Coaching clients in midlife and transition

Middle aged and loving it. This week I will be celebrating my birthday and it got me thinking about ‘midlife’ because I think I have already lived half of my life time!

 So what is midlife?

I have a vivid memory of attending a 50th birthday party at the age of 22 years. I remember it well for 2 reasons. The first was that it was the most I had ever spent on a dress and the second was that the people there were so ‘old’, ‘old fashioned’ in how they dressed and ‘wrinkly’.

Fast forward, 20 years and is that me?

 Funny how I think of myself as being the same person throughout my life and that it’s just the outward physical appearances that have changed. This is not true surely as we change how we think, act and behave as we get older?

There is much written on how adults develop and the particular stages that they go through with each phase having  its own specific tasks, which reflects its place in the life course.

Literature will have us believe that before midlife, we have made it in the world, become a specialist in what we do and the next phase is concerned with finding our true identity and position in the world. It is about:

  • Individuation – is about ‘finding’ oneself and answers to, “why am I here? What is my purpose? What is life all about?” It’s about  tapping into our true self and uniqueness (Jung 1971)
  • Gaining affirmation in society, independence and seniority to  “becoming one’s own man” (Levinson et al 1987)
  • Appraising one’s life  – with an increasing sense of self, there is a sense of integration and wholeness ( Kolb 1984)
  • Looking outside oneself and caring for others – parents, community , societal (Erikson 1980)

 What do you think?

Not everyone in midlife experience such transformation, shifts in direction, purpose and meaning. Nor does it mean that there will be insight and awareness into the change. Change does not always signify development!

What about Midlife crisis?

This is the time when personal goals and lifestyle change supposedly brought about by the realisation of ageing. Not everyone experience these changes and research show that the majority of self-perceived turning points take place early in life and not in midlife. 

If transformational transitions can occur at any time, why is ‘midlife’ portrayed as a significant period for this to occur? By using the term ‘midlife crisis’, it gives meaning to unusual experiences and aids coping and seeking of help. As it is ‘expected’, it provides comfort for those experiencing difficulties during this time.

 What about transitions?

Surely you don’t have to be in midlife to experience transformational change. I was seriously ill in my 30’s and this had a profound shift in how I saw the world, my paradigm and perspectives.

Life events and transitions can occur throughout life and are not linked to any stages of phases or life development (Bridges 1980). These can be personal (lifestyle, appearance), work / financial (retirement, changing jobs) and inner driven (values, self awareness).

Minor events can have major impact and though transitions may begin at one part of one’s life its effects reach across every aspect of our world.

 What about women in midlife?

For many women this period of time presents new opportunities as child-rearing responsibilities lessen and for some their children have left home. Women in their 40’s and 50’s are re-addressing the balance by revamping their careers or cutting back on their work.

 Implications for coaching 

  • When a client presents with questions such as ‘who am I? What do I really want to do with the rest of my life? A coach can help to increase clarity about identity and goals, help them to reflect on and identify key influences and patterns and analyse options.
  • A coach can draw upon her knowledge of life phase development to inform her practice and be aware of some of their assumptions, strengths and limitations.  However, each client should be treated as an individual as opposed to an individual at midlife.
  • A change or transition in someone’s life has a knock on effect on other aspects of that person’s life. This presents challenges for the coach and client especially when coaching is restricted solely to work place issues and does not offer a holistic approach to the client’s needs
  • Coaching that is exclusively work orientated can be limiting in helping individuals develop and progress at midlife and these are challenges that a coach may need to overcome in order to facilitate a more holistic approach that covers the powerful interplay between work and other aspects of life    
  • Transition theory provides a structure that a coach can utilise to assess where the client is within that journey and the foundation for supporting those facing uncertainty and confusion of the neutral zone. A range of  tools can be used from identifying self-limiting beliefs in the ‘endings’, writing an autobiography or life story in the neutral zone and visioning and goal setting in the ‘making a beginning’ phase.

 Are you facing midlife and agree or disagree with some of what is written? Are you a coach who coaches people experiencing transition and change?

Would love to hear what you think!

Recommended reading:

Bridges, W. (1980) Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. New York: Addison Wesley

Bridges, W (2003) “Managing Transitions” Nicholas Brealey,

Erikson, E.H. (1980). Identity and the life cycle: A reissue. New York: Norton   

Jung, C.G. (1971) Stages of Life in Campbell, J. (Ed.) The portable Jung. New York: Penguin Books    

Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, N J: Prentice Hall

Levinson, D.J., Darrow, D.N., Klein, E.B., Levinson, M.H., and McKee, B. (1978) The seasons of a man’s life. New York: AA Knopf


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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2 Responses to Coaching clients in midlife and transition

  1. Great stuff, Vera! Agree with what you say and in particular the misnomer of midlife crisis. I think the phrase came from an era when life stages were neater and linear, whereas today it feels that lives are being played out like a jazz jamming session. there are less and less set patterns, or if there are, they are shorter, can change quickly and you might go back to them again later.


  2. Vera says:

    Hello David

    I like the image that ‘jazz jamming’ conjures up!

    I agree that things are much different now than they were ‘back then’. Most of the studies on life phase and development were conducted (mostly with men) in a time when economic, social and cultural norms are very different from today.

    It would be interesting to see if and how life phases change over time. Will ‘midlife’ shift by another 10 years as we enjoy better health and life expectancy? Can one ‘be established’ / ‘have made it’ by the age of 35 when it is unlikley that one will reamin in the same job / career for life?


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