Thousands of professional women today are discovering a startling and deeply disturbing truth – that their professional lives are no longer working. Often this realization hits a woman smack between the eyes in midlife, and is experienced as a full-blown crisis. In fact, there are 12 common crises professional women are facing today, all sharing one common theme – disempowerment — the inability to advocate effectively for oneself or move forward in positive, self-affirming and productive ways. “These 12 crises hit hard, and have a significant negative impact on emotional, behavioral, and professional functioning,” says Kathy Caprino, M.A., author of the forthcoming book Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, September 2008).

Caprino, a Connecticut executive and life coach, career transition consultant, and researcher, conducted a national in-depth research study with over 100 midlife professional women which revealed 12 common crises for working women that occur on four levels: in women’s relationship with themselves, with others, with the world, and with what she calls their “higher selves.” Disempowerment crises include such challenges as “I Can’t Balance Life and Work,” “I Can’t Speak Up without Being Punished,” “I Can’t Get Out of This Financial Trap,” and “I Can’t Heal My Chronic Health Problems.”

Women are waking up to realizing, after dedicating years to building successful careers, that their work, or the way their work impacts their lives, needs significant revision or serious negative consequences will occur. Many women are realizing that what they’ve been trying to achieve is no longer sustainable or desirable.

“This is not an isolated experience,” says Caprino. “While professional men experience many of these same dilemmas and challenges, women experience these uniquely and differently from men. Women clearly need new empowered thinking and supportive programs, and a substantial revision to the current competitive career model that was tailored to men’s needs, not women’s. This is a growing phenomenon of significant proportion, and we need to address it now.”

Throughout her corporate professional life, Caprino herself went through all 12 of the professional crises she writes about, before finding a way to reinvent her professional focus and identity. In the course of 6 years, she transformed from a corporate Vice President to an empowerment coach, author and speaker focused on helping professional women address, and move successfully beyond, all forms of disempowerment.

Research on Professional Crisis in Women

Caprino’s research study, called Women Overcoming Professional Crisis: Finding New Meaning in Life and Work, co-sponsored by The Esteemed Woman Foundation, includes in-depth interviews with over 100 women across the country ages 35-55, in a broad array of fields, who developed mid- to high-level careers that by all standards were “successful,” yet they realized, sometimes with shock, sometimes with relief, that this professional track must be altered, and soon.

Caprino cites many different aspects of professional crises and typical circumstances that can trigger them. Crises for professional women often involves deep loss, discrimination, toxic environments and work relationships, crushing competitive warfare, chronic exhaustion and illnesses that resist treatment, inability to juggle the full responsibilities of work and home, as well as unreasonable demands that exact great personal sacrifice. According to this research, women continue to feel marginalized and unable to express or fulfill their life needs, despite stellar achievements and high ranks in the corporate hierarchy.

Contributing Factors to Crisis

Women today hold a completely different set of expectations, priorities, and longings from previous generations. According to Caprino, many factors are colliding uniquely at this special time in women’s development, bringing about a radical shift in what women are hoping to achieve. This shift brings with it new beliefs about what is truly important in life, and what women are capable of. “Our role models as we were growing up, in general, didn’t prepare us for how to achieve, let alone conceive of what we most want now that we’re in mid-life,” Caprino explains. “We’re in a ‘new frontier’ – we know we can ‘have it all’, but we don’t necessarily want it all as it is now. How many of our mothers faced that crisis?”

What Women Want

What are professional women longing for when crisis or “breakdown” occurs? Women who have gone through significant professional transition reveal that when they were in professional crisis, they struggled with the absence of one or more of the following benefits of a fully empowered life.

They yearned for, but couldn’t find the way to:

· Honor or express their various facets
· Respect the work they do and their colleagues, and be respected in turn
· Be treated fairly
· Earn the money they need to
· Expand their self-reliance
· Achieve “quality of life,” flexibility, or control over what they do and how they do it
· Balance their numerous important life roles
· Make a significant positive difference in the world and in the lives of others
· Utilize their voices, talents, and abilities
· And finally, contribute fully in ways that reflect their unique needs and values without being negatively judged or diminished

Professional breakdown, then, involves realizing that you are struggling -- and failing -- to attain a positive life experience that includes: passion, power, purpose, security, integrity, self-reliance, and balance. For some, addressing crisis and making room for positive life change requires a good deal of inner and outer work. But for others, only small tweaks in one critical dimension are enough.

There is much evidence emerging from this study that women can and are successfully dealing with these major mid-life transitions and goals, and are reaching new levels of success, integration, and satisfaction. Finding new positive approaches to life and work is not only a possibility, but a necessity--and a blessing -for those Caprino has interviewed and works with. In Breakdown, Breakthrough, Caprino shares the real-life inspirational stories and solid coaching advice from 12 women who overcame their specific crises of disempowerment, and reinvented themselves to great success.

“Study participants have shared some truly amazing and inspiring stories of resilience, strength, courage and perseverance,” according to Caprino. For example, one participant, Theresa Wilson, Founder of The Blessing Basket Project (see turned personal tragedy into global blessings. In 1999, during a traumatic time of crisis for Theresa, friends and family showered her with their love, support and prayers, through cards and letters of encouragement (sometimes from people she didn't even know), that Theresa would then place in what she called a “blessing basket.” From this experience, Theresa envisioned and built a non-profit organization that now provides sustainable employment and prosperity wages to more than 3,000 weavers throughout 6 countries around the world. The lives and communities of these weavers have been dramatically improved thanks to Theresa and her vision. In turn, the weavers create beautiful baskets that help change the lives of those who use them to cherish their inspirational messages and items that spread faith and hope.

Overcoming Professional Crisis: A New Model of Empowered Living

The inspirational real-life stories and coaching advice that emerged from Caprino’s study helped her develop a New Model for Empowered Living, which presents a comprehensive coaching, behavioral, and spiritual framework for exploring how women can restore their power and reconnect to their true and powerful life visions. Breakdown, Breakthrough outlines a new model for understanding and overcoming women’s disempowerment.

“Overcoming these professional and personal crises is not an easy feat, but it is very doable,” Caprino states, as her own life has borne out. As one interviewee in her research study — an organizational design consultant turned life coach — stated, “I realized that my purpose in life is to express who I am as fully and creatively as possible, and to do so required a powerful ‘shedding.’”

This shedding, according to Caprino, is one of three critical steps in the process of effectively managing one’s crisis of disempowerment. The three key action steps are:

Step Back – to gain a new, expanded, and empowered perspective of what is working, and what isn’t

Let Go – of all actions, beliefs and behaviors that hold you back and keep you small

Say Yes! – to yourself, and to the new life visions that compel you. Say Yes! to moving toward that which you can’t live without.

The goal of Breakdown, Breakthrough and Caprino’s seminars and work is to help women break down what isn’t working, and break through to a more authentic, fulfilling, and joyful life through conscious choices from an empowered standpoint. “These crises in our lives occur for an important reason,” Caprino says. “Once we pull the lid off our denial that life is not working as well as we wish it to, and pull ourselves together as women to marshal our abilities, talents, and resources, there’s absolutely no telling how far we can go. The first step is to recognize that the time for change is now.”

For more information on Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose, or Kathy’s seminars for professional women, please visit or contact

Author's Bio: 

Kathy Caprino, M.A. is an executive and life coach, career transition consultant, author, and speaker specializing in helping professionals gain empowerment and self-mastery to navigate successfully through major transition. She is the author of the forthcoming book Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose (Berrett-Koehler, September 2008), which presents compelling, inspirational real-life stories and powerful coaching advice from women who’ve overcome significant professional crisis and reinvented their lives and work. In her book and seminars, Ms. Caprino presents her new Model for Empowered Living, based on the key findings from her national research study Women Overcoming Professional Crisis: Finding New Meaning in Life and Work.

In her seminars, one-on-one and group coaching, resources, and writing, Ms. Caprino draws on her coach training, research, high-level business experience, therapeutic training with families and systems, and her work with hundreds of professionals to provide effective, targeted approaches that help clients achieve desired change and growth in all areas of professional and personal life.

For more information, please see or write to To book Kathy for a speaking engagement, please contact Krista Reiner Carnes at