The Midlife Feast

#62 - How to 'do less' and 'be more' in midlife with Wendy McCallum

April 10, 2023 Jenn Salib Huber RD ND Season 3 Episode 62
The Midlife Feast
#62 - How to 'do less' and 'be more' in midlife with Wendy McCallum
Show Notes Transcript

Midlife can be one of the most overwhelming seasons of life. It honestly feels like everything you are responsible for is a non-negotiable. But if you’re feeling like everything in your mind and body is pointing towards burnout, then something has to give- how do choose what to say no to? 

In this episode, I’ve invited my friend and Burnout and Alcohol Coach Wendy McCallum back on the show to walk us through how to start making these kinds of tough decisions in midlife. What I love about Wendy is that her advice is so practical and empowers you to take action on what you want most starting today, not tomorrow. 

So if you’re searching for ways to show up more intentionally for yourself and everyone around you, do whatever you have to do to let a ball drop for the next thirty minutes and tune into this episode. I know that the nuggets of wisdom you gain from Wendy will be time well spent and the best investment you’ll make in yourself in a long time.

To learn more about Wendy and her work, connect with her on her website at, or follow her on Instagram @beatburnoutandbooze.

Looking for a place to learn more about midlife, menopause nutrition, and intuitive eating? Click here to grab one of my free resources and learn what I've got "on the menu" including my 1:1 and group programs.

Jenn Huber  0:02  
Hi and welcome to the midlife feast the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Selena Huber. Come to my table. Listen and learn from me. Trusted guests, experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. Welcome to this week's episode of the midlife feast. If you are someone who feels like you are being pulled in 8 million different directions, I can't imagine that there are any balls that you can drop. And yet you feel like you're constantly on the verge of burning out or forgetting something or just feeling like you are not being factored into any of the decisions in a way that makes you feel good. This episode is for you. So Wendy McCallum my good friend and burnout and alcohol coach from Nova Scotia from Halifax is back on the podcast for the third time and this time we're digging deeper into burnout. And we're digging really into how do we actually do the things? And it isn't just like stopping it, how do we actually do things that will help us to feel like we are adding to our lives. And so doing less being more, being more present, being more, you know, content, happy, whatever you want to call it, but just feeling like there is some balance back. So listen up, this is definitely going to be one of my new favorite episodes. And I know that so many of you are going to be just in love with this and everything that we say. Hi, Wendy, welcome back to the podcast. Hi, Jen. It's

Wendy McCallum  1:52  
so great to be here again.

Jenn Huber  1:54  
I know you're in a very elite group, I think you are one of two people who've been on three times. So yeah, well. Yeah, well, you were one of my first guests. And we talked about burnout. And then you were part of the new the non diet resolution in 2022. And we were talking about alcohol. And now we are kind of coming back to talk about something that I think actually overlaps with both of those really, which is how to do less. And feel like you are getting more in midlife.

Wendy McCallum  2:33  
Yeah, one of my favorite topics. I love this topic.

Jenn Huber  2:37  
Yeah, and I think lots of people listening are really going to identify with what we're going to talk about. But for so many women, and I think I was one of them too, like we get to this point in midlife where we feel a very strong desire for more, what we're doing is fine, but it doesn't feel great. And it doesn't feel in some way. Like it's enough. And yet life is so damn busy. For many of us, you're in a different age now with your kids up and out of the house. But I'm, I'm in the thick of it with three teenagers, you know, so like, life is really busy. Work is great, but busy. You know, there's just a lot going on. And so it feels like, how can we ever find the time to press pause and see what it is that we actually want? So tell me about Tell me about your experience as a coach, obviously, or maybe just kind of introduce yourself quickly and tell us about what you do and how that piece of it lands in your work.

Wendy McCallum  3:39  
Yeah, it's so common that I hear that kind of sentiment from the women that I work with who are mostly women in midlife. Usually, I'm working with women who've had pretty successful careers. They're there, they're either sort of peeking there, or they're just they have just peeked in there on the other side of that. And women oftentimes also not always, but have children as well, and who are finding themselves now in the sandwich generation where they're also caring for aging relatives. So all three of those things are sort of presenting at the same time for a lot of them. And they are, you know, on paper, they look at their lives. And they say like, look, I've got all of these things that I thought were gonna get me to this place of happiness, I have the career I have the home, I have the family, I have the partnership, I have the, you know, the financial security, whatever the things are, that they thought they really needed. They've got them all, but it still feels like something's missing, and it's a really uncomfortable place for them to be in. So this is a really, really common conversation that I have with my clients. Many of for many of them. It happens after we've dealt with one big domino which for most of my clients is over drinking as a way to cope with the stress of their lives. And once we sort of stripped that away, they're they're starting to They just have a little more clarity as to where they are. So it's that uncomfortable place of awareness where you realize everything's not where I want it to be. But at the same time, I'm not sure where I want it to be. And I don't know how to get there. So it's really tough. And they are really, really busy. Their lives are just jam packed full with stuff. So they're, they can't even imagine how they can fit anything else in but they're really feeling like there is something that's missing.

Jenn Huber  5:28  
Oh, yeah. And I think anybody listening who is more on the food domino side, because that's how most people I think kind of land working with me is that they're trying to sort out this relationship with food that isn't serving them anymore, it isn't working for them. And in the process of understanding your relationship with food, which I'm assuming is very similar to alcohol, you uncover some things that maybe you didn't want to. But you know, the coping strategies that have been a friend and yet not. But also I think, getting to the root of a lot of emotional hunger, which are the the needs that aren't being met, that haven't been met for a really long time. So you're nodding your head. So tell us more about that. 100%?

Wendy McCallum  6:11  
Like, I think there's so many I mean, as you know, Jen, I don't know, your listeners probably don't know this, but I started in food. That's how you and I met, I was a food coach for a long time and moved into burnout, and then kind of moved into burnout and alcohol over the last 12 years. So this is something I know a lot about, and there's so much of an overlap between what you do and what I do. And at the end of the day, it all comes down to that, what is it that you really need? Because it's almost never well, it's never alcohol, and it's almost never food unless you are legitimately hungry, right? Like it's, it's or you need that you're looking for that pleasure, but so that that question of what is it that I really need is just, it's at the root of all of the coaching that I do. And I suspect it's there for you as well. Like, that's why I was nodding, as you were saying all of that. And so, you know, but the problem is like, when you know, there's something else that you need, even when you get to that place where you have some sense of what that is, for most women, they're thinking, how the heck am I ever gonna do that? I don't have a spare minute in my day. I'm just exhausted and rundown.

Jenn Huber  7:14  
Yeah, and I hear that all the time. And I actually feel that still, a lot of times, even when I'm like trying to self care myself into pressing pause. It's hard because it feels like most of the things that are keeping us so busy feel non negotiable. Right? Right. It's, you know, related to our children or our family or work. So how do we how do we actually start to approach that differently? And realize, like, what is negotiable? Or how do we invite that conversation in? Hmm,

Wendy McCallum  7:46  
yeah, it's such a good question. And there are so many different ways that I support women around this, I think there are a couple of different questions that you can kind of work your way through. And so I'll just share a couple of those. One of my favorite tools is a really simple tool of making a list of all the things you do, I shouldn't have said simple, that's not simple for most women. I mean, it's simple, but it's time consuming, right? Because there are so many things. And often I'll suggest to my clients that they break it down between the personal things that they do and the work things that they do if they're also working. And then in those lists, what you really want to do is separate into two categories. What are the things that actually bring me some joy and energize me? And what are the things that just sapped me that I actually really, really don't enjoy. And try to stay out a judgment on this of yourself. So try to stay out, it's really important to stay in self compassion whenever you're working, you know, on your own personal growth. And I'm sure you talked about that at nauseam, like all day long. Don't judge yourself about the fact that you actually strongly dislike taking your kid to ballet class, for example, like write it all down, and put it into those two categories. And then take a look at that. Almost always just the exercise of doing that is shocking for women, because they see all of the things and I mean, all of the things that you have to do, like for example, I'm responsible for the seasonal change of clothing for my children, I have to figure out what still fits I have to deal with the hammer down boxes from the other kid I have to go out and buy the new snow boots, the whatever the this the that I'm the person who handles all of that I'm the person who books, the dentist appointments, the doctor's appointments, the ortho appointments, the whatever, like really itemize this list, I buy the gifts for the birthday parties, I you know, write it down and then all your responsibilities at work. Same thing, not just the obvious work direct work responsibilities, but things like I'm the person in the office who knows when somebody is undergoing cancer treatment or has a parent with Alzheimer's or needs a little extra support because their child is struggling. And so I'm doing that so all of your, you know, non nurturing and nurturing tasks that you do. Which of those feel like things that actually bring you some joy and energy in which of those drain you again Normally, the list of things that drain you is quite a bit longer than the list of things that bring you joy and energize you. And I think that's where you start, I'm never going to suggest somebody, start doing less of the things that energize them and bring them joy. Although I do want to be clear, doing something that brings you joy, too much can lead to burnout. So we don't just get burnt out when we're doing something that we don't love. But but for now, let's just focus on that list of things that are not bringing you great joy. That's the place to start. You go through that list with like a really with a fine tooth comb, have a conversation with your partner, if you have a partner living with you can maybe assume more of this responsibility, it will probably be shocking to them to take a look at this list. If it's not equal, which in my experience, it very often is not. Right, once you start putting the emotional labor in there the nurturing labor labor into that list, it's not equal. What can you delegate? What can you just take off the list? Are there is there anything that's happening there, there's actually not that important. And this is where I say you have to experiment because we all assume we're incredibly important. And that the study will fall if we stop doing certain things. And you really have to, you really have to practice and try this. I remember when I started doing this myself, after I stopped drinking five years ago, my kids were still at home was a very busy time in my life, I was feeling totally overwhelmed. I also felt like something was missing. I didn't know what it was, but I had no capacity to do anything else. So I did this exercise. And I and I started thinking what are the things you know, that I don't enjoy. And one of the things I wasn't enjoying any more Jen was cooking, which, as a person who's published two cookbooks, and like made a career out of loving cooking, I just had lost my mojo in the kitchen. And one of the things I was very worried about was that if I didn't cook really delicious home cooked meals every night, everyone would be really disappointed. And the truth is, nobody cared, I was gonna, I was gonna swear, I'm not gonna know goodbye, do you know, buddy cared, we started having frozen pizza twice a week. And it was the best thing I ever did for myself. But the point is, like I was being Chicken Little about at all, assuming this guy was going to just fall and everything would fall apart. And actually nothing fell apart at all, and it made my life a lot easier. So taking these things one by one and experimenting with them is a really great way to learn for yourself, what is negotiable and what's not, because we just assume it's all not negotiable, right? And what actually happens if I let my husband manage the dentist appointment. So this is one of the things I did I passed on to my husband or the orthodontist, we had two kids that went into braces at exactly the same time, I was literally was driving to the orthodontist, every six weeks for adjustments, it was three, three to six weeks, like Max six weeks, I was there constantly. My kids didn't have their licenses yet. So I gave that to my husband, which was terrifying, because he's not particularly practice for good. It's my own fault, I realized white and red, which comes back to this whole personal responsibility piece I sort of created, we create this perfect storm we find ourselves in. It's not our fault. But that's how we get there. And it's partly our doing that we're there. And I realized that about the orthodontist, and I passed it on to him. There were a couple of missed appointments for sure. But everyone eventually got their braces off. And they now have straight teeth. So it all works. So so that's the one place to start that drains versus gains list, you know, what can I let go of and what happens if I do

Jenn Huber  13:34  
and then cut and I just want to share something before we go on because what you were saying about the pizza reminded me of something that my listeners and the people that I work with, well will appreciate and that I'm constantly telling people to lower the bar with nutrition. Yeah. And they're like, but wait, what? What are you saying? I'm like, low, we're the bar. We wouldn't be here having this conversation if we needed to eat perfectly. You know, humans are resilient. And it is okay. If you have frozen pizza a couple of times a week, you know, like nobody's life is going to be significantly altered by that. And especially with food, we have created this impossible ceiling of perfection, that people feel like they failed if they have nine servings of vegetables instead of 10. Or like they feel like everything has to be 100%. So yes, lower the bar. Most of the time, no one cares and nothing happens. 100% best advice ever. I love that.

Wendy McCallum  14:36  
So another little tool that I use is around learning to do two things care less and say no. Yes, saying no. I just want to start with that saying no is brutally difficult for most of the women that I work with. They have for decades. Most of them said yes to almost every request that's made of them whether it's from their family members, their friends. As for their work, and as a result of that they are where they are. And so the only way out of that is to learn how to stop saying yes all the time. So instead of thinking of this as I need to get better at saying, no, maybe think about it as I need to get, I need to learn how to delay the yes, this is a tool that I like a coaching kind of an interim coaching step that I take with women, I get them practicing delaying the Yes. Which just means you start getting more mindful around how often you're saying yes, on the spot without thinking about whether that is actually going to serve you in any way, which is a really important question in midlife, will this serve me? And so taking us just a beat, to consider whether it's going to serve you before you say yes, is pretty powerful, actually. Because it gives you that time to formulate a response, also, to formulate a good excuse, if you need one, something that feels true to you, but also kind of, you know, full solid, you know. And I just think when you start, it feels, it feels more accessible to women to do that. And it also, it's just a really great interim step, sort of training your brain to actually consider whether you want to say yes, whether you truly want to say yes to that thing. So delaying that, yes, you can start at home, if you have a partner or kids at home, start with them, tell them what you're doing. You know what I've realized, I just say yes to everything without thinking about it. And it's actually not serving me that well. Which by the way, is a great role modeling thing for your kids, because nobody wants a kid who says yes to everything and doesn't think about whether it serves them, I don't want my daughter to grow up that way. I don't want my son to grow up that way. I don't want him to expect women to behave homeboy, right? So have that conversation and say, so as a result of that, my answers are probably going to surprise you for the next little while, because I'm practicing not saying yes. And so when they say to you, Mom, can you bring me a glass of water, you can say, I'm just gonna think about that and get back to you. It sounds ridiculous. But you're creating a new neural pathway. That's the point of this. And so start in a safe space where you can make it kind of fun, but actually start practicing this and then slowly start taking that outside of your home into other places.

Jenn Huber  17:13  
So that saying, No, I am using that tonight. I am literally introducing that into my life, that phrase, my kids aren't going to be very happy about it. I don't think they listen to my podcast. And so even though this isn't coming out for a while, yeah, maybe I'll have an update on how it's going. But I am 1,000% starting to say, I'm just gonna think about that. Like, maybe I'll do a hidden camera. Yeah. Because I think it might break their brain.

Wendy McCallum  17:39  
And if you want to take it a step further, and really, really mess up their minds add to that, let me think about that, I just need to decide if that serves me.

Jenn Huber  17:49  
Oh, my God, I mean,

Wendy McCallum  17:50  
I really so important to me, I have a daughter and a son. And it's so important to me that they both grow up knowing that that is that just can't be your human default, because it's what led me to the full burnout that I went through when I was 3435. And to a secondary burnout that happened after that, it was just my, the feeling I had that I just was not capable of saying no that like, it just everyone would be so disappointed in me and would be an end. And there would be some really catastrophic consequences to me not saying which which kind of comes back, I'd like to remind my clients to this sort of, it's a little bit of, you know, when you think about it, it's really like saying, I'm the only person who can do this, I'm the best person for this job, which isn't a particularly, you know, pleasant, humble way to be talking about yourself. Like, I'm not the only person who can do things, I'm not the best at all the jobs, there are other people who can step in and do things just as well, if not better than me in many areas of my life. So that often helps as well. But that really, and we can't

Jenn Huber  18:55  
be good at everything, right? You can't be good at everything. And so if you're doing all the things, the things that you are really good at and that you do enjoy, aren't getting your full attention well, and

Wendy McCallum  19:06  
they start to feel like chores, too. This is the interesting piece of it. Women say to me, I'm resenting the things that used to bring me joy, because I'm so exhausted and burnt out but the stuff that I used to love doing like playing with my kids no longer feels fun to me. I just want them to go to bed so I can take a break. And usually it's so I can have a glass of wine or so I can you know watch some Netflix or whatever. So it is it is a really important piece of it. And it ties in really nicely with that the issue of people pleasing Jen, which I'm sure comes up in your coaching practice. Yeah, a lot. Oh, yes. And so that's the you know, really the same thing. It's that always feeling like you need to say yes and help everybody out because usually the root of it is I'm worried people won't like me if I don't. And you know, it feels on its face objectively. You can rationalize out if you are a people pleaser, if you are someone who says yes, all the time, you can rationalize it as actually being a positive trait, right? Like I'm so helpful and kind and I'm really good at, you know, stepping in and solving problems and fixing things for people. But when my clients and I really dig into it, I asked them, like, I asked them to really think about how that's serving them what the bigger ramifications are for them. And they're usually can get to that pretty quickly. Like, it's often the reason why they drink so much to be honest. And why they're so feeling so miserable is because they just don't have any time for themselves. But, you know, the second question that really is usually where the light bulb moment happens is, how's it serving those people that you're solving all the problems for, and helping all the time? And so what what's it actually doing for your kids that you're doing every single thing for them? Where is that leading? How is that not serving them? So take a minute to think about that. And then another question that I ask that usually is a bit of a mic drop moment for them is how do you think your kids would feel if they knew this works a little better with with older kids like or adult kids, but because I don't think younger kids in their selfish state have the capacity to really appreciate this, but a lot of my clients have kids that are a little older, and they're still doing everything for them, right? They're taking care of grandkids or whatever. How would your kids feel if they knew that you're saying yes to their requests was leading to you feeling this level of resentment and burnout that you're feeling? How would it make them feel to know that you actually don't want to do the things you're saying yes to? That's a real, that's a real moment for people? Because of course, the answer is they would. Terrible, right? Yeah. So people pleasing is really very disingenuous. That's the truth of it, you're doing something you don't really want to do, because you feel an obligation to do it, or you're worried the person will like you, that's not really showing up from a place of authenticity. Now, I don't think you need to go out and be rude and mean to everybody. But I do think it's worth a think, how is this practice that's become my sort of go to default? How is it serving me? And how is it serving them? So those are kind of two of my favorite tools around the around that particular issue?

Jenn Huber  22:18  
The perfectionism one and the people pleasing is, I mean, it's ingrained in our culture. You know, there's the problematic, good mother, Mother Teresa, you know, kind of expectation of what is a good mother? What is a good partner? What is a good, you know, so, we have these, you know, patriarchal expectations set up for us from, you know, we hit the ground running with those early on in our lives. And while I love that there's a bit more discussion, awareness, acknowledgement, that it's at play. You know, there's a whole lot of systemic supports there that we can't change overnight. But just even recognizing that, why I'm doing this isn't actually delivering. I'm doing this because I want to feel good about myself. And yet, I feel like shit, right? So if that's not connecting, then something's gotta go. Yeah. And you know, being able to realize that you can't make yourself happy by pleasing others. Is such a midlife moment. It is truly that like, oh, man, and I can't and the beauty of midlife I call it the gift of midlife, is it your ability to do those things and definitely comes to a halt at some point in your midlife journey where you just can't do it anymore. Totally. And that's burnout. For some people, that is burnout, right? But I think thankfully, because there are people like you, you know, who are coaching in this area, and you know, on the periphery in certain areas with food like I am, I think at least now there's an acknowledgement that like, there is another path, you don't have to get to the point of burnout before you ask for help. Like you can say, I really recognize that this isn't working for me. And by extension, it's not working for anyone that is in my circle kind of

Wendy McCallum  24:12  
person. So, we've got

Jenn Huber  24:15  
a list, we're making a list of the things that are that we do. We're delegating. We are not saying yes right away, which I cannot wait to use. Yeah, I literally cannot wait for the next person to ask me for something. Yeah. And we're trying to see that a lot of the things that we have been doing we're doing out of this desire to please others. Yeah. Okay, so then we're left with what feels like a steaming pile of shit and we don't know what where to go from there. Now realize, you know, we

Wendy McCallum  24:49  
slowly slowly over time, this is not I want to really stress this this is not gonna get to take your time with this. I mean, this is also the view of midlife is that, you know, slowly as you're doing This your responsibilities do start to lessen most for most of us, you know, again, oftentimes, caring for aging parents or relatives is ramping up. But the care of if you have kids, the care of children is usually, you know, decreasing in terms of the physical requirements on you not always the emotional requirements. But so you have some time here to do this, it doesn't happen overnight, it will start to feel less like a steaming pile of shit as you go forward, because you'll start to let go some of those things. And what you'll learn is, oh, my God, I left that board. I thought the thing was going to fall apart, but they seem to have found someone else and they're continuing on without me, you know? Oh, look at that. And you build confidence. Every time you do this. Every time I let go of something, and the sky didn't fall, I got more emboldened and courageous when it came to saying no to the next thing, it just now I just I simply do not say yes to very many things anymore. I've just stopped I've, I've got a whole new sense of what my I guess my boundaries are. And I'm just I hold to them. I'm very, very, they're very precious to me. So I think it's a slow, it's a slow process to get there. But that's all about how you take away the things that are not serving you. And then the next question becomes what what do I need to bring more of in because most women again, are feeling like something's missing. And a lot of the time women don't have any idea what that is. And I remember that feeling when I stopped drinking and kind of settled into an alcohol free life feeling like okay, I sort of thought this was going to be really really amazing and feels awesome that I'm not drinking and a lot of things feel easier, but it does still feel like there's something missing and I think that again