Type ‘Gen X women’ into Google, and you’ll come face-to-face with a clamor of opinion about our exhaustion-fueled midlife crisis.
Specific headlines include “Gen X Women Find Adulting Doesn’t Include Much Sleep” and “How the midlife crisis for women has gotten worse” – both mostly in reference to Ada Calhoun’s book, Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis.
The articles themselves live up to the daunting promise of their headlines, exploring the plight of Gen X women as we stumble into midlife feeling exhausted, disillusioned, and most importantly, sleepless.
Are Gen X women facing a generational crisis?
Personally, I commend Ada Calhoun for writing a book about Gen X women, and for putting us on the editorial map of such distinguished publications as The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, and The Washington Post.
She has effectively shed much-needed light on the many struggles that Gen X women experience, holding them up as stark examples of a generational crisis. In the process, she has helped many of us find solace in the fact that our struggles are real, rather than the sleeplessness-induced hallucinations we often try to convince ourselves they are.
More importantly, she has loudly declared to Gen X women everywhere: you are not alone.
Intentional or unintentional, Calhoun has forged a generational bond that has been missing for many for us, up until now. It may be a bond created from shared misery, but it’s common, and it’s ours!
(In fact, I am writing this article on just four hours of sleep!)
The solution is…?
Our generational crisis is clear, but its rhetoric is getting old.
None of the words I pored over offer any real solutions – and I’m including Calhoun’s book in this. In fact, most articles simply regurgitate the book’s content and ideas, with one noteworthy exception being the Washington Post’s article: “For Gen X women, middle age is exhausting. Here’s why”, whose author, Helaine Olen, a Gen X woman herself, offers a more interesting perspective.
However, some articles go to the lengths of being plain infuriating. One notable example is America Magazine’s “Gen-X Women can’t ‘have it all’ after all”.
Why did I experience such a visceral reaction to this article? Maybe it’s because I felt personally rebuffed, as a Gen X woman who is still going after “it all” or because the article sought to erase any possibility that a Gen X woman could still achieve “it all”.
But the main reason for my reaction, I think, was because the entire article felt like a dismissive taunt, with a call by its author, Elizabeth Grace Matthew, for millennial women such as herself to “be intentional about resisting a different version of the same trap.”
And that our perceived failures must therefore be taken as lessons for millennial women, so they can appropriate our generation’s dreams, aspirations, grit, and determination… and simply infuse them with a dose of acceptance and a dash of realism. Then, as the author states, “maybe we (millenial women) can have it all. Even (a little) sleep”.
How did we get here?
“Disappointment doesn’t stem from expectations. It stems from unrealistic or unreasonable expectations.”Sue Fitzmaurice
Looking to our baby boomer parents provides some clues to the frankly unrealistic expectations that were put on us when we were children.
An opinion piece for NBC News describes boomers as growing up “in the era of optimism….they successfully fought for civil rights and women’s lib, built impressive careers and, as a whole, experienced a level of success unthinkable to their parents.”
“Women my age (I’m 43) grew up hearing that the world was their oyster, that girls could be anything, ‘even president’” says Ada Calhoun.
But we learned the hard way that obeying those boomer-established rules of being a good daughter, being a good mom, or working long hours and hoping we’d get noticed, weren’t the solutions if we really wanted to have it all in our changed world.
In her Washington Post article, Helaine Olen recalls a “eureka moment” conversation with a demographer, who said: “You know what the problem with your generation is? You are expected to do more than twice as much as your parents and grandparents, with less than half the support.”
And so, like many other Gen X women, I’ve learned that having it all means rewriting the rules.
What does having it all mean for Gen X women?
For starters, it means defining what the heck having “it all” really means, to YOU! Not society, your boomer parents, your millennial colleagues, or your Gen Z kids.
Ask yourself honestly: do you want the successful career, the nice house, the marriage, and the kids? Or do you want something completely different?
I’m a living example of “something completely different”, as a Gen X woman who’s divorced with no kids, but who’s also built a career I love. It’s easy for some people to hear those words, and immediately assume that I missed out on my chance to have it all. They would probably think I chose career success over having a family.
But the truth is that I am living my life’s true path. I never wanted children, and my divorce had nothing to do with my job. I don’t even see my divorce as a failure, but as an experiment. It’s helped me understand what I don’t want, in a way that’s led me closer to what I do want.
I’m not alone in this. Many of my friends and connections are highly successful, amazing single women in their forties who are traveling the world, starting businesses, and blazing new trails. Unfortunately, their single or childfree status makes many of them feel less than and somewhat incomplete, because they don’t have it all in the traditional sense.
Is there time for Gen X women to have “it all”?
The answer is a resounding “yes”! You are never too old to go after what you really want in your life.
In fact, Numerologist Gail Minogue states that the most effective years begin at 49. In numerology, 49 represents the age where you would have completed seven soul cycles and acquired the wisdom and experience that would enable you to effectively “free yourself” and “come home to your true self” as you are entering your 50s.
And there are many examples of women of all ages still going after it all.
From ordinary women who are making huge career leaps and starting businesses in their forties.
To women in the public eye, like acclaimed journalist and television personality Hoda Kotb. She is a breast cancer survivor; she has a skyrocketing career, found her “true” love at the age of 49, and became a first-time mom at 53.
And then there’s Alexandra Grant, most famously known to the general public as Keanue Reeve’s girlfriend. Established in her own right, she’s a visual artist with her work exhibited widely at a number of galleries and she has collaborated with some of the most prolific artists. She’s received a number of awards for her work and also co-founded a publishing company in her mid forties. She’s not married nor does she have children.
How do we work towards having it all?
Give yourself permission
“If there’s one thing I would hope, for anybody who comes into contact with me, it’s that I have agency,”…“I can only say: ‘I’ve given myself permission – have you thought about giving yourself permission?’”Alexandra Grant
So the first step is to allow yourself the possibility to believe you can have “it all” on your own terms. Then give yourself permission to pursue your dreams and aspirations and to dare see a different outcome for your life.
Get to know thyself
Take some time to make a full assessment of your life and embrace your vulnerabilities. If you’re like most Gen X women, you have accomplished some amazing things, so recognize them and celebrate YOU. But you’ve also probably faced some huge challenges in your past. You’re allowed to feel bad for yourself, so call a girlfriend and cry it all out! Then, dust yourself off, and prepare yourself for the life YOU were meant for. Not the one your parents wanted for you nor the one that society expected.
Understand that this may mean having to completely redefine what success means to you, or resetting your life expectations. And that’s a process of readjustment, not downgrading. You’re unraveling what living a successful and fulfilled life means, which involves effectively drowning out all voices other than your own. It’s about understanding what you need the most, and what’s missing from your life. Then formulating a vision for your life on your own terms.
Create a plan of action & Go for it
Once you have formulated your vision, the next step is to plan then execute your next moves.
For example, if you want to build a great career, it’s time to assess the gaps between where you are now, and where you need to be. Do you need a degree or additional experience? How long would it take? Is there someone in your network that is doing the work that you aspire to do? Do your research and build connections. In parallel, ensure that you have the support to do the internal work: shifting your mindset and shattering limiting beliefs and blocks that might make you doubt yourself and hamper your momentum.
If it’s a relationship, create a profile of your ideal partner (what do they do, what do they like, where can you find them?) and get out there! It may help to do some work on reviewing your past relationships and patterns, too, so you don’t repeat the things that didn’t work out for you.
Do you dream of being a mom? Consider alternative ways of getting there, like adoption, surrogacy, and if you froze your eggs, continue paying those fees.
YES, Gen X women CAN have it ALL!
Remember that having “it all” is all about defining who YOU are and what YOU want, then going after it with your whole heart.
Also remember that you made it here and now in spite of your parents’ expectations and society’s demands of you.
So, here’s my personal call to Gen X women everywhere. You are strong. You are resilient. Your desires and aspirations matter. You matter. And you are not too old to go after your dreams.
Prepare to rise up, be seen, be heard and live the life you were meant to live. Because YES, you CAN have it ALL! Even a good night’s sleep!