It’s counter-intuitive that women’s self-belief may actually reduce in mid-life. By that time, we’ve existed for over 40 years and have certainly been enriched and emboldened from life experiences. However, I believe that self-belief does erode in mid-life because we face so many changes that are out of our control, only one of which is menopause.
But before we get deep into this discussion, I’d like to share another personal anecdote. Yes, it’s another embarrassing moment. Please grab a drink, get comfortable and ready to smile, wince and then ponder. At the end of our time together, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Another personal “Blooper”:
My life seems to be a stream of “Bloopers”, a reference to the name of the American television comedy show started in the 1908s that played reels of contestants’ embarrassing, and funny, moments. The most painful won the cash prize. I wish it was still around because now I have lots of material I could enter. Maybe that’s due to my outlook on life: learn and laugh at the embarrassing moments, or otherwise you would cringe and hide.
Case in point: I’d like to share something that happened to me last week.
I was participating in a meeting when I suffered a common occurrence with which many women will empathise. Not the “unwanted lactating instance” of 20 years ago but just as embarrassing. Side note: Yes, that “wet blouse” incident has happened to me too. You know, when your body parts know that your newborn wants to be fed and produces milk even if you’re nowhere near your baby and in a public arena which is not conducive to “wet top syndrome”. It has happened to most of us, or we’ve seen it in films. Anyway, I digress…
Last week, I found myself once again as the sole woman in a meeting of ten. Suddenly, a wave of uncontrollable sweat poured out of every one of my pores. I seriously looked like I had a bucket poured on me. Ahhh …. the menopause. Unpredictable sweats. I looked around the room. No one else was glowing at all. Not even a glisten. I grabbed a napkin and dabbed my face, and then picked off the paper fragments that stuck to my sodden forehead and neck. What I really needed was a towel and a hair dryer! All the men around the table were staring at me. I looked like I had a stream of water running down my face.
Unlike 20 years ago when I was demure and embarrassed about my wet blouse, this time I had had enough. This is when the tune of “Rocky” should start playing. I stared back at the nine men at the table and exclaimed, “God gave women menopause because she knew we could handle it!” There was stunned silence, but I was on a roll.
I asked if anyone had a spare tissue hankie or towel and smiled as I mopped under my arms as well (pure theatrics). The men at the table initially looked uncomfortable but then some smiled, nodded and even conversed. Yes, that’s right…I succeeded in discussing menopause at a meeting filled with a bunch of aged 50+ men! I high-fived myself. Whoop, whoop! One said, “I understand, my wife suffers too!”, and another said…ready for this …”I think I also have the M!”. That got a couple of glares, and a few smiles. But I knew there was no way he really understood.
I share this story to say I had two choices: to be embarrassed by or to own my situation and hold my head…and towel… high. This time I tried the latter and liked it.
This anecdote underscores something I feel adamant about: the importance of self-belief.
I believe there is a distinction between self-confidence and self-belief. I like to explain it this way:
Self-confidence is being able to present to a roomful of people.
Self-belief is being able to finish when no one seems to be listening.
I think we do become bolder as we age. We may care less about what others think and often stop filtering our words. Some try new things in midlife because this is the time we have more freedom yet still have the physical capacity to do so. This is the period where we are emboldened. Bravery is supported by self-belief.
However, we women over 40 face an amalgamation of many factors that can each contribute to a chipping away at our self-belief. The effects of menopause obviously contribute to this. However, this loss of self-belief is rooted in the tsunami of additional uncontrollable events that we face at this age.
The changes we face during “the change”
We women are all dealing with the physiological, psychological, and physical changes that come with being over 40. We are all involuntarily entering a period of upheaval and that is unsettling at best. Uncontrollable change, and change that's often for the worse, would affect even the strongest person’s self-belief.
We may suddenly realise our personal interests have shifted from earlier years. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but may affects hobbies, and also relationships.
Sometimes events we knew were coming hit us harder than expected - like retirement or kids moving on and out.
We often have nagging, unfulfilled goals that we now have time to focus on but may not know where to start or exactly what they are.
We may or may not have a past career to return to. However we may not want to do so. We know that we want to do something, but don’t know what.
We may need help to discover our purpose.
On top of all that, we are dealing with health concerns and the eternal and never-ending changes to our bodies that the menopause brings.
Heck, there’s lots that hits us!
No wonder the level of self-belief we have built over our 40 years of life experiences has crumbled a little. Change is scary and it is being foisted on us with or without our consent. Often in a public way as well – remember my personal story above?
These insecurities that come with mid-life know no boundaries. These valid feelings exist due to culmination of uncontrollable events that we face at this age. And then we add the dreaded “M”.
A comment about the menopause
The menopause is a huge stumbling block for most of us. It can erode our self-belief and our health. Yes, these feelings may ebb and flow throughout the years of menopause, but in general this is such a horrific time for us middle-aged women. It is not an exaggeration to say most of my female friends, clients and colleagues around aged 50 have been afflicted, and some to debilitating levels. It is no wonder our self-belief is further shaken. We often become people we don’t recognise, shadows of our former selves.
Most of us know about the M’s effects. But to experience the Menopause is to truly understand. It robs us so much of our physical and mental health. It affects our sleep, our skin, our moods, and thus our relationships, our self-confidence and self-belief. The menopause can and often does dampen our inner sparkle and strength. Our symptoms are not always solved by HRT. Sometimes we need to dig a little deeper as well.
I have hesitated about writing about the dreaded M-word because I don’t have a solution and I am not medically trained to comment scientifically. However, I am a woman over 50 who endures its effects and sees how it hinders us. For these reasons, I have decided that I am indeed able to comment. I also wholeheartedly support continuing this conversation to further raise awareness, so all the population understand how most mid-life women suffer.
We must remember that we women in mid-life are all dealing with this. Whether we want to or not. We must continue to speak out and recognise this debilitating period from which half the population suffers. The more we discuss openly how we struggle, the more this will be understood and addressed. Or so I believe.
Whilst we are waiting for society and medicine to help, what can we do to raise our self-belief? I have some suggestions:
Let’s be aware of negative thoughts and their impact. Let’s try countering negative feelings with thoughts that are more positive and realistic.
Let’s not forget to discuss with our support network what we are going through. Speak with friends, family and advisors about these feelings because communication helps.
Let’s practise being kind to ourselves. Let’s count the small wins.
Let’s remember that everyone has issues. Everyone has worries. Everyone has wavering self-belief. And most of us in midlife are dealing with all this. We must all remember and take comfort in that we are not alone trying to conquer our ghosts. Knowing that may help us dampen our fears and enhance our self-belief.
Oh, and let’s remember to pack a towel to dry off as needed!
What do you think? The Next Half is listening.
The Next Half’s Advisory Business
As some keen observers of the website have noted, over the last few months I have integrated by previously existing Business Advisory and Personal Development services into The Next Half. Now The Next Half offers business advice, personal coaching, and this popular blog on navigating midlife. We provide “one place to go” to help women 40+ thrive both personally and professionally. Please get in touch if I can be of help.