When I committed to writing something for Advantages of Age I was feeling in my flow – that place inside of me where anything is possible. I was happy and excited to get my thoughts and feelings out into the world.
As the deadline for getting my piece in got nearer I found myself in a very different place . . . . a familiar place of fear and hopelessness. A place where nothing seems possible. Old voices telling me that I couldn’t write. Comparing myself with others. Trying to write something that I thought I ought to be writing. I felt immobilised and unable to even start writing.
As I was lying in the bath this morning, it came to me: all I needed to do was to write in my own voice. I didn’t need to ‘put on a mask’ or try to emulate someone else’s poetic writings. All I need to do is to share the vulnerability that is me – Louise de Caux – and that will connect with some people and not others and I know intuitively that this is okay.
Now, I’m a woman who has always hated structure and bureaucracy. This has got worse over the years but as I enter the third phase of my life, I have finally found the freedom that I have longed for my entire life.
Funny then that I spent the first 35 years of my working life in Human Resources (or Personnel as it was in the 70s) upholding rules and regulations, policies and legislations. And what is it about the Personnel profession that seems to be increasingly focussed on what they are called rather than what they contribute? Only yesterday I saw a recruitment post for an ‘Employee Success Partner’. Whatever does that mean? But hey, because I hate structure I tend to go off at a tangent and I think an article about the Personnel profession is probably for another day. . . . .
Back on track with structure and bureaucracy. In my 30s and 40s I worked for large global American companies, travelling to exotic places, meeting incredible people (including Bill Gates!) My parents brought me up with a strong work ethic – just the kind of employee most employers love. I worked long hours, attended telephone meetings at 1 00 am in the morning, lived in hotels, ate badly and drank too much. Finally I had the first of my Dark Night of the Souls or burnout from the stress of attempting to live a life which was nigh on impossible. I didn’t know what was going on. All at once, I couldn’t do anything, I was paralysed with fear that everything would overwhelm me, I wouldn’t be able to cope and my employers would finally see what I had known all along . . . . I was a fraud and I couldn’t cope.
By this time, I had begun a journey of personal development and I embarked on 3 years of counselling. This was the beginning of my journey to awakening. But looking back, I see that I did not enter this Dark Night of the Soul wholeheartedly. I brushed the fears aside and patched my life up and got back on the treadmill. I told myself it was different this time, I was working for one of the biggest companies in the world, I had negotiated working only 4 days a week, I would set my own boundaries and not work into the evening and beyond.
Two years later I was facing my boss in the US at an annual performance review and she was telling me that I seemed to be paralysed to take action . . . . . I had good ideas, I managed people creatively but I didn’t take action. She told me I would have to start working 5 days a week. For the first time in my HR career, I was in danger of losing my job! How many times had I faced employee in this same situation? I was scared. I didn’t want people to find out that I might be sacked. Me? Louise de Caux? I had to keep the mask on. This is the first time that I have admitted this out loud, dear readers, and I feel the vulnerability and also the relief of showing you a part of me that I am ashamed of. I could feel the Dark Night of the Soul beckoning me again.
However, this galvanised me into action for myself. With a great deal of trepidation (fears of financial security, giving up a good pension, etc) I handed in my notice with no idea of what I was going to do except a vague idea of coaching and running workshops.
Over the course of the next two or three years I tried to get something off the ground but procrastination and paralysis was dogging me more and more. Eventually I purchased a franchise business for children’s performing arts which I still love to this day BUT the company was literally taken over by a Venture Capitalist in the same month that I brought it and I found myself hurled into the cut and thrust of Corporate bureaucracy and playing by others people’s rules rather than being able to follow my heart.
This plunged me into what I call my Purple Dark Night of the Soul. I felt such Fear and for the first time, instead of ignoring it I began to feel and embrace it. No one knew that I spent days under my duvet or sitting in front of the television literally shaking with fear. I felt physically sick with an unnamed illness. I turned up on Saturday with the kids which was the part that I loved doing and no one knew what was really happening underneath. I was falling: falling to the depths of the darkness of my worst fears. As well as my own fears, I felt the overwhelming terrors that my father endured during his life and the family history of the atrocities of war. Everything mixed up in a swirling whirlpool of anxiety and apprehension. It was literally a living nightmare. But I stayed with it, found a somatic bodyworker to calm my system, spoke to my trusted women friends and somehow found my way through it. It took two years for me to begin to see the light again. I realise now that this process cannot be hurried, it comes in waves, sometimes unexpectedly when I am feeling really good, it taps on my shoulder to remind me that it is there.
And here I am, back at the beginning. Balancing the joy and the fear, the excitement and the hopelessness, with both structure and formlessness. Writing this is showing you a part of my Soul. As I enter what Jane Fonda calls the ‘3rd Act of my life’, I have learnt to love myself exactly as I am and to know that fear will always be with me, just as love is. All I need to do is to feel what I feel. I remove my mask and learn to live by my own rules. I found the freedom to live my life on my terms and discovered the wisdom and intuition of my own precious Heart and Soul.
I have found the purple-ness of my wise woman or crone and wouldn’t exchange this for the pinkness of the young girl who first met her power at puberty or the Red fertile years of a woman who was practicing her power. I am now post-menopausal and at long last am inhabiting my power: my own unique Purple Power, which has brought me the freedom I have always longed for.
My Purple is expanding and encompasses Red. My Women 2Gether brand is currently running Red Tent Activations for women of all ages to celebrate who they are as a woman (next one scheduled for Sunday 24 September in Cambridge). My Purple Power workshop for women entering, in the midst or beyond the menopause is coming up on 22/23 July also in Cambridge. It’s an exploration of the menopause maze using potent but simple exercise to help women find their own unique and innate purpose.
You can contact Louise here