The Midlife Unraveling: A Call For Self-Leadership

Jan 12, 2019

I was in my mid-thirties, with a husband, a three-year-old child and a career I was heavily invested in and thought would last a forever.  Life was on track so it seemed.  Yet, this was about the time life took an unexpected turn.

Strife struck and with it came unprecedented emotional suffering.  Furthermore, the career I had given my all to ended as a result of corporate downsizing. 

My world reeled as I fell from a place of security into something else –  I was in the middle of what Brene Brown calls a “midlife unraveling.”

An unraveling can strike at any time, creating a far less than linear path (a path I had become quite comfortable with, thank you very much!). Much to my dismay, I could not deny it or ignore it. The force behind the unraveling was greater than me.

I had lived life consciously and carefully.  Why was this happening?  My toolbox overflowed with hard won coping mechanisms acquired over my 30+ years, but none of it was working.  I had to let go.  Life had handed me more than I could control.

No longer could I play small and exist from the cautionary shadows.  I had to let my light shine even if that meant getting burnt once in a while. 

Living guarded, with a propensity to please, and an ingrained habit of worrying about what other people think was no longer an option.

I was on the fast track to self-leadership.  Whether I liked it or not, I had to let go and open up to a developed sense of who I am.  It was time to awaken the leader that had fallen dormant within me as a result of early messaging that had deemed various leadership behaviors as “bossy.”

“Bossy” and good leadership are not the same thing. Values clarification, a prerequisite to self-leadership, taught me as such.  If not for identifying and applying my values, I would not have learned the many self-leadership lessons I have come to know.  Two of which are my value as a person is not defined by my work alone and a good dose of self-compassion can go a long way.

Kristen Neff, PH.D., author of “Self-Compassion,” writes, “Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others.”

To overcome and thrive, self-compassion is an essential element of any form of effective leadership. Responding to our own suffering with gentleness and care instead of judgement is a skill for living and leading authentically, mindfully, while at the same time giving the people you support permission to do the same.

All in all, more than 10 years later since my own unraveling began, my family is intact, my new career is a more genuine expression of who I am, and I feel freer than I ever have. The unraveling continues in  new ways, with new context, and I’m okay with that.  With each undoing I am living and leading more and more from my true self.