business that meets those values. The overwhelming urge to power on regardless is something you may have to let go of. So take advantage and choose the good bits.
Find your tribe
A big turning point for my business recently has been to focus on a niche market of clients. Clients that mirror my values and who inspire me to be the best coach I can be. Allowing myself to let go of the need to help everyone and focus only on the clients that in fact help me. Sounds a little selfish however this makes me the best coach I can be. When I am feeling my best, I give my best and for me this means working with women often over the age of 40. And it seems now that we will have another subject to factor into our coaching conversations.
Simplify your goals
Yep let it go. For so long now I have been striving for goals I thought I wanted. When in fact they were not my goals. They were goals I thought I ought to be striving for because it made sense. It no longer makes sense for me to do this. It no longer serves me and by working through a process to simplify and reassess my goals I have found a renewed inner peace, motivation and focus.
Give yourself a break
Give yourself permission to take time off. Time away from your clients, your computer, social media, whatever it is – take a break. I hadn’t appreciated until now just how intrusive social media is on our mental health. I always thought I was tough enough to look past all the negativity and just take what I needed. I was wrong. When you feel paranoid, anxious or low take a break. Reduce working hours if you can. Take regular breaks in the day. Have a holiday!!! I started my business in 2016 because I wanted more free time. Now I work 60 hours a week and have had only 15 days holiday in 3 years. Now I take regular breaks. In the day. At weekends. I limit my time on social media and I have just returned from a lovely week in the Cotswolds, rested, refreshed and ready.
This too shall pass. Notice the times when you are not feeling yourself and just breathe. Exercise fresh air and good nutrition are all at the top of any must do list for combating the symptoms of menopause. Seek out those websites and take some tips from there. For me it is about creating the time in my day for food preparation and for gentle exercise. We all know it works we just have to trust the process. I factor it in regardless and trust that by doing this it will have the desired effect.
Behaviours are how we succeed. How we achieve and how we move forward. Goals are what we work towards, but it is the behaviours that get us there. When your mind is mush and your stomach is in knots having good basic behaviours keeps you on track.
Behaviours to help with food and exercise are great. Also new or improved behaviours such as making notes more regularly and time management will help get you through the fog.
Talk to other women. Talk to your mum. Talk to your kids. Talk to your friends. Conversation and shared experience are essential and so effective. We are of course each unique in every way, however we cannot deny that similarities in shared expertise can be both empowering and reassuring. Talk, think, listen, learn, share.
My coaching behaviours have saved me on more than one occasion. With the skills and knowledge I have, I am better able and prepared to navigate change. So being a coach doesn’t make you perfect. I mean doctors can still ignore their own health warnings and fitness instructors still eat the occasional burger I’m sure. The difference is that we have the knowledge and skills to reign it back in. When we experience difficulties, we have core behaviours to come back to.
We are not all coaches. Working with a coach in business is a great way to stay on track. When you are the business you need to invest in your own wellbeing. Whatever your business challenge. Menopause, or otherwise finding a coach that can help is a great place to start. Mindset coaching is about choosing how we think. Choosing how we feel and Choosing how to act. Taking responsibility for how we experience the world. Our world. Life will give you lemons and occasionally it will throw them at your head and knock you off your feet. Resilience teaches us how to get back up. Mindset teaches us when to duck!!!