Majoring in midlife management
Women in uncharted waters find campus resources helpful

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

24 October 2002 | Gail Ford likes her job as a principal administrative analyst for the library, enjoys creative writing in her spare time, adores her young son Ezra, and loves her husband. But, she says, as a 50-year-old woman she’s reached a very interesting time in her life — one in which career, family, financial, and health issues all seem to be converging at once.

“A lot of my friends are retiring or soon will be,” says Ford. “But because I have a five-year-old son I need to provide for, I’ll probably work for another 20 years.”

Ford is faced with a tough decision: Should she stay in her current job, where she’s happy, or expand her horizons by seeking out new career opportunities?

“Our culture values youth, ” she says, “so it’s not always easy for older women to transition into new careers.“

With full-time work and childcare, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for Ford. She even has trouble carving out time for exercise, a passion that has gone by the wayside.

Though she sometimes feels guilty about not spending enough time with her family, Ford wants to continue performing her job at the high level she has set for herself.

“My life is good, but I don’t seem to be willing to give anything up,” she says. “Trying to be all things to all people is very tricky. It’s like juggling, but I need to figure out how many balls I can handle.”

Carol Hoffman, manager of University Health Service’s Work/Life Program, says hundreds of women across campus face similar midlife challenges. (More than 60 percent of women in staff career positions at Berkeley are between 40 and 60.)

“While this can be a wonderful time of life for women, several issues can crop up,” says Hoffman, “such as providing both child and elder care at the same time, dealing with menopause, relationships with significant others, and determining how long to work and what career paths to take.”

Longer life, more challenges
Because the Baby Boom generation is the first to confront this set of challenges, she says, there are few role models to turn to for guidance:“Many women in our parents’ generation didn’t work outside the home, so didn’t have to deal with career issues. Advances in medical technology have also made things quite different for us. Women can have children later in life, even as their parents or in-laws are living longer, often with chronic illnesses — which extends elder-care responsibilities for many more years.”

It also means these women are themselves living longer, a phenomenon that drastically affects their financial futures.

“In previous generations, men worked until they were 65, retired, then supported their wives with Social Security and pension benefits. Now there are no such guarantees. Large numbers of women have joined men in the workforce, and together they’ve altered the country’s economic structure. This makes planning for the future much more complex.”

For Ford and others like her, navigating these myriad challenges can be draining, both emotionally and physically. To help her cope, she seeks out support communities whose members are experiencing similar problems.

“It’s helpful to hear how others talk about and grapple with these issues,” says Ford. “It also sets aside a specific time for me to think about these things, since I don’t really have any other chance to.”

One such group (sponsored by CARE Services and facilitated by Hoffman) exists here on campus and meets monthly to talk about issues specific to women in midlife. The discussion group is one of several resources available at Berkeley to help women through this period of their lives, says Hoffman.

”The midlife experience is different for each individual, but in general this seems to be a time for women to stop and take stock of where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they want to go. Our goal is to help women strike a balance between the various demands in their lives, and these programs can help them do just that.”

CARE Services offers classes on a range of topics related to midlife challenges, including elder care, menopause, stress management, parenting, and balancing work and life issues, as well as individual counseling and consultation.

Career assistance can be obtained from the Office for Human Resources, through its Employment Development and Training program, the Career Development Opportunity Program, or the Staff Internship Program. Counseling services and a career library are also available through University Health Services for a fee.

Information about these and other career and health services at Berkeley is available at the University Health Services website (, or the Office of Human Resources website (


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Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
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