I am often asked: What does a life coach do? My answer is simple. Coaching helps you to move forward towards your personal best and get better at being you and better at life.
For many of us, midlife is when we need this extra support more than ever. Not only are women dealing with the mental health challenges of menopause and perimenopause, but the midlife crisis is not a myth. Scientists have found that chimps and apes also have a midlife slump, which the scientists describe as a ‘wakeup call’. It’s officially part of our evolution.
Coaching helps you to move forward towards your personal best and get better at being you and better at life.
It doesn’t have to be a crisis. I think it’s an opportunity. The trouble is that midlife is not marked or celebrated with copious Prosecco like other milestone life stages, such as turning 21 or retiring. It sneaks up on us. It’s a gradual process and if we don’t take note of it there is a risk of sleepwalking through the years that are your best and last chance to become the real you. What does a life coach do? Stops the sleepwalking.
My coaching business partner Jo Nunn and I have both seen midlife in all its messiness and joy. And despite being coaches (Jo has been coaching for over 20 years and is also a fully qualified relationship therapist), and knowing the answer to the question, what does a life coach do, we haven’t exactly sailed our way serenely through it!
In the last few years, Jo has become a university lecturer, found her soulmate, divorced, re-married (at 50) and become a stepmother to a vegan teenager. That’s between running her own business and flying all over the world to coach senior executives.
For many of us, midlife is when we need this extra support more than ever.
I’ve rediscovered my passion for horse riding and broken a lot of bones. I became CEO of a global publishing company, left the CEO job, changed direction, retrained as a coach, sold my house, moved to the country and started my own business.
We expected the hot flushes, the spare tyre and the moodiness. What we didn’t expect was the growing need to actually BE OURSELVES.
What does a life coach do for midlife wellbeing?
Over the next few months, Jo and I will be exploring in regular Hylda columns, how midlife coaching can help you to find what’s important to you now. How it can improve your relationships, support you to become happier and more successful in your career, and above all, become just more you. Because your personal best is still ahead of you.
As coaches, we help people to listen to their own wisdom. The head that has the problem probably also has the answer, if you can only tap into your “inner game”. Coaches work with you to help that process. We become your personal thinking partner, your cheerleader, your support and your confidence builder. Sometimes, we’re also the person who dishes out some tough love to help you to ask yourself difficult questions.
Why you deserve a midlife life coach
Midlife is a time when we literally meet ourselves again. While we were busy building a career, forming relationships, maybe having kids, pleasing others, our own values and beliefs got held under water like a beachball in an aqua aerobics class. But eventually, in midlife, your arms tire and that ball will break the surface.
This time though, you meet yourself with at least two decades of work and life experience behind you. You have skills and abilities, and a better sense of who you are and what motivates you. And let’s face it, probably with resilience built through facing several life-changing crises.
Far from being too late, midlife is the best time to reflect on and update your values and beliefs, goals and priorities. It’s the time to rewrite the rules that don’t work for you anymore. As the psychologist Jung put it, “you can’t live the afternoon of your life with the programme of the morning”.
Far from being too late, midlife is the best time to reflect on and update your values and beliefs, goals and priorities.
This can be a messy process, which is where having a coach comes in. It’s hard to do this stuff by yourself and be objective. You might have to face some difficult truths about the careers, behaviours and relationships that once made you happy. And the unhappiest strategy might be clinging to the familiar.
There are two unhelpful myths about mid-life career change in particular, but that you can probably apply to life.
Myth 1: You are on a slippery downward slope
The fact is, 100 is the new 80. In The Hundred Year Life, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, tell us that at 50 we’re only half-way there. There’s a lot of slope to hike up yet.
Coach and writer Avivah Wittenberg-Cox recently made us seriously rethink the old “straight line from 50 to the old people’s home” idea of our lives. She has a refreshing and deep interest in the second half of life, which she explores in her book Late Love; Mating in Maturity.
For Hylda, Avivah ran The Midlife Reset Workshop based on her #GenerationalBalance programme which she runs at her own consultancy. In one of the online sessions she asked us all to think of our lives in cycles, not straight lines, bringing different (not fewer) gifts to each. No slope, no decline, just different and equally interesting bubbles of time.
Myth 2: You’ll have a eureka moment
This is the myth that you’ll wake up one morning and instead of setting off to your job in accountancy, you’ll suddenly know you’ve always wanted to bake cakes for a living. The reality is that neither hanging on in for dear life until your pension is accessible, nor chucking it all in and learning to make pastry are good ideas.
A good coach will help you to move away from black and white decisions and encourage you to spend time exploring with grey thinking.
Even if you do suddenly get the urge to get creative with butter-cream icing, you don’t need to leap today. You have the time to explore and try things out. If you like, you’ve got time to experiment with the recipe a bit. And your way forward is much more likely to be iterative than revolutionary.
A good coach will help you to move away from black and white decisions and encourage you to spend time exploring with grey thinking. We’ll help you to take the time to listen to yourself, gather up the skills, strengths and experiences that 20+ years in the workplace have gifted you, and map out realistic possibilities. You can plan your afternoon career.
What happens in a coaching session?
Well, there aren’t any gimmicks. It’s just you and your coach talking. You allow a (perhaps suppressed) truth to surface; explore what’s there; find what’s stopping things from being different; acknowledge the challenge; explore what could be different. Importantly you, not your coach, will be responsible for finding your own way forward. And sometimes the really good stuff happens outside the session.
To illustrate this point, here’s a true story about chickens. One of our clients is a busy working mum in her 40s. She was originally an advertising creative and artist but is now working as lead marketer for a national gallery. And homeschooling her children during lockdown.
Sometimes the really good stuff happens outside the session.
During our sessions we talked about her marketing job. As she described her very managerial and process-focussed role, she started to cry. Over the weeks she reflected on her career timeline, the choices she had made, and her personal highs and lows. Then came her personal join-the-dots moment – she realised that she had completely lost touch with her creativity and she really, really missed it.
Between work and family obligations she’d also lost all time to explore this part of herself. She couldn’t work out how to fit it into her already busy schedule.
At our next session she turned up with a beautiful portrait of the family chickens. How had she done it? She’d decided to do art classes with her kids. Thus, the need for homeschooling, quality time with them and her own need for creativity were all fulfilled at the same time. She’d found a simple, practical solution to reclaiming a missing part of herself.
What does a life coach do? We encourage your inner chicken illustrator to emerge – and much more. We stand next to you and help you move forward because change, especially in midlife, is possible. It might even be essential.
Sara Cremer, ACC, FRSA and Jo Nunn, MA, PCC are Coaching Heads, combining their years of clinical and professional experience into coaching the midlife mind. Together they have created a five step group-coaching course, Blood, Sweats & Tears? How to change Midlife from Crisis to Comeback!