In the midst of my mid-life career, what I call my second act, I felt driven to work hard, lead my team to meet our performance goals, contribute as a leader in my profession and serve in leadership roles in my community. My concept of leadership at that time involved participation, involvement, taking responsibility, speaking up and aligning my actions with my values. As the first or only woman in many situations, I learned the delicate balance of addressing the unconscious affronts for women common then in mostly male organizations, as I also attempted to establish my credibility. My leadership in those settings was often simply being present, listening, integrating ideas, facilitating discussions or interpreting what others were trying to say. I avoided competition, confrontation and actions that would be interpreted as aggressive. I came home exhausted often feeling that I had failed because of that avoidance—was that approach too feminine?
Yet, as time progressed, I did establish my credibility and others began to rely on my results oriented, get it done commitment, my initiative and my insight. I realized that my leadership was a balance of the feminine intuition, presence, listening and facilitating with a goal directed commitment to get results which is often seen as a masculine approach. I felt rewarded and recognized in this androgynous leadership in both my paid work and in my professional and community volunteer work. However, when I retired from my career and my professional volunteer work, I felt in many ways that I was leaving “leadership” behind. I no longer led a team, consulted with clients, or chaired the board of a professional organization. I needed to explore who I was in this new stage of my life, which I refer to as my third act. (I transferred my professional skills and experience to found the program of coaching and workshops called The 3rd Act.)
This new stage of life has been an inner journey not to dissimilar to my explorations of my identity earlier in my second act career. I have come to realize that some of those exhausting days of feeling failure were trying because I was not only creating a career for myself and other women who would follow but it was also depleting because I was exploring who I wanted to be in those settings….finding acceptance externally and authenticity internally.
In my third act, I am much less concerned with finding external acceptance. I am very focused on being present authentically, trusting my intuition, sharing my experience and perspective (when appropriate), and finding ways to contribute that engage my passion such as through my volunteer and my 3rd Act work. But, it took me awhile to get to this place of wisdom and peace. At first, I wondered, “who am I, if I am not a consultant?” “What does it mean not to have a professional identity?” Achievement has always been important to me, so I also asked, “What does success and achievement look like at this stage?”
I had to find comfort with a new sense of self, to recognize that I didn’t have to demonstrate my worth and to accept performance goals and achievement no longer mattered. Achievement has become much more of a self-assessment of how I am doing at those activities that I have chosen because I want to do them. And my leadership is not about what I do, but about who I am as I serve as a role model, elder, mentor and crone.
Joseph Campbell offered this perspective, “The call rings up the curtain, always on a mystery of transformation. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for passing the threshold is at hand.”
This blog was previously posted last spring on the Wisdom Connection.