Lisa is a successful manager in her 40’s working for a large corporation. Lately, she is more emotional in business meetings, getting angry with her peers and even tearing up in one long afternoon session. She contacted me to assess her emotional intelligence.
Lisa told me she has been feeling unmotivated and edgy and can’t explain why. She also said she has been stressed about work and not too happy about her life for quite a while. She has even considered leaving her job. She doesn’t think her reactions have anything to do with biological changes though she booked an appointment for a physical just to be sure.
From our conversation, I learned that Lisa has always had a difficult time maintaining a social network because of her work obligations. Now in her early 40’s she has begun to question her choices. She has also begun to question if the work she does is important enough. She has a “niggling” voice telling her she might have a higher purpose in life if she let herself find it. Yet she has no one to speak to about her concerns.
Can you relate to Lisa?
Increasing isolation is a common occurrence for high-achieving women but rarely discussed or even recognized. Emotional support dwindles as they climb the corporate ladder and move away from friends and family for work. Even if they have a life partner, they may not feel the person is a suitable sounding board for work-related topics. As a result, they feel they have no one to talk to about difficult decisions or dilemmas. Their growing loneliness can take a toll on their courage, isolating them even more.
Other people don’t notice this need because smart, strong women are self-sufficient and don’t seek advice or support from others. They learn fast. They adapt easily. They don’t like telling people they need something. Yet like all humans, they need emotional support when the road gets bumpy.
When high-achievers need someone to turn to but look around and no one is there, they begin to wonder if their hard work is worth it. Life feels confining and shallow. They look for something new to fill the void, not recognizing that external changes won’t fill their hearts for long.
Lisa agreed to explore what she needed to do to feel more satisfied with her work and her life. We discussed her need to have a stronger sense of purpose. I gave her some questions to ponder about her mission and purpose before we met again. She knew this process could take time but she appreciated formal guidance to sort out these complicated questions.
Then I asked Lisa, “So what did someone do in your last meeting that made you so angry?”
She talked about her disappointment with her boss and peers but quickly admitted they weren’t out to get her. So I asked her again what was making her feel so angry.
She looked at her hands. “Right now, I’m mad most of the time.”
“Who are you mad at?”
She closed her eyes, tipped her head back and said, “My life sucks. I’m a loser who is soon to be a failure. I can’t believe I created this mess.” She looked at me, “Me, I’m angry at me. I’m angry that no one seems to really care about me and that’s my fault.”
In the end, Lisa realized the abyss she felt she was living in she actually dug for herself. With no one to talk to, she only saw the world closing in on her. Once she quit beating herself up, she was better able to explore what steps she could take to rekindle a few friendships and take time off to reflect on how she could enrich her life with more meaningful connections and a little more fun.
- How can you build your social network? This will take both a commitment of time and energy. Can you rekindle old friendships, find new friends at professional meetings, or engage others in conversation instead of hiding behind your computer? Don’t make this hard but don’t give up.
- Name all the emotions you are feeling.What is at the source of your anger or disappointment – unmet expectations, broken promises, or not feeling heard or cared about? What do you fear you won’t ever have in your life? What are you longing for? What do you need now to move forward? Let the answers surface without judgment. When you become aware of the source of your emotions, the answers you seek will emerge.
- What do you want more of from life? What parts of yourself did you suppress while you were fixated with achievement? Can you give voice to these parts while doing your current job? The “something more” you seek will be easier to find when you listen to your inner voice without judgment.
Humans are social animals, not producing robots. What can you do this week to make and maintain friendships?
 How high-achieving women experience this shift in values and the desire to find “something more meaningful” at mid-career can be found in Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010. It is becoming more common for men to experience similar phases as well.