When stopping is the best way forward – especially for women over 40

Have you ever felt utterly exhausted, stressed, or overwhelmed yet carried on in your quest for happiness, success, or the fear of letting others down?

Maybe you’re a high achiever. Someone who takes on ambitious challenges and is used to getting good results. 

Or you could be someone with lots of people or situations seeking your time, love, or attention. 

If you’re a woman over forty, let’s also throw in the peri-menopause, menopause, and cumulative effects of trying to do too much for years!

Why do we do this?

Many of us get caught in the trap of wanting to do well and thrive in outdated white-male energy paradigms of success: constantly doing more more, working long hours, seeking to grow your business quickly, and make more money as quickly as possible. It’s all go, go, go. Irrespective of the cost to you, your family, community, or the planet. 

What’s your story?

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed or burnt out you will have a personal story that’s contributed to how you’re feeling–situations you’ve been exposed to plus your response to them. 

For years, my perceived need for success and lack of self-worth meant I constantly worked hard, for long hours, setting myself ambitious goals, and taking on too many responsibilities. I never knew where my strong drive for success came from other than my desire to make a difference to others and the need to be financially sustainable that I’d learned from a young age. Sometimes I wished I could turn off this driving force and enjoy living life at a slower pace. But this powerful inner energy and my perceived need to prove myself to those around me were ever-present, from my teenage years through to my late forties. In later years this was exacerbated by the fact I haven’t had my own children. This brought the extra burden of feeling I needed to find a way to contribute to the future of humanity while also grieving the loss of never becoming a parent. 

Then when I turned fifty, another force suddenly took over. Something I couldn’t explain or articulate at the time. I didn’t know was happening other than I was constantly exhausted and I wasn’t in control of what I was able to do each day – physically or mentally. My mum suggested I’d over-worked for years and it was my body’s way of saying enough is enough. Funny how mums often instinctively know…

What part had I played in this?

When you’re ill or not feeling the way you’d like to, the critical first step towards recovery is to acknowledge the part you’ve played in creating this. To what extent have you contributed to your current situation?

Had I brought my fatigue upon myself?

Yes probably! I’d spent almost thirty years living at full pelt. I was in a cycle of working hard then taking time off. Working hard, then taking time off. I thought the breaks between the months of long hours gave my body the time it needed to re-charge. But now I realise I hadn’t been looking after myself enough each day, and so my body decided it was time to stop. 

The natural challenges of a mature woman

During my late forties, I’d sought medical help a few times but patronising male doctors told me there wasn’t anything ‘medically’ wrong with me, they didn’t know ‘why women get tired’ and that I was too young to be going through the menopause or peri-menopause. Or by contrast within a few minutes of meeting their female colleagues at my local GP practice, they would straight away suggest HRT as the only solution to a problem they hadn’t investigated.

Really?!!!!!

Thankfully having been trained as a therapist and spent many years helping therapists grow successful businesses, I knew plenty of good people to consult for a more holistic approach. They confirmed I’d experienced burnout, was suffering from adrenal fatigue and was going through the menopause too. Oh, joy! 

I was at a choice point again. I’d been advised to rest, change my lifestyle (apparently I was also doing too much high-intensity exercise) and my diet. In the past, I’d take time off to recover from other illnesses. Why did I find it so hard to stop and take time out to recover from this? 

While menopause is a natural process all women go through, and there’s plenty of research that shows subjecting ourselves to years of stress isn’t healthy, it felt like the medical world was saying there wasn’t anything wrong with me. Implying I was making it up. I also worried about what people would think. 

Many UK and US medical professions don’t believe adrenal fatigue is an illness as they are trained to identify illnesses/symptoms for which they can prescribe drugs or operate on. My private healthcare provider specifically told me “if any of the symptoms could be attributed to the menopause, remedial treatment would not be covered.” I assume it wasn’t a mature woman who negotiated the terms of that insurance policy!

Let me tell you there is a HUGE difference between feeling tired, exhaustion, and your body not physically allowing you to get up out of bed. 

I don’t care what the medical profession thinks: not having the physical energy to enjoy life (when mentally quite happy) is not normal for a woman in her early fifties. I meet so many other successful mature women who share similar experiences. 

The perils of failing to listen

The day after hosting my Business-for-Good Conference in April 2019 my back went into spasm and my body started shutting down. Thankfully my organs were fine, but I struggled to walk more than a few meters even at an extremely slow pace (I’d previously run up to fifteen miles a week). My brain was foggy and I took to spending most days in bed. For months, I couldn’t walk the short distance to my favourite place in the world, my local beach. 

In some ways, my fatigue wasn’t a surprise. I’d spent much of the previous three months organising the conference from my bed as I was already exhausted. Yet I felt I needed to keep going in order to deliver the event I envisaged in my head. I desperately wanted the conference to make a huge difference to so many lives and the planet–one where the ripples would be felt for years to come. 

In the few moments I did listen to my body and considered cancelling, I convinced myself I couldn’t. I didn’t want to let others down–my team who’d put in so many hours, the speakers, and those who had booked to attend. I also didn’t want to fail or for others to think I was a failure. Thankfully it was an incredible event but at a huge cost to my health. 

Stop doing: start listening

A week after the conference I went on a women’s only retreat to Bali. The rest, pampering, healthy food, and time for personal reflection was exactly what I needed. I also had a wonderful time with the charity partners through which I built a school in Cambodia and exploring venues for my own retreats. 

Initially, I thought a couple of weeks away would be enough–I’d come back full of energy and enthusiasm to get going with my post-conference plans. It wasn’t the first time I’d run out of energy and in the past I’d been fine after a few weeks off, resting, exercising, and changing my diet. 

But this time was very different. I just couldn’t keep going.

I had to stop and listen to what my mind, body, and soul needed–to only do what was critical or brought me joy.

My time in Bali also had me questioning what I really wanted to do in the future. Running retreats for successful women wanting to make a difference in the world felt far more appealing than hosting another conference. 

Reconnecting to my soul…

After a few weeks of resistance, I started to accept my health restrictions and see this pause as a blessing.

  • My body had made me stop before something more serious had happened.
  • I began to embrace this unplanned time out as an opportunity to spend the summer with family and friends.
  • I enjoyed taking up childhood hobbies again such as drawing/painting and jewellery making.
  • Business-wise, I continued to service existing clients but other than that, I gave myself permission not to do much work.
  • I made the most of having more time to read books, watch inspiring TEDx talks, have meaningful conversations with friends, organise our trip to Cambodia, listening to podcasts, and arranging pampering days at home for friends. 

As each day passed I became less attached to hopes I’d had for the future.

New ideas were emerging from my heart and new day-to-day experiences. I realised what I felt compelled to do each day brought me a deeper and more peaceful sense of meaning and contentment. I started to feel more excited and energised about the future again. 

Re-aligning my business…

Instead of wallowing in misery, I chose to use all the extra time off I had as an opportunity to step back, reflect, and decide the best way forward for me. 

Fitting my business around my life

I know that going forward I’ll be building a business that provides me with the ideal life and impact I want to have rather than fitting life around my business. I’ve only a few years left until retirement and I don’t plan to sacrifice my health and personal life anymore. 

I’m simplifying what I offer and feel really good to be only working part-time. 

A change of focus

Before I got ill, I had lots of ideas for how I was going to build a business-for-good community, with licensed trainers and consultants who would train businesses around the world. But this no longer feels right for me and thankfully others have emerged with more energy and drive to take this forward.  I feel proud to have been one of the ‘business-for-good’ forerunners in Scotland but I don’t feel the need to continue to hold the baton. Business-for-good is still something I feel hugely passionate about and this will continue to be one thing I help my clients with but it will not my only focus. 

A slight pivot: empowering women to have more impact in the world

Going forward my focus will be enabling successful women to enjoy a deeper sense of meaning, cope better with life’s challenges, and have more impact in the world–personally or through their business. Phew, now I’ve said it, that feels better!

I love the men in my life and I will continue to partner and work with men who resonate with my message. But I am increasingly being drawn to work with like-minded women. Particularly those who want to explore and step into their feminine power and to help make the world a better place through their businesses–collaborating, supporting, and taking action to tackle the world’s most critical problems. Empowering female leaders who want to operate from a place of love, kindness, and compassion in their hearts and are ready to play an active role in taking humanity, peace, and diversity to another level of consciousness. 

As women, we still live and work in a predominately white male-dominated world–with many outdated destructive ways of thinking, acting, and energy associated with male privilege. Rather than trying to adapt to survive in that world, I’m keen to help women explore what could happen when they embrace their natural gifts and work together to create new more compassionate, diverse, and holistic paradigms. Not just with women but alongside men who are keen to re-define a new way forward. 

I come from a family of strong, independent, and inspiring women, and I feel primarily serving women is better aligned to my ancestors and the legacy I’d like to leave. It also gives me the opportunity to consolidate my business-for-good work, what I share in my first book Heartatude, the 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success, doing humanitarian/charitable work, and my passion for travel. 

Sponsoring the building of a school in Cambodia and planning a team trip for the official opening of the school last year was an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding experience. I set up a travel club in the 1990s and so planning to run more overseas retreats and impact trips feels like I’m returning home.

Had I not given myself permission to stop and reconnect to the essence of who I am, I wouldn’t be enjoying the deeper sense of meaning, alignment, and vitality I feel today. 

How are you feeling?

 
 
P.S.  Check out my Women of Impact Book Club HERE. 
Often described as one of the most authentic and inspiring souls you can meet, Alisoun is on a mission to improve the lives of 100,000 people–by making it easy for women to feel good, enjoy meaningful success, and have more impact in the world.

Alisoun’s keynote talks, training, mentoring, and best-selling books Give-to-Profit: How to Grow Your Business by Supporting Charities and Social Causes and Heartatude: The 9 Principles of Heart-Centered Success have favorably changed the good fortune of thousands of people worldwide. She loves doing humanitarian work, fundraising, and living by the beach in Scotland.

Have you watched Alisoun’s TEDx talk? Check it out HERE

Alisoun is has written the following free resources:

  • Ebook: 101 Ways To Attract Great Clients, With Heart, Integrity & Social Impact (click here)
  • Ebook: 52 Ways to Raise Funds for Charities and Social Causes Through Your Business (click here)

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exhaustion, female leaders, impact, successful women, wellbeing, woman, women in business, women of impact, womenpreneurs

Comments (6)

  • Alisoun – thanks so much for sharing your story – very inspiring! I totally recognise that pressure we put on ourselves to achieve, and while in some ways that’s a good thing – we get things done – your story shows how important it is to let ourselves recharge from time to time and let the new ideas flow in! Brilliant.
    Mairi x

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Thanks Mairi! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Unless we create the space for new ideas to flourish, they will pass us by. Alisoun x

  • Hi Alisoun,
    Thank you for the insight into your drivers and passions. One of the positives from today’s difficult situation is that I have had the opportunity to focus on me and my desires and dreams for the future. Very exciting times ahead!
    Heather x

  • Beautifully written, Alisoun.

    I resonate with quite a lot of it, although I have not experienced the ill health, thank goodness.
    but
    But at the beginning of the lockdown, when I considered that I could die from this virus if I got it, I realised I needed to spend less time on the business and more helping my partner to build our house.

    So now I am a part-time business woman, part-time plasterer and jack-of-all-trades, and part-time gardener! Guilt rears it’s head from time to time, but on the whole I am managing okay, and really loving the time at the house. Income is a challenge but worrying about that seems to have gone out the window too, I am glad to say.

    Thanks so much for your inspiring story

    • Alisoun Mackenzie

      Alisoun Mackenzie

      Hi Jane, thanks so much for your comments. Isn’t it interesting how Covid-19 has made us re-evaluate what’s important? I’m so glad worrying about income has gone out the window. As we’ve talked about it’s so often about how we value our worth and often undervalue all the different ways we contribute. I’m glad you’re now a part-time businesswoman and hope you continue to enjoy building your house!

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