First off this isn’t a pity post nor me rationalizing my professional performance. Although I sometimes talk to my peers about these issues, I noticed that there isn’t all that much discussion more broadly. I hope that by putting my big girl pants on and writing a bit of it down it may help younger people to understand what’s coming down the line or to understand their colleagues better. Knowledge is power.
The separation I’ve made between getting older and perimenopause is quite a crude one based on my own experience and a bit of reading around both topics. My life is all I can authentically spout on about. Interestingly, although hooray that menopause is finally getting airtime, finding anything written about the older workforce in general and specific issues they may face is thin on the ground.
If you read my last blog, you’ll know that I already made a transition to career 2.0 a few years back. I didn’t feel that there were many options for me other than continuing an arduous climb to the boardroom where I was neither suited nor particularly happy. To put it bluntly, up sucked so I opted for out. By the time I’d hit 40 my tolerance for hustling had disappeared and I loathed office politics, still do.
I’m pleased to see in my industry that more and more employers are increasingly welcoming and flexible to parents. I’m not a mother, but it doesn’t then follow that I’ll therefore have dozens of hours more time to devote to paid work – to be perfectly frank I don’t need to earn full time. (I’m not kept either - a mistake some people have made.) My ‘children’ (fun, demanding) are the charities that I volunteer with.
Being freelance means that I can handle these commitments that fall outside paid work more easily. And the reality is that those commitments won’t get lighter. Most of my parents and in laws are in their late 70s and the youngest has a recently diagnosed health issue that needs a lifestyle change. I’d like to carve out more capacity to be there for them in small ways now, rather than wait for a crisis.
I’m no spring chicken myself at 44. We overhauled our diet a few years ago and are reasonably healthy eaters these days. It’s not just the food, the mealtime itself has had a promotion – my husband and I eat together almost every evening regardless (and, yes, tea - as we say in the midlands - is shifting earlier!) Now we both work fewer hours and remotely, our relationships with alcohol have matured too.
I’m in bed earlier because I tend to be at my office desk by 8.30 knowing that I can get my own business shizzle out of the way before my clients start. I tackle the most difficult and brain-draining tasks in the morning leaving the afternoon for more routine jobs. Evenings and weekends are (mostly) memories – when I do them, it’s getting increasingly tough, and my eyes tend to give out before my brain does.
In my 20s and earlier 30s work was my life and if I’m honest, I was mostly just existing outside of that not really pursuing things that I was interested in. But that was OK because it means now that I’m financially comfortable and skilled enough to consult independently in a field that I really love.
Sometimes we get stuck on a pathway, reluctant to turn our backs on a way of earning a living that we’ve invested so much time and effort into. Read more about the sunk cost fallacy. Acknowledging that your ambitions and commitments outside work change (maybe more than once) is a decent first step to finding or creating a job that can bend around more important goals.
In case you aren’t aware, this is the time in the lives of people born female before their bodies’ reproductive system shuts up shop. It can last years and a lot of the symptoms stem from what’s happening to hormones. I wasn’t ready for it, but I am now making changes to my business to lessen the impact on myself and my clients.
I was formerly famous for feeling cold before everyone else – they made up my beds in Jamaica and Mexico with blankets, for example. Not now. Regardless of the season we’re in, my skin is often hot to the touch. Imagine how I feel inside. When it shows red it can be embarrassing so I blush and turn redder. Good one.
Night sweats are unpredictable and fierce, so I literally threw in the towel and now sleep on one. Waking drenched sometimes more than once a night doesn’t make for a restful slumber pattern and on those worst days after I am very tired. Thankfully other changes I’ve made have helped ease this one a little.
Before, I was very good at concentrating for hours and hours at time to get a big job done, systematically working through a bunch of tasks while also guiding others through theirs. I can still do it, but it takes a lot more effort and I now also need to break that time up into smaller chunks.
I’ve always been glass half-empty, a useful antidote to the eternal optimist – the strongest teams often have both types of people in them. But now some days I’m best avoiding anyone! This is not ‘me’ and underneath it all I’m happy. I’m careful now not to misread a tone that really isn’t there or overreact to a minor setback.
It’s not that I’ve lost any skills. But some days as I go about my work it’s like walking through a misty wood. At a distance stuff in front of you is a bit fuzzy and it’s only when you get right on top of it, it’s clear. Some things take me a bit longer now than they did before, or if it’s an urgent thing I must really dial up the effort sometimes.
Exercise is well-documented advice for people in perimenopause because it helps with weight gain, joint pain (if done right) and can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It’s worked for me doing wonders for my energy levels, mental health, joint strength and dropping a dress size without dieting has boosted my self-esteem.
Although it’s no bed of roses sometimes I don’t believe this is simply a natural occurrence that needs to be suffered through. Like with getting older generally, by making a few well-placed adjustments to how I work and live I think I can ensure that there’s a few more high-quality output professional years in this old girl yet.
Congrats if you read to the end of what at times reads like a life much worse than it is – that said, as far as looking out for elders and menopause symptoms go, I’m one of the lucky ones on both fronts for now at least.
It’s a totally excellent life and one of the reasons I went freelance was to stay in control of it, so I’d like to reassure any prospective clients who may be reading this that I’ve got it together.
If you’ve read this and it sounds like you or you just fancy a chat, message me on LinkedIn.
© Jo Gordon Consulting Ltd 2022