iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Nancy Sherr


Midlife Women After the Wham

Posted: 08/09/2012 9:08 am

As a woman in midlife we possess a particular depth of experience, a sense of hard-earned cultivated wisdom -- and we certainly deserve that distinction. We've raised kids, managed households, lead careers, engaged in marriages and relationships, cared for our aging parents and then -- wham.

In 2008, I ran up against my wham. I was a 22-year veteran exec of a Wall Street firm who was unceremoniously shown the door. I was faced with a real conundrum. My identity was tightly woven around and through the walls of that tall, shining office tower. It may as well have been a long-term marriage. It was what I knew. And I achieved, full out. I was earning in the top tier, raising my kids in Manhattan, married 15 years -- plenty to be proud of.

However, my intrinsically rewarding life was instantly obliterated when I was forced out. My identity was shattered. Five days later, I lost my father of 92 years. He was my hero. He raised me from age 6 by himself, along with my two older brothers after we lost our mother tragically. I was no stranger to sudden loss -- it coursed through me all my life.

Practice in loss doesn't make one a pro at grief. It does, however, serve as a point of deep reflection. Choosing to positively incorporate the recognition of mind-blowing loss initiates the road to recovery and honors the blessings of that person or experience gone by.

Through the darkness of personal collapse I slowly evolved, finally realizing that softening into gratitude beats the vulnerability of grief to the punch. Gratitude for the six years I had with my radiant and extraordinary mother. Gratitude for my loving and heroic father who inspired me to be the resilient survivor that I am today. Gratitude for my two older brothers who loved and protected me as the three of us grew up motherless. Gratitude for being alive today to watch my sparkling children grow.

And ultimately, gratitude to the firm for showing me the door, offering me the gateway to the best chapter of my life. Once I got up off the floor and the shock subsided, and I finally stopped feeling like a victimized, washed-up old troll, I realized they gave me the gift of liberation: the golden opportunity to create a life I love. A life fully expressed.

Once I made my way out of the hollows of despair, my mind's eye saw a fresh, clean, white canvas. I reached for the most vibrant colors and began my dazzling re-creation, etched in my divine signature, as my authentic self, and all on my own terms. Today, there is no delineation between my professional and personal life; it is together, all a clear reflection of who I am essentially.

Identity loss is to rebirth as change is to evolution. Both painful, both bursting with opportunity. I created A Zestful Life as a place to serve women motivated to reclaim, recreate and rejuvenate through big life changes; a place to support women crafting their own customized and artfully blended life. Because there is no such thing as a balanced life in today's world.

It takes more than optimism, hope and future-mindedness to revitalize a shattered identity. It takes being deliberate, staying committed and creating a plan. First, we identify who we are essentially vs. who we've become socially to satisfy our personal "board of directors." We also engage in the energizing exploration of identifying our passions and character strengths. Using our natural talents and strengths in new ways serves as the critical underpinnings of recreating a wholehearted life, a life well-lived. Overall, the deeper we understand how to create our personalized recipe of the elements of well-being -- positive emotion, engagement, relationships with others, meaning and purpose, and achievement -- the better positioned we are to thrive.

I believe the power of coaching is a pre-eminent catalyst for human change. Funny enough, I did not choose coaching. It called me. In his book "Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being," Martin Seligman cited sociologists distinguishing between jobs, careers and callings. Jobs are for the money; careers are for promotions, benefits, and the hope of longer-term security. A calling is different. Seligman describes a calling as "a passionate commitment to work for its own sake."

What called me to coaching? As I became a student of my own well-being, coaching was presented with distinct clarity. What better way to spend my days than exercising the best parts of myself? Ask yourself: What are you doing when you're at your best? What's your secret sauce that people can count on you for? It's time to create a life around that.

Do what you love. And do what you do best. Get deliberate. Get inspired. Get going.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Find What Fascinates You

    Examine your life up to this point: What fascinates you? What, even if I don't fully understand it, really lights me up? What is worth doing? What's most rewarding and where can I make a contributions? Dr. Shep Nuland, a retired surgeon-turned-author who was interviewed by Mark Walton, author of the book <em><a href="" target="_hplink">Boundless Potential</a></em>, suggests, "...look back, begin to rediscover who you were when you were 15, 25, or 30 with all that wide range of things that fascinated you that you gave up to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, business executive and so forth, to care for a family or whatever."

  • Look For "Flow"

    Explore ways in which your personal fascination can be translated into action -- into real-world work you would deeply enjoy, and that would empower you to succeed, Walton writes. Track all the different activities you do, both at work and outside of work, and write down whenever you find yourself experiencing "flow," Walton advises. This concept, created by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is characterized by a sense of being so engaged in the activity that time disappears; a sense of clarity, energy, creativity and joyful mastery. What aspects of your work or leisure activities evoke a sense of flow?

  • Don't Be A Business Card

    "After being a 'grownup' for 20 to 30 years, there is a certain 'tranquilized obviousness' to our lives, to who we 'hold ourselves' to be," writes Mark Walton, author of <em>Boundless Potential</em>. "We have become, in many ways, what we print on our business cards... Psychologists call this 'institutional identity.' It took us a long time to develop these roles for ourselves, and if we have been successful, they have served us quite well. ...Recognizing our fascination necessitates looking behind the labels we have adopted, penetrating our own PR." <em>Flickr photo via: <a href="" target="_hplink">Needoptic</a></em>

  • Pay It Forward

    As you weigh your reinvention strategy, consider work that leaves a legacy. Psychologist Erik Erikson said "In adulthood you learn to know what and whom you can take care of." As author Mark Walton writes in the book <em>Boundless Potential</em>: "...Erikson held firmly to the conviction that by creating a legacy through our love and work, by paying it forward, we generate, for ourselves, a higher order of existence -- a level of well-being and self-fulfillment that is otherwise rarely experienced." <em>Flickr photo via: <a href="" target="_hplink">TinyTall</a></em>

  • Think Like An Entrepreneur

    Whether your reinvention involves a project, a role, a career, a business or a nonprofit, think like an entrepreneur, advises Mark Walton, author of <em>Boundless Potential</em>. Consider marketplace structures and unserved niches of demand that will allow you to pursue your new work. On the financial side, pay off any revolving debt, such as credit cards, and figure out exactly what you are spending each month. Then, set aside at least six months' of living expenses to help fund your transition. Don't buy into the illusion of safety of a full-time job, Walton adds, noting that the unemployment rate for post-midlife workers doubled from 2007 to 2009, to the highest level in at least 60 years.


Follow Nancy Sherr on Twitter: