Women of any age are entirely capable of taking charge of their lives and have the power to do so. This message, made clear in Jodi Kantor's recent "New York Times'" article, "A Titan's How-To on Breaking the Glass Ceiling" about Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg's new movement to empower women, is right on the mark.
Sandberg's message -- actually let's call it a social movement because that is exactly what it is -- is true for both mid-career women as well as top-level professionals. And I think it is true for anyone 50 and older.
Sandberg's mission to empower women in the workplace is consistent with Betterafter50.com's mission of inspiring women as they transition into their next phase. We hope that as women step out of their "Lean-In" circles in their 30s and 40s they will become more confident about what their next step will be as they embrace the "other side" of 50.
Because for many of us, at midlife -- when our kids start to leave our nest -- we begin our own personal journeys. Our world, those of us born in the mid-1950s to early 1960s, is full of stories of women who had careers out of college. Careers that would take them into the early child-rearing years until they faced the choice of 50-hour work weeks, or staying at home to raise their kids.
Despite the path of continued career or not, the halfway mark of 50 -- my husband laughs when I say this as he knows I'm an optimist about my own longevity --is a time of reflection, questioning and, for many, discomfort.
This particular transitional time feels most like graduating from college with a liberal arts degree. Our second career choices are wide open -- but our role models are few. If they had careers at all, our mothers would have just one. Second careers are our domain. We are the trailblazers cutting a new path as we move into this unchartered territory.
Armed with life experience, wisdom and maturity that we did not possess in our 20s, we arrive at this precipice able to design what's next for ourselves. And if we think of this next phase as a blank canvas then we can approach it with some basic tools.
I decided to break this challenging question down into mini-thoughts -- to take little baby steps. What did I love that could engage me? Convinced that if I cracked this rock hard geode, a sparkling gem would drop out and the brilliance of its sparkle would light my path to work and fulfillment for the next 50 years.
So I went to the basement. I went to my past; I looked at what I knew, where I had come from. My bookshelves were bursting with abandoned business school texts, my favorite history books on the Russian Revolution, my diaries. They did not entice me. I looked at my dusty pottery on the shelves and thought this could be my chance to become the "artist potter." I made a note of that. But that was all.
I looked at my magazines that I published for over 14 years and longingly thought about starting another one knowing full well that the print business was almost dead.
I thought about looking for a job, but I'd never worked for anyone but myself except for a few years after business school. I couldn't imagine how I could get behind someone else's vision.
The process was not fast -- I laid down on my yoga mat for two years. My search for What's Next was making me tired.
I spent a lot of time talking with my friends about their next path. Some were interviewing, others polishing up old skills like nursing and physical therapy; a good friend went back to school and became a writer, another a photographer. Many of us brainstormed business ideas and tried to encourage each other.
One thing was clear, anyone who picked one thing to do and did it, and acted on it became immediately invigorated, and their days filled up with purpose. It may not have been the perfect choice but taking that step seemed to renew them.
Eventually, I went back to what I had truly been missing. I started writing and publishing again. I wanted to see if this would be something that would engage me over the next 50 years. So far, so good!
Sandberg's strategy to use stories from the workplace to connect and inspire women is what Better After 50 is all about. Women love to hear and tell stories. We love to hear about how an impossible challenge can be turned into a raging success. We love to laugh at ourselves and learn from our mistakes. We gain strength and momentum as we navigate around and through life's curve balls, be they health, relationships, work or financial woes. As we emerge on the "other side" our success infects others to move forward as well. BA50 is a platform for those stories.
But stories alone aren't enough. Sandberg's idea of "Lean-In" circles, where women meet other women to share goals, strategies and workshop ideas-- "half business school/half book club," is brilliant. Our She Did It events, which we have begun to roll out are selling out as women come to share and learn and get inspired as they move into their next phase in mid-life.
So, thank you Sheryl for stepping up--or should I say--Leaning In. Working women need help navigating the balance of home and work while making an impact on the world.
Can we have it all? At each stage I believe we can... with a little help.