First, a disclaimer:
All these worksheets and exercises you can use/do in support of your own well-being? Good stuff, aren’t they?
They aren’t a substitute for therapy or other structured work with a trained professional.
Full disclaimer follows, at the end of the post.
“Life begins at 50,” my friend, the late Harriet Alperin, had said to me, in the summer of my 49th year.
When I reached that milestone, a year and a half later, I thought I understood what she meant.
I was in great physical shape. My children, who at 12 and 14 were both finally old enough to be marginally independent, were doing well socially, emotionally, physically, and in school. The requirements of active mothering, I thought, were coming to an end.
My career was (again, in my mind) about to take off in a direction I’d delayed pursuing, having put many of my professional ambitions on hold while my children were young.
Then, unexpectedly, the career path I’d envisioned evaporated. I bet on the wrong horse, as it were.
The horse I’d bet on (who was actually a horse person) had invested six years in my professional growth, coaching me as I took on a variety of new challenges, including managing a large team in a high-stakes environment. Her background was in organizational development, which had long been an area of interest for me, too.
With her support, I learned skills to support my deeply held belief that taking time to understand what’s important to people and to help them identify their own strengths and values, is the key to driving a high level of organizational performance. The bigger an organization gets, the more essential that fundamental practice. Especially if merger/acquisition is part of the company’s growth plan.
As I’ve tried to describe in some of these recent posts, that critically important intersection of independence and interdependence is what can make or break a company (or, for that matter, a family – but I’ll get to that).
But, as I said, I bet on the wrong horse. The winning team was all command-and-control, profits over people.
I could be a good little soldier and fall in line with the script, or I could leave.
Faced with a choice between working for people I didn’t respect in a job I didn’t want or quitting, I quit.
I, the primary earner for my family, quit my job. I had no idea what I was going to do instead.
On the drive home that day, I called a friend and colleague of many years and said, “I quit my job today. I have no other job lined up. I have no idea what I’m going to do next.”
She said, “Give me a couple of days.”
As promised, my friend called back a couple of days later with a lead for a job, helping a small but established organization manage the transition after the retirement of its chief executive. I’d be in the left seat, as my pilot friend put it, with ultimate responsibility for the results.
At first blush, it looked like a marketing challenge. Refresh the brand, update the messaging, and align the operations. My plan was to get in, spend 3-4 years turning things around, and then get out.
Was I interested in the work? Not really — mostly because I didn’t have a clear picture of what the work was. Broadly speaking, it was families. Other people’s families. Not my family. And not me.
It was a marketing job, and a temporary one at that. I was going to turn things around and then get back to pursuing the career, and life, I wanted.
Know what the difference is between a mid-life crisis and mid-life reinvention? Relationships, including the relationship with self.
A couple of months into my new job, as I was getting to know my new colleagues, I shared an observation in a casual conversation with a co-worker, who also happened to be a psychologist.
“I’ve noticed,” I said, “this thing that is happening to people my age, late 40s to mid-50s. It’s like they either lock into a rigid way of thinking and get more and more rigid as they age, or they blossom into this expansive, curious way of exploring people and the world.”
“Generativity versus stagnation,” she said.
“Yes! What a great way to describe it!” I said.
“Right,” she said. “But not mine. It’s Erikson’s model of psycho-social development.”
That was the first of what would be many lessons and learnings about Erikson’s model, the model around which our work, at this 40-year-old organization, was originally established.
And the more I learned about this work, this approach, this set of ideas, the more I recognized my mother and the way she raised my sister and me.
“Did Mama know about Erik Erikson’s work?” I asked my sister, a few months later.
“Yes, Jennifer, of course she did.”
“Yes. We talked about it. A lot.”
That’s when I started seeing the trail of breadcrumbs, the trail that had always been there for me, waiting for when I was ready to start looking for it.
[Coming back tomorrow? Great. Food, cooking, and recipes are on the menu. See you then?]
The full disclaimer, noted at the top:
In a worldwide-web-connected world in which everything is accessible to everyone, all the time, it’s pretty easy to find research, writing, tips, techniques and tools that support personal growth and well-being.
These resources range from nerdy publications about clinical treatment modalities to Etsy shops with print-on-demand affirmations.
Equipped with books, card decks, worksheets, online assessments, and chat groups, you can find your why, heal your inner child, and work on any associated skill or self-help practice, from yoga to mindfulness and beyond.
One thing that’s true? The only person you have any control over is you. You can learn skills to influence others, give feedback to others, extend relationship bids to others, and so on. But the only person you have any true control over is you.
Nobody else can eat better, exercise more, or develop emotional regulation skills for you. If you want those things, then you have to do the work.
Using online self-help resources to work on yourself can be an important part of continuing to grow as a mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy human being. Recognize the difference, though, between A) deciding to follow a clean-eating diet plan that’s published on a blog written by a registered dietician and B) ordering unregulated, untested “master cleanse” supplements from a hippie-dippy guru whose profile photo might be snatched from flicker.
If you’re interested in supporting your physical health through behavior (ex. an eating plan or supplement program), then a solid place to start would be talking to someone with the education and training to help you do what’s best for you. Not an internet stranger you’ll never meet IRL. Whether that’s noom or your family physician (to keep the healthy eating example going), getting professional help with something that’s important to you, for you, is pretty much always a good idea.
Also: Practicing the techniques outlined in a book (or on a website) that’s written by a clinical psychologist is not the same thing as therapy.
Yes, that act of self-help (practicing skills from a book) and having a clinical interaction with a therapist are both activities that support your personal well-being. But they are not the same things.
The TL; DR here: Be smart; make good choices; don’t drink your own Kool-Aid; ask for help.
About this series:
For the month of August, as a birthday present to myself, I’m doing another daily writing challenge. This year, not unlike last year, it’s all about RE-committing to writing. So far that includes: Reengage, Reconsider, Reassess, Review, Redefine, Relish, Relay, Reinvent, Reevaluate, Reroute, Restore, and Rediscover.