By Janet Kidd Stewart Tribune News Service
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "The Transition Network" is a national organization for women over the age of 50 who are going through various types of changes. The group focuses on support and professional development.
Tribune News Service
Midlife can be a minefield. Gray divorce, death of a partner, sudden illness, age discrimination or brutal corporate downsizing, to name a few potential triggers.
For Veronica Buckley, it was a job transfer to Chicago for her husband that uprooted her more than a decade ago from an administrative position she loved in New York. She was 48 and hadn't finished her college degree.
"That was my disorienting dilemma," said Buckley, referring to Columbia University professor Jack Mezirow's Transformative Learning Theory, which was based on research in the 1970s on factors that made women successful, or not, when they resumed their education at community colleges. As long as our experiences fit in a preset range, we tend not to engage in truly transformational learning, the work suggests.
For her part, Buckley enrolled in college, finishing not only her bachelor's degree, but a master's and then a doctorate in adult education. She worked for a private equity firm and now is on the faculty at DePaul University in Chicago.
She's one of a small group of Chicago professionals launching a downtown Chicago chapter of The Transition Network, a national organization for 50-plus women going through various types of changes. The group focuses on support and professional development (www.thetransitionnetwork.org).
The secret to making these transitions successful? Buckley and other leaders of the organization aren't quite sure, honestly.
Neither is Mark Miller, author of the just-released book "Jolt: Stories of Trauma and Transformation."
For the book, Miller interviewed men and women of all ages who had suffered some kind of trauma, loss of a child, illness, natural disaster, and who often transformed that grief into service projects around the globe. He also interviewed experts on traumatic experiences to understand the science behind what was happening to the people he interviewed.
While he cautions that the experts aren't yet able to say for sure who will be successful at turning a traumatic experience into a powerful force for good in a life, he did make a couple of anecdotal observations about those he interviewed.
"My own gut feeling is, trauma rips apart your sense of the world around you, and there's a profound need to put a life back together, to restore a sense of meaning," he said. "It seems the people who do this successfully are the ones most compelled by that need."
After an unexpected midlife divorce and with two children to care for in the mid-1980s, Carol Anderson thought she would try to increase her hours as a part-time early childhood educator.
But when she met with a friend in the insurance field, she started to envision a career in financial services that would enable her to support her family far more securely than she would have if she had continued down the early childhood path.
Eventually, that path led her to start Money Quotient, www.moneyquotient.org, a non-profit organization that offers training for financial advisers to provide more holistic, life-planning services to clients.
"My own personal transitions brought me to the realization that even highly educated people don't often grasp their own finances," she said. "Research shows that financial education is not very effective, which really unmoored me, but I thought that I could motivate people to understand how money is tied to the vision of what they want their life to be."
None of these students of change offered up an easy, three-step process for transformation, but if there's a common thread, it may simply be that each success starts with a bold decision. We may naturally pull inward and try to keep as much as possible constant in our lives in the aftermath of trauma. Eventually, however, forging a new path may be the only way forward.