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 twelve common crises professional women are facing today, all sharing one common theme – disempowerment — the inability to advocate effectively for yourself or move forward in positive, self-affirming and satisfying ways. These twelve crises hit hard, and have a significant negative impact on emotional, behavioral, and professional functioning.

Based on findings from my national in-depth research study with over 100 midlife mid- to high-level professional women, these twelve common crises working women face occur on four levels: in women’s relationship with themselves, with others, with the world, and with the “higher self.” Disempowerment crises include such challenges as “I Can’t Balance Life and Work,” “I Can’t Find Ways to Use My Real Talents,” “I Can’t Get Out of This Financial Trap,” and “I Can’t Do Work or Play that I Love."

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. Many women are realizing that what they’ve been trying to achieve is no longer sustainable or desirable.

This is not an isolated experience. 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.

Research on Professional Crisis in Women

My 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 their professional track needed to be altered dramatically.

This study shows that women are experiencing numerous different types of professional crises, and there are root causes that trigger them. Crises for professional women often involve loss, mistreatment, toxic work environments and relationships, competitive warfare, chronic exhaustion and illness, inability to juggle the 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.

Factors Contributing to Crisis

Women today hold a completely different set of expectations, priorities, and longings from previous generations. 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. 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.

Study participants have shared some truly amazing, inspirational stories of resilience, strength, courage and perseverance, 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 Guide for Empowered Living

Overcoming these professional and personal crises is not an easy feat, but it is very doable. As one interviewee — 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 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.

Achieving breakthrough from our specific challenges and "gaps of empowerment" as professional women helps us 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. 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.
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For more information on Caprino's research study and her new book based on the compelling findings called Breakdown, Breakdown: The Professional Woman's Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose, see

Author's Bio: 

In her work as an executive, life and career transition coach, Kathy specializes in helping individuals navigate through major crossroads to reclaim the direction of their lives for greater passion, power, and purpose. A reinvented professional herself, she has transitioned from a corporate VP to coach, speaker, author and business owner, and draws on her extensive corporate, coaching, therapeutic, and family systems experience to help others define their authentic life vision, and make it a reality.

The author of the book Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose (Berrett-Koehler, November 2008), Kathy is a frequent invited speaker at women’s conferences, schools, diversity networks, corporations, and other organizations. Her book and work are based on findings from her national research study Women Overcoming Professional Crisis, co-sponsored by The Esteemed Woman Foundation. Offering the first holistic mind-body-spirit coaching model that encourages professional women to examine their careers in the context of their whole selves, the book presents compelling stories and vital information for women on the 12 common crises professional women face, and how to overcome them. For more information, see

Kathy is Founder/President of Ellia Communications, Inc., and former co-founder of Living in Harmony—The Center for Emotional Health in CT. She holds a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, and serves as a featured contributor to, and career consultant for Women @ Work Network LLC ( Passionate about helping professionals uncover where they are disempowered and move beyond it, Kathy assists her clients in accessing their vast inner resources and living their true potential.

For more information, please contact Kathy at:
Kathy Caprino
Ellia Communications, Inc.
P.O. Box 302
Wilton, CT 06897

Phone: 203-249-7405
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