Fallowing, Wallowing and how Less-ness can be More-ness
The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (June 4th 2023)
What I learnt from our first ever Indian Noon Circle
Sorry for the tardiness of this newsletter – I’ve spent my Sunday walking along the Chiltern escarpment, above Chequers, the British Prime Minister’s residence. The woods were full of “melodious plots of Beechen Green” (as Keats described them in Ode to A Nightingale). The chalk of the hills makes for vivid white paths which streak through fields of barley which, viewed from the very top, wave in the wind like the sea; below us middle England stretched out, a carpet of woods and villages… (Except for the scar of the HS2 work on the new railway line which cuts through the landscape like a wound, bisecting one of Roald Dahl’s favourite woods where Fantastic Mr Fox and others frolicked, just outside Great Missenden where he lived, but curiously swerving round a Golf Course…. Hmmmm. Priorities…) I got my hiking boots out for the first time since our Queenager/Noon Tours trip to Morocco; the dust of the high Atlas mingling with the Buckinghamshire chalk…
But I digress: I want to write today about two Noon Circles (for those of you who are new to these letters, Noon Circles are for Paid Subscribers (only £6 a month)
to this letter, they happen once a month, in person, and are discussion groups where Queenager members of this community get to share and converse).
What I most love about all these conversations is the commonality of themes in women at this point in their lives from all over the world. I’ve appeared on podcasts in America and New Zealand, Australia and Dubai (to name just a few) and am interviewing women from all over the globe for my book – and the same Queenager issues keep coming up. But perhaps one of my favourite Queenager sessions to date was our first Indian Noon Circle (online) with a group of Queenagers from Mumbai, Bangalore and Dehli.
I am indebted to them, first, for some brilliant new vocabulary: Wallowing, Fallowing, Less-ing (all will be explained) And some memorable phrases – including ‘Kudos to the Vengeance’ – which was posted in the chat while one of the Indian women was talking about being made redundant from her job at one of the country’s top advertising agencies. While another woman, in fierce agreement, talked of ‘channelising her anger’. I just love a new phrase!
The group came about because Dipika Narayan, author of a newly published book The Best Half of Your Life (A woman’s guide to prioritise yourself begin anew , rekindle your inner power house and find true freedom after 50) (this is the link https://mybook.to/bestlife ) reached out to me having read this newsletter. She says in India there is currently no midlife/menopause conversation so when she came to London for a family wedding, we met up. We had a very jolly meeting and found so much in common that we decided to jointly host a Noon Circle for some of her friends and acquaintances in India (if you’d be interested in joining the next one email me email@example.com) . And so it was that on a Thursday morning 14 of us convened to share our life stories, and particularly our midlife pivots. Dipika talked about how “when we are pregnant, or married the whole world is there to help you, but in midlife we are left on our own. In India there is no menopause chat even though it is part of life. No discussion about the midlife maelstrom that hits women at this point. Noon was a ray of hope for me that I wanted to share with other women here that I know.”
First up was Sheetal. In her mid 50s and the CEO of several different businesses. She had “quit corporate” at 44, wanting to do something more meaningful and set up a not for profit. But she realised the limitations of that world quickly and instead set up two companies in content and research, where she puts the profits “back into the business and as donations to charities and causes I care about.”
ENJOYING AN EMPTY NEST
Like many Queenagers Sheetal: “enjoys my empty nest. After years of looking after everyone else I find I have more space for myself. I like to read books while my husband watches television. I enjoy those quiet moments after the hectic ness of looking after a family and doing a full time job. I travel a lot, I relish my opportunities to get out and about. I feel very optimistic: 50 is the youth of old age, and I don’t feel my age at all. I feel there has been a wonderful change in my fifties from feeling burdened, to: ‘I’m having a blast’. [I totally agree with that! EM]
Chitra concurred. “I totally resonate with this. The 60s are the new 40s, I’ve been in corporate banking all my career. I lead a team of 70 people. I love my work, particularly teaching and mentoring others. These days I am focussed on teaching my clients, particularly women at this point, to make the most of their money. But too often they are told: “leave it to the men”. That doesn’t necessarily work because the women want different things from their money: I find they have less risk appetite and are more sensible I ask them to tell the story of how they would like their life to pan out and therefore what their money needs to do to make that happen….” [We could do with a bit more of that kind of female-focussed financial planning here, I reckon EM]
She deals particularly with families who have a special needs child: “I have a special needs boy, he is 24. Much of my time is spent caring for him, planning his life, getting him his own space. I help may other families in this situation because while for many women at this point it is about the empty nest for families like mine the child will never leave. There will be no empty nest. I need to plan for his and my future but also for his financial needs after I die. [this is a really tricky connundrum that I hear about a lot…EM]
LOOKING TO OUR OWN NEEDS:
The big change she sees in women and how they think about money after 50 is that “it stops being about ‘money for the children’. It becomes more about their own needs and money for themselves to pursue their hobbies or go on solo trips. I see a huge boost in tours for women only. I see many women who are reconnecting to their school friends at this point for support. I am part of a Whatsapp group of 450 midlife women who are spending time together, motivating each other, being there for each other’s needs, particularly around elderly parents. Caring for the elders always falls on the women – it is they who make all the health decisions.” [Love the sound of these huge Whatsapp groups of old school friends… the virtue of loose ties at this point, a wider circle who can provide advice and opportunity is priceless, EM ]
LESS-NESS, WHICH IS REALLY MORE-NESS
I love the concept of Less-ness, which was talked about Tina – one of the women who had been hit by a cluster of big life hits all at the same time, what we call at Noon the midlife maelstrom. Her mother had died, there had been a big family rift, followed by a row about finances, and after 30 years as a thrusting executive she had quit work. “My mother came to my house and lived with me for her last four years. We spent time together, we hung out, I cooked for her. We had time to reconnect. Right towards the end I took her to my niece’s engagement party in Mumbai. It was quite a trip from Bangalore to Mumbai, with her in a wheelchair, but it was fantastic for her to meet everyone. She died two weeks later, on a total high. There were lots of silver linings.” She described how she had been “so stressed out at work. I left and went back to Bangalore, I had that stay-at-home life that I’d never had. What I now call Less-ness, which is really More-ness. I’m not earning nearly what I was but that was such a headache, that life left me stressed out all the time. It made me think: how much do you need? My family all think I have gone cuckoo in Bangalore, they don’t understand why I don’t want to work, have abandoned my career. But these days I just want to chill and enjoy life. I’ve gone back to painting, which I hadn’t done in years. I’ve always wanted to do that, I have restarted my passion finally! In my 50s. I’ve also started cooking, I had never done that before. I really enjoyed cooking for me and my mother. The slow, everyday creativity of it. Everyone around me is really busy. They look at me enviously now – they want to get to where I am: they say: ‘wait for me’. I am loving this midlife transition, it’s an opportunity to live a completely different kind of life.” [I love this idea of using the things that make us feel joyful as the stepping stones to our new iteration in midlife EM]
Dipika however demurred. She reckons like many Queenagers that she is just getting started! “Success has eluded me. I was lost in my forties between kids and work. But now it roaring up on me again. I have written a book… When I look back I just see so many mistakes, so many things I did wrong, being so worried all the time. But now I am convinced I won’t live beyond sixty, an astrologist told me so, even though I don’t believe in them. So I reckon: live each day as if they are finite. 60 is a good deadline for me to keep. “
I HAVEN’T HAD CHILDREN BUT I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY PARENTS
Lopamundra had her turn at sharing: “My mum also died. I have nobody. The cat is the sun in my world now. I keep asking myself: why do we need what we think we need? My parents used to say ‘cut your coat according to your cloth. Have something for a rainy day.’ I agree that 50s is starting a new phase, but I have never had children so I am not an empty nester. I never had responsibility except for my parents… I am the eldest child and the eldest in our culture always to take care of them. I have now had my last period, so that is one less thing to worry about.
“I ask myself – what do you need in life. What is the barometer of success? I am happy in being average. But the absence of my parents has been so hard: my father was very ill I had to make the decisions about his treatment; I took the decision to let him go. But since then my depression comes and goes – an ocean of depression has engulfed me – I don’t know how to get out of it..” [We all have times when midlife seems dark, they do pass…EM]
Rozanne said – “I always wanted to write. Became a copywriter and then found myself head of a fledgling advertising agency, making new business pitches. After three years of working flat out on that I got burn out. I was mother/wife/housekeeper but also Creative Director. It was too much. I quit and went freelance because I was doing more and more management, less and less writing. So now I focus on writing. I quit to regain myself, to return to who I am. I’d got lost in everything I was trying to do: I was responsible for everything at work and at home. I could do it, but I lost myself and what I am as a real person.” [That sense of losing oneself in the busyness of jobs and others agendas is very pertinent I think EM]
WALLOWING AND FALLOWING – HUMAN SUSTAINABILITY AND HOW WE GET IT
This sense of losing herself was echoed by Srideri: “I was doing very well as Head of Strategy at a big agency, but it was a toxic super driven culture, where every week brought another big pitch. The job was taking me away from myself. I could do it but to be successful I had to constantly camouflage what I really thought. My real views were not welcome. I started feeling fear, like I was running constantly on the hamster wheel. I didn’t like the fear. We were told we can do anything, but it came at a big price, being so career-orientated. By the end I had only a teeny number of friends left in the industry and I just rang out of things to say to them, I felt my life was inauthentic. So I decided: enough – and resigned in January. It was not as scary as I thought. I spent the transition time fixing things, renewing myself, having time to do things slowly, to feel calm. I just decided I don’t want to not be myself. I felt very alone, like my self was dissolving, becoming very grey. Since I stopped I feel shiner, brighter – I’ve taken charge of myself. I call it Wallowing, Fallowing – that necessity to go away and regenerate. We talk a lot about sustainability these days. This is human sustainability, figuring out your plan for a better life. That’s what this shift in midlife is all about. Not retirement but becoming more essentially your self.” [I totally love this, found it super resonant EM]
“In India we talk about Vanaprastha – it’s a 25 year phase, it means into the forest, it is what happens between 50 and 75 – we go into the forest in a phase of discovery, we come back to nature. [I looked this up, It is part of four Hindu cycles of life: The Student, The Householder; The Hermit Stage; The Wandering Ascetic/Holy man. In Vanasprastha which literally means retiring to the forest, “the stage begins at 50, when one passes the responsibilities of running a household over to the next generation. One goes from being a householder and being engaged in family life to a more introspective and meditative stage of life. Initially, one will act as a wise elder, proving advice and guidance to those in need. As time passes he/she will gratdually withdraw from the world to live a more spiritual and solitary life. The transition to Vanasprastha marks a profound shift in the goals of a person from being focussed on the material pursuits of wealth and pleasure to looking inward, self realisation and ultimately unity with the divine. EM] “The return to nature is about spending more time ingardens, to watching pigeons on the balcony, noticing animals and patterns and how they age. I had to remind myself not to work all the time. We live our lives in cycles, transitions, phases of reskilling, of changing our colours, how the natural world works too. We can’t keep extracting from ourselves and expect we will just regenerate that there will be an endless well, or that we will just regenerate. We need some fallow/wallowing time – to do some searching. Bhuddha knew that. It took him 14 years of wandering to figure it out – he asked: what is it? What is the purpose? Why am I here, what am I doing. Our hobbies create the scaffolding to the next phase, while we are walking in the dark. I shut down for a while. For maybe two years I could not work but then angels [some other members of this group] reached out and asked me to write again and there is a little gap in the clouds, it is getting clearer for me now.
SAYING NO IS FREEDOM
Nila, 57: Single mother, EX art director. “I got to a point where I just thought I can’t do this anymore. I am a single mother, I adopted my daughter when I was 40. When she was eight, one evening I picked her up from the child minder AT 6PM and took her back to my office where I was working on a project. It got to 9pm; I thought I must feed her… That was what our lives were like. I did everything by myself which was fine, I never asked anyone. But then I thought: my daughter is all I have, she needs me. So I stopped and quit and now I do illustrations which make a quarter of my last salary but I do what I want and what I like. My daughter is now 16, she is very grounded. A circle of my old friends from school have been my crutch. I have found that the freedom to say NO as a freelancer has been essential. When I was working for the agency I had to do what my boss or my company needed whether I liked it or not, whether I wanted to or not. But now I can say No and do less. I don’t need to work with that toxic guy. I’ll only work with people I like. Saying No is freedom. I know now what it takes to sustain me.”
I loved the clarity of the women in this group – the different ways they talked about their Queenager experience – and particularly the way ideas from Indian culture around human sustainability, or about the venture away from the life one had had, into another one, really informed their thinking about being 50 and what it meant. There was so much richness in this conversation that I used these notions of Wallowing, Fallowing, Human Sustainability and how we need to renew it by taking some time out, and this idea of Less-ness and purpose in our May Noon Circle in London on Tuesday night last week. Many of us found these ideas very resonant. Which of them most appeal to you? Please tell me in the comments.
We were all talking about what had been most helpful in terms of this midlife rethink and one of the Queenagers, Jane, said that she had found Noon Advisory Board member Avivah Wittenberg Cox’s Midlife course super helpful. In fact she thought it was so good she sent me these comments;
I recently attended the Mid Life Rethink, which offers three 90 minute online sessions, particularly useful for Queenagers who are thinking about how to develop their lives and careers. According to its founder Avivah Wittenburg Cox, it’s designed to “see you through the fog of transition and move you to clarity in designing your next phase.”
Avivah provided a mixture of insights from the increasing number of studies and literature on longer lives and mixed it with exercises designed to give participants their own insights and paths for action.
Prior to doing the workshop, I had my head down trying to manage the moment and for me that is being self-employed, a parent and providing support to other family members. I didn’t think I had space in my life for the reflection that the course provided. ” Harvesting the past”, the first session, gave me access to who I was in my 20s and 30s, when I worked in exciting and entrepreneurial organisations, and it has inspired me to be more ambitious going forward. It is easy to lose part of oneself, dealing with life’s challenges; redundancy, divorce, bereavement and single parenthood for starters, without consistent time to reflect. And to quote Avivah, “simply the passing of time invites a rethink.” I now have resources to take me forward and plan, following the transformative online sessions.
BTW I recommend buddying up with either a friend to do this or connecting with someone else on the course so that you can work with a partner on the issues that come up afterwards. I have found this a great help in implementing actions from the course.”
If you fancy trying it there is a discount for Queenagers and here is the course link.
Also don’t forget the Noon Book Club on Monday June 19th (Paid Subscribers get free books for the Book Club, you need to email firstname.lastname@example.org if you haven’t already given us your address to send it to you.)
And there are still a few places left for our amazing Noon Wild Swimming Retreat at Wasing on July 8th – again reductions for Paid Subscribers to this email.
All the best! Have a great week and make sure you do a bit of Fallowing sometime soon!
By Eleanor Mills