How To Regain Your Confidence In Midlife
This is a summary transcription of our podcast interview with Juju Hook, author of Hot flashes, Carpools, and Dirty Martinis: The Quintessential Guide for Turning Midlife into Primetime. You can listen to the full interview here.
Re-evaluating menopause and ageing
We don’t talk a lot about menopause and that’s the one thing that really shone through for me as I started to talk to women. The presentation of menopause in our lives that we hear about from so many people is that it’s an ending, it’s a loss, right? We go into it without any excitement.
It’s like this door slamming or that’s the way it’s presented, often leading to a huge loss of confidence and self-esteem. Now that I’ve really spent time learning about it and talking to women about it, it’s really just the opposite. It’s a really beautiful transition into a time of power and insight. It really enhances intuition and mastery and all of these things that we’ve spent the whole first half of life working toward.
We get these sorts of ways that we label certain transitions in life. It happens more to women than it does to men in terms of how we’re labeled. Every time I see someone talk about menopause, it’s a problem and it’s problematic in the same way with aging.
Here in America, we have an enormous anti-aging industry just absolutely billions of dollars a year and none of the money is spent on living longer. All of it is spent on helping women look as though they haven’t lived as long as they have and discussing our problem areas. They’re only a problem because the anti-aging industry labeled them as a problem and then sold us a fix. They play on our loss of confidence.
The narrative and the messaging are a lot to wade through during a time when we’re also unsure and a little bit gob smacked. We have to be careful about what we do.
Relearning what we’ve been taught
We’ve been taught that the older we get, the less we’re worth. We’re not taught that by women who’ve been through it. We’re taught that by industry and by men. I hate to say that, but it’s true.
There’s a relearning and it comes in the preparation. It’s really common to get good at not feeling the things we don’t want to feel. We find ways to do that whether it’s Pinot Noir, shopping or whatever it is that will take our mind off what we don’t want to feel.
This is one of those times where you really have to lean into your feelings because it’s your desires, your instincts and your intuition that are going to guide you into how to create an amazing second half of life. If you cover up the feelings, you never get to that.
At the same time, we come to believe that our feelings are facts. If you feel lousy, you consider it a lousy time. We also have to be really careful about believing everything we think, turning our feelings into facts, because it’s dangerous.
That your thoughts equal reality is just absolutely untrue. It’s just your brain firing things off. It’s a machine trying to protect you. Your past is not a reliable predictor of your future. I meet so many women who tell me it is.
That tomorrow will be this way because yesterday was this way and it’s entirely inaccurate. The predictors of your future are your actions. Thinking otherwise is a bad, bad equation.
Your brain has two functions for survival. One is to predict what will happen and prepare you for it and the other is to protect you. Neither one of those serve us when we want to try new things or make change.
The first thing your brain is going to do is say “No” or “Don’t do that.” Let’s be certain and if we do nothing, we can be absolutely certain of what will happen. If we do what we did yesterday or the day before that, or the day before that, we know how it’ll turn out and that’s exactly what your brain wants for you.
Your brain wants certainty, to know it’s safe. We need to override that and recognize that this is simply a prediction machine. These thoughts happen to me. They are not me. They’re not from me. They come to me.
Recognizing that and letting the thoughts float by and not buying into it is part of the trick to generating a new vision, a new idea, and a new set of possibilities for what can happen.
The lies we tell ourselves that hold us back
The biggest lie I hear from women in midlife is what I call the lie of extenuating circumstances. It means it’s easy for her. That’s easy for her because she doesn’t have to deal with what I deal with in life. I hear it from women all the time. That won’t work for me because I’m this or I’m that, or I have this to deal with or that to deal with.
It’s such an easy lie to dispel because at any point in time, there are literally millions of women who have circumstances much harder than your own who are doing things that are much more gutsy, magnificent or thrilling than what we’re doing. That’s another protectionary instinct
These external circumstances tend to dictate our happiness or our possibilities and that’s entirely untrue. The ability to move forward in a different way comes from inside you and not outside you. It’s an easy lie to tell because it lets us off the hook.
I also often hear: I’m running out of energy – like we’re light bulbs and there’s only so many hours in each one of us. Like at a certain point we’re just going to shut down. It’s also not true. It’s just absolutely untrue that we’re going to lose our power at a certain point. I feel more powerful now than I did when I was 25, 30 or 40 and it just keeps coming.
Every single day someone’s firing messages telling you that you don’t have enough energy, because they want to sell you something, that’ll give you more energy.
The same thing with selflessness. We get this belief as we go through life that it’s noble to be selfless. It’s noble to give ourselves away to whoever needs us like our boss, our kids, our spouse, the neighbors, the pets, or whatever.
In doing so, we enter into a little bit of martyrdom and we don’t get what we want. But we are comfortable. The idea persists that I’ve given myself away and therefore I don’t need to strive or try or take a risk for what I want. And so the lies kind of keep us stuck. I call them the lies that bind.
What’s interesting too is the way we perceive pass-fail. By the time we get to midlife, we have this idea that with everything we’re doing, we’re either going to win or lose. This is the kind of the way we perceive it and it’s the way our brain feeds it to us.
The truth is that anything we start, especially redesigning a second half of life, is a series of actions and course corrections. We act and we course correct. This is the way we learn anything new.
We feel we have a certain entitlement to success at a certain age. But if you were beginning to play the guitar tomorrow, you wouldn’t wake up in the morning and say, if I spend the next eight weeks writing my first song and it’s not amazing, I’ll never be a guitar player.
You would recognize there’s a ramp up and that’s another thing where we get lost, this whole idea of everything’s riding on this, or I’m going to embarrass myself or I’m going to die from other people’s judgment of me. It will ruin me.
And it won’t. I’ve had as many flops as I’ve had successes in the last four years and it’s about pushing through those things that don’t go well. And being able to evaluate them without shame or self-recrimination that gives you the resilience to do it again the next day.
We judge other people in the ways we judge ourselves. We only judge people on the things that we’re cruel to ourselves about.
It’s that feeling of judgment and shame that stops us from moving forward. We have to be able to remove that from the equation. Everything’s an experiment and everything is an opportunity to learn.
We also come to believe that we should be able to do things that are not necessarily in our wheelhouse and we don’t know why it doesn’t work. We judge ourselves: “I’m not good at this.” ”I stink at this.” “I’ll never get this right.”
Much better to be in a place of curiosity and learning. Change is very hard to do when we’re in a place of self-loathing or recrimination.
Using truth to move past self-loathing
I have a couple of little tools I use continuously, and one of them is around truth. There are things I know to be true about me, about the world, and about life. When I feel good and when I feel powerful, I know what my strengths are. I know what my talents are. I know why people come to me for help.
I know what I can contribute to the world. You’d call it aphorisms. For instance, I know in my heart that everyone’s doing the best they can with what they have to work with at any point in time. I know this and it lives in my heart.
It’s not everyone’s truth, but it’s mine. One of the things I’ve done is to collect my truths so that when I’m spinning out into that place of self-loathing, I can bring myself back to it. What’s my truth? What do I know?
The other thing that’s probably the most powerful practice I have is this recognition that insecure thinking is not truth. When I’m in insecure thinking, I don’t make choices and it doesn’t stop. It’s never going to stop. You’re never going to get to the point where you wake up every morning feeling amazing about yourself.
One of the practices that I have is just watching the thoughts and not taking action on the days when there’s bad weather. I’m the sky and my thoughts are the weather. If it was raining outside, I would put a raincoat on and protect myself from the rain, but I wouldn’t try to change it.
I wouldn’t tell myself I was a piece of crap because it was raining. My thoughts aren’t true, they’re just weather moving through the sky. Those two practices are what keep me from quitting.
I hear women say to me, how do I make it stop? How do I make this self-doubt stop? Self-doubt will never stop. It’s a function of your brain. It’s a protective function. The question is what do I do with it?
As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “You can’t let fear drive the car.”
Recognising our own mastery and making the most of that
What happens in midlife is that we hit mastery. By the time we get to midlife, we’ve mastered things. There are multiple things for each and every one of us that we are literally aces at. It may be something we learned through our career, our parenting or something we’ve practiced over and over for some people.
It’s an artistic thing for some people, a skill set thing. When you’ve achieved mastery, you can apply it in all different kinds of ways. Recognize where your mastery is and give yourself credit for that.
I often ask women in sessions to say out loud, “I’m an absolute expert in ____.” It’s amazing how many women will say they are not an expert in anything. Loss of confidence again. Owning that as is part of the first step to doing big things.
Finding your leadership ability within
Another thing that happens to us in midlife is that we get a call to contribution. Once our bodies go through a transition to stop mothering, whether we’ve had kids or not, we’ve mothered all kinds of stuff, then what happens is we start to get called to contribution.
How else will I show up? Am I going to contribute to the community, to the world at large, to a certain group of people, or to some type of a movement? Listening to that call allows you to lead and influence in a way that feels really natural.
Some women are simply resistant to visibility. They want to build a business and do this big bold thing but are afraid to be seen or show themselves. Often, I’ll work with women on what I call their essence of influence. There’s a natural way for all of us to show up.
It’s very natural for me to influence as an advocate for women. It’s very natural for me to wake up in the morning and say that I don’t necessarily feel confident about this, but I want to do this for all the women in my orbit.
It’s natural for some women to be subversive or to push back. It’s natural for some women to be supporters. Some of this stuff in terms of leadership and influence has to do with leaning into our essence.
Who am I in at my core? How do I just comfortably be that rather than trying to be something I’m not? How do I maximize who I am rather than changing what I think is broken or that I need to fix?
I have a lot of women in my orbit that influence in different ways. Everybody doesn’t necessarily want to be a leader. That’s not a word everybody attaches themselves to, but I think everybody desires to do things they haven’t done.
In midlife, there’s often a need to circle back to things we started when we were young or wanted when we were young. There’s this feeling of, I’m running out of time. If you really want to circle back and do those big things, very often, they require some degree of visibility, some degree of influence, whatever that may be. Understanding how to naturally be influential is a powerful lesson.
How to move past resistance to visibility and find your essence
If there are parts of you that you can’t accept, then the tendency is to cover them up. One of the things that happens in midlife is that our physical shape changes and that can lead to a loss of confidence. When it does, for a lot of women, there’s a coverup that goes on.
It changes our posture and the way we enter a room. It changes the eyes that we look for in a crowd. It’s like self-annihilation and self-rejection. There’s a big difference between accepting your body and loving it, but to deny it literally cuts you off.
That’s where the invisibility feeling comes from. It’s this idea that we cover ourselves up and we cover what we’ve become and then the goal is for people not to see us and at the same time we feel invisible.
Some of that is real in terms of the opposite sex, but a lot of it is driven by how we feel about ourselves and what we try to cover.
It’s about shame around getting older which leads to that loss of confidence. It’s also a misunderstanding of attraction. I find that women believe there’s a normative definition of attraction. These are attractive people, and these are unattractive people and that’s not the way attraction works.
I talk a lot about essence. We each have an essence, the same way that a bottle of perfume has an essence or a bag of coffee beans, or a bottle of wine. It’s a combination of different things and each of us is attracted to a different essence and all those things.
It’s not like this is attractive coffee, and this is unattractive coffee. It’s this is the essence I love. It’s the same thing with humans. If you show your essence completely and if you really get into the discovery of it and you show your essence completely, people can decide if they’re attracted to you or not.
You give off the essence and they move toward it or away from it but if you cover it up, nobody ever gets to decide. For a lot of women in midlife, we tone everything down and we cover everything up. I’m a huge proponent of instead discovering what’s there and showing it completely, and trusting in the way attraction really works.
If you live with the belief and the understanding that showing myself completely is the best way to attract people who like people like me, then that’s the easiest way to show up. There’s nothing easier than being yourself.
It’s the fixing, the changing, the struggling, the pretending and the show that’s hard and that’s hard work. It’s work that doesn’t really get you anywhere and it doesn’t produce. I love that change because it’s a shift that changes everything.
It’s not even really strength versus weakness. It’s just a continuum. We have these feelings that some attributes are preferable to other attributes, but it’s not the case. It’s just a perspective of deficiency that gives us that understanding, that loss of confidence. In order to get to that point, we have to be resilient to the messaging and we have to be resilient to the weather.
I’d like women to know more than anything that there’s nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to fix yourself. We’re born well and happy. It’s our natural state to be well and happy. You don’t have to go outside yourself to find that or to fix yourself to get it. You just have to uncover it. It’s right there.
Find out more about Juju:
Michael Neil’s website
Access Juju’s Essence of Influence quiz here.
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