Helen Whitten, Thinking Aloud
I write this in the midst of a transition point in my life. I have just passed on my business Positiveworks (www.positiveworks.com) to Sixth Sense Consulting (www.sixthsenseconsulting.co.uk) with a view to retiring from coaching. I am thinking I shall enjoy more time to write (see www.babyboomerpoetry.com ), play, be with my grandchildren, walk in the park and smell the daisies. And yet there is a question lurking that unnerves me. Is this what I shall, indeed, enjoy? Shall I miss the work focus? At the moment I am looking forward to it and delighted that Chris Welford and Jackie Sykes of Sixth Sense are taking my business forward: a real legacy. In a year’s time, though, might I be looking for something else to fill my time, I wonder? Perhaps I have to admit that this is somewhat of an identity crisis!
What shall I respond to that query “and what do you do?” Who am I now? I have worked with this question for many years with coaching clients at transition points in life and career. It is my turn.
I have done transformation before. My friends comment on my ability to recreate myself in many new guises and yet moving into the later stage of life is a poignant moment. More things behind than in front. Fears about health, wealth. Not wanting to outstay one’s welcome and usefulness. Hoping that one’s partner will accept the foibles of older age. Hoping that there will still be many things ahead that will create that sense of wonder in the natural world, things to be curious about, to laugh about.
Life has transformed since my childhood in the 1950s. Those days seem now such an age of innocence and naivety. There is so much to be grateful for today in the developments of health, technology, ability to travel the world, resources available for those who are disabled, equal opportunity. As a woman I can see that there is nothing theoretically stopping a girl today achieving whatever she wants – other than her own self-doubt and the subliminal messages that girls still get about their abilities. I heard Dame Carol Black, former President of the Royal College of Physicians, on Desert Island Discs recently. She said that her key message to girls is “go for it”. I would echo that. There have been so many times when I have felt nervous but have been nudged by someone to try something I didn’t feel confident to achieve.
I would also echo strongly Dame Carol Black’s comment that women do not have to lead in the same way as men. One of the things that still saddens me is how many of my female clients in business feel themselves to be somehow ‘wrong’ in their approach because they can’t (and why should they?) carry out their role in the same way that their male bosses and colleagues do. I hope that they and my granddaughters can grow to be confident that their way is just fine and that it is this precise difference that is their strength. The world needs balancing, the yin and the yang, so that women’s voices and perspectives have equal parity with those of men in families, business and government.
I therefore leave the world of work a changed person to the timid girl I was when I started as a secretary in publishing. I feel happy that I carved out my career and have helped others to do the same. And now I have to carve out my retirement and be willing to leave the reins in younger hands than mine. To those who have more energy.
One thing I have learnt from my clients and friends who are and have been retiring is that it is important to leave a space for the transformation. Not to rush into some activity just because there is a space but to allow a period of rest and spaciousness, the creative gap into which something might (or might not!) flow. I feel a sense of anticipation that, just as other periods of my life have surprised me, there will be something that pops in now that will again both surprise and delight. I am looking forward to discovering other aspects of myself that have been dormant or have not yet surfaced. I know, as one of that big group of ‘Baby Boomers’ born after World War 2, that many of you will be going through similar experiences alongside me. Perhaps we can journey together.