I learned the term “The Messy Middle” via my work with Shelley Zalis and The Girls Lounge. The Messy Middle refers to the pipeline problem that most corporations experience, where the number of men and women in junior roles is fairly even and then, as you move up the ranks, there is a major drop-off in women. This is due to the gender wage gap, unconscious bias, and other corporate issues, as well as women leaving the work force to start families and not returning (which can often be tied back to poor corporate policies and culture).
What I didn’t realize, until an Oprah-style “A-Ha” moment I had whilst lunching with a dear friend, is that I have been in my own version of “The Messy Middle.” And I am not even at a major corporation. Nor do I have children (outside my furbaby Joanie).
I am a 40 year old woman who has been in the startup space (both operations and investment) for close to two decades. These past few years I have been going through what I will call “a transformation” – which has mostly been very powerful and positive. But a lot has been going on in my head and my heart, which has been making me feel a bit, well, ”messy.” Indeed, life itself is messy, but this middle time, at middle age, seems particularly so.
Now “middle-aged” is not a moniker I like and/or associate with. And, in this day and age, 40 isn’t even middle-aged anymore (right?). But what I have discovered while having some deep conversations with my female friends (mostly ranging 35-45), is that all of us are doing a great deal of self-work. We all seem to be spending a lot of time and energy examining: 1) the nearly two decades of our work selves, 2) our priorities, passions and purpose and 3) how we define happiness.
Yes, middle age seems like a perfectly logical time to be assessing the first half of your life and making adjustment/improvements for the second. But for women, it is more than that. At 40, we find ourselves serving multiple roles:
1. Career women (who have often had their heads down working twice as hard as men to get recognized, promoted and paid equally)
4. Single people who, whether grappling with marriage and child-bearing or not, are constantly barraged with inquiries as to why we are single and childless
5. Care-takers to our parents
Playing all these roles is exhausting and impossible to balance (yes, I hate that word too). The only savior is to really spend time in one’s own head and heart evaluating what’s most important to your own fulfillment – which is usually quite different from when you last checked in during your 20’s and 30’s.
The good news for women here is that we are open communicators and have nurtured deep support systems to help us along the way. If I did not have a kickass group of women that I trust and respect to talk to, this messy middle would be a whole lot lonelier and great deal messier. Also, I found that when I was sharing what I was going through, not only was I not alone, I picked up terrific advice and actionable tools for re-assessing and re-aligning.
I share some of my “self-work” in this post. Hopefully, it helps others work through some of their “messy” to make whatever adjustments they need in order to live their best lives.
As my dear friend Shelley says, #PowerofthePack.