I Can’t Get No Satisfaction: Jen Lawrence Of The Midlife Edit On Why So Many Of Us Are Feeling Unsatisfied & What We Can Do About It
An Interview With Drew Gerber
Challenge your filters. As a coach, I study the societal forces that inform our thinking. As a white woman in the west, I have been influenced by patriarchal thinking, the elevation of white values, and capitalism. So, I had to challenge my views that it was better for my kids that I be married, that perfection was a standard to achieve, and that you had to work yourself to a point of exhaustion to have money. Now, when I feel like something is holding me back, I look at the underlying beliefs and challenge myself to see if they are true if I use another lens. I also focus a lot on gratitude. Society primes us to always look for more, but when we appreciate what we have, life gets a lot more satisfying.
From an objective standpoint, we are living in an unprecedented era of abundance. Yet so many of us are feeling unsatisfied. Why are we seemingly so insatiable? What is going on inside of us that is making us feel unsatisfied? What is the brain chemistry that makes us feel this way? Is our brain wired for endless insatiable consumption? What can we do about it? In this interview series, we are talking to credentialed experts such as psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, brain science experts, as well as spiritual and religious leaders, and mind-body-spirit coaches, to address why so many of us are feeling unsatisfied & what we can do about it.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jen Lawrence.
Jen Lawrence, MBA, CDFA® is a Certified Master Life Coach, Certified Business and Entrepreneurship Coach, and Certified Career Coach. She draws on 30 years of experience in corporate training, investment banking, and consulting to help midlife women build more satisfying lives through career and entrepreneurship coaching. Her work has been featured in US News & World Report, Today.com, Yahoo News, and more.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
Five years ago, I was a bored Stepford wife in a dead second marriage, dealing with a number of health struggles and dreading the day when my kids would no longer need me as much. Now, one divorce, one pandemic, and many coaching courses later, I run a coaching practice, have a podcast, and write articles helping midlife women who feel unsatisfied with their lives get unstuck. For me, finding work I enjoy was the key to building a much more satisfying life.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
I would stress that it’s important to figure out what makes you happy: not what society claims will make you happy. I’ve lived the “American Dream”: a good job in banking, marriage, a big house in a desired suburb, fancy cars and vacations, and not “having to work” when my kids were young. It didn’t make me happy. My greatest sources of satisfaction have been building a business that fits my interests and personality, being a single parent, and learning to meet my own needs. I’ve discovered that satisfaction is truly an inside job. I would tell my younger self to figure out what she wants and pursue that and not be distracted by the things that make other people happy.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
So many people have helped me along the way, but right now Cara Alwill springs to mind since I just completed a mastermind group with her. When I was at my most miserable, I came across her book, Girl on Fire, and saw an example of a glamourous New Yorker living life on her own terms. I started to live my life as I wanted to live it and let the chips fall where they may. Cara’s book gave me permission to pursue an authentic life that matched my desires and values. I ended up as a happily single entrepreneur and coach with a much more satisfying life.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
I have two programs that help midlife women find a vocation they love. “Back to Werk” helps Gen X women rejoin the workforce or change careers and “Entrepreneur Atelier” helps Gen X women who want to start a business. What makes my offering unique is that it focuses on the issues that impact midlife women who grew up in the 70s, 80s and 90s and have money and career stories informed by patriarchy, whiteness, and a certain form of capitalism that may not be serving them well. I help my clients create a more powerful story around money and work so they can find a satisfying and fruitful vocation.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about feeling “unsatisfied”. In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. What has led to us feeling we aren’t enough and don’t have enough? What is the wiring? Or in other words, how has nature and nurture played into how humans (in an otherwise “safe and secure” environment) experience feeling less than, or a need to have more than what is needed for basic survival?
As humans, we need to feel safe and socially connected because that’s how we stayed alive over the centuries. Abraham Maslow observed that we have a hierarchy of needs to feel satisfied: physiological needs, safety needs, the need for love and belonging, esteem needs, and self-actualization. In the Western world, our basic physiological needs are met but many of us still lack the higher order needs that lead to satisfaction. A lot of us don’t feel safe, which is a combination of feeling physically secure and being accepted by the broader community since for early man, being shunned by one’s peers led to literal death.
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a bundle of nerves at the base of the brain that scans the environment to make sure that we are physically and socially safe. The 24/7 news cycle makes us feel that we are constantly under attack with a focus on bad news like climate crisis, crime, inflation, war, a potential recession, the pandemic and more. Constant exposure to these threats — even if they are on the other side of the world — floods our central nervous system with stress hormones even if in the present moment our own lives are relatively fine. At the same time, we are also exposed to social media highlight reels where it seems like everyone on the planet is having more fun than we are. The RAS views this as a warning, telling us that if we are not having as much perceived fun as the Kardashians then we might not be accepted by the group. This leads to feelings of inadequacy and FOMO and makes us feel like we are not socially connected even if we have a good group of friends and family. Feeling like we are not as popular or well-liked as others can contribute to that same sense of fear and dissatisfaction as a steady stream of bad news. It’s a toxic combination.
I encourage my clients to turn off the news and unsubscribe from envy-inducing social media. Having a gratitude practice where you focus on the fact that you are OK in this moment and have food, shelter and friendships can be helpful and calm the central nervous system. Part of the work I do in helping women go back to work and build businesses is to train the reticular activating system to look for positives — business and job opportunities, praise, the good they are contributing — so that the RAS is conditioned to look for more good things. It’s hard to build business success when you are in fight, flight, freeze or fawn mode because your nervous system is overwhelmed by the information you are taking in. An active shift to seeing the good in the world is a game changer when it comes to having a more satisfying life.
How are societies different? For example, capitalistic societies trade differently than communists. Developed nations trade differently than developing nations. In your opinion, how does society shape a human’s experience and feelings of satisfaction?
I think society has a huge role in shaping our feelings of satisfaction. When you look at the happiest countries in the world, they tend to be ones that focus on building strong social support nets and emphasize health and vacations and good parental leave. They are societies that help citizens feel secure and cared for, which leads to a calmer and happier group of people. The happiest societies are not the ones with the most private jets or billionaires or luxury goods, they are the ones where people feel a sense of safety and belonging.
I believe that the main driver of dissatisfaction is the gap between expectations and reality and Gen X women were given some very unrealistic expectations when we were growing up. I recently went back through the covers of women’s magazines from the 1980s and early 90s and they were very fear-based. This was the peak of a certain type of patriarchal conservative capitalism defined by Reaganomics, “latchkey kids”, an emphasis on shareholder value creation, Wall Street’s “greed is good” mantra, and Family Ties’ Alex P. Keaton. Women were told that we had to have “a head for business and a bod for sin” to quote the zeitgeisty movie Working Girl. A lot of the dialogue around working mothers was contradictory, and we were told that we could “have it all” even though there were few support systems in place like childcare or maternity leave to make that happen. We felt like we couldn’t win and this is what led to the Mommy Wars since someone else’s choices around work and parenting felt like a personal attack. Those of us who had a financial opportunity to opt out of the whole thing did, which led to a different kind of dissatisfaction. You then had wealthy suburbs filled with would-be powerbrokers competing over cupcake designs, running spring fairs with military precision, and helicoptering over their kids. It was not a recipe for a happy life. Now, my coaching practice focuses on helping these same women channel that energy into work or a business and they become much more satisfied with their lives.
With a specific focus on brain function, how has the brain and its dominion over the body and beliefs been impacted by the societal construct?
Our brains are happiest when we have a nice calm central nervous system that is not flooding our neural paths with stress signals. Our brains work best when we have a steady flow of dopamine and endorphin, rather than the spikes you see when the nervous system is overwhelmed, and we self-medicate through drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex, gambling, or overwork to provide ourselves with temporary dopamine hits. In current Western society, a lot of us run in a state of burnout with agitated and cortisol-flooded central nervous systems caused by overwork, lack of purpose, lack of sleep, poor health habits, and constant exposure to bad news and FOMO-inducing social media. This often shows up in the body in the form of chronic illnesses. When I moved to a wealthy suburb, I was shocked to discover how many women here had inflammatory diseases, thyroid conditions, and chronic illnesses and after about five years, I developed one too! These are wealthy people with access to healthy food and personal trainers and the best medical care in the world, but this is also a group that feels the need to be perfect, has competitive friendships rather than a true support network, and lacks the ego support an interesting vocation can provide. Most of them are career stay-at-home moms, a byproduct of the Gen X “Mommy Wars” that made staying at home part of one’s identity and a status symbol. I see a lot of self-medicating, friendship drama, and illness that could be remedied by finding a satisfying vocation that helps build one’s ego, sense of respect, and self-esteem. The first step to feeling better is to calm the central nervous system, which is why I suspect a lot of these women do so much yoga. But the key is to then take advantage of that temporarily calmer state to start to build a more satisfying life. You can’t simply yoga your way out of a dysfunctional life; you need to make real changes.
Do you think the way our society markets and advertises goods and services, has affected people’s feelings of satisfaction? Can you explain what you mean?
100%. Marketing exists to move products and services. In the past, the easiest way to do that was to show us the satisfaction gap between where we are and where we think we should be, and then offer a product or service to fill the void. The Rolling Stones had it exactly right in their song (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction when they observed that a source of dissatisfaction is, “When I’m watchin’ my TV/And a man comes on and tells me/How white my shirts can be.” Think about something like a tooth whitening product, which is something relatively new. Some brilliant marketers came up with the idea to convince people that their own natural tooth color was not white enough and that might be holding them back socially. Suddenly, people were afraid to smile broadly if they weren’t whitening their teeth. This whole thing was constructed by marketers to move products, but it impacted how people feel about themselves. I think that Gen Z and younger millennials are more cynical when it comes to this type of marketing and are demanding less shaming and more inclusivity in marketing. But they seem to be particularly vulnerable to FOMO, having grown up with social media and influencer culture. Marketers have had to switch from shame-based marketing to building appealing communities to try to capture these younger consumers. Now, it’s about getting access to influencers, invitation-only events, and special experiences as a way of selling the promise of a satisfying life. Satisfaction is, and always has been, an inside job. There is nothing you can buy to create it. It has to come from building a life where you feel safe, accepted, creative, loved, and like you are making a positive contribution to the world.
How is the wiring of the brain, body, and beliefs shaped by marketing, language, and how humans trade?
We’ve always traded goods and services to have our needs met. Early humans came up with a barter system, trading meat for berries, and leveraging the ability to hunt well into a safe place to shelter since their skills were desired by the group. We learned that work and social acceptance were the keys to a more satisfying life and while our technology has grown more sophisticated over the centuries, our basic needs as people have not changed. At the end of the day, we believe that we need to have skills or talents or personality traits that will keep us safe and fed and clothed directly through our labor, or indirectly by being charming enough that providers are happy to support us (think the sugar baby lifestyle.) Influencer marketing speaks to the transactional nature of people: if you drink this brand of liquor or use this type of lip filler, you will be accepted by the people who have wealth and power and they will give you access to fun and satisfying experiences. Our brains crave acceptance and feel-good chemicals and if we think we can buy our way into that, we will. Of course, true satisfaction tends to come from non-transactional relationships and the people who love us for us, and the satisfaction of a job well done. But that’s a much harder thing to package up and market.
I work in marketing so I’m very cognizant of this question. In your opinion, how do you think marketing professionals can be more responsible for how their advertising shapes humans’ health and experience of happiness overall?
Marketers are in the business of creating demand for products and services. When the best way to do that was to create a climate of shame and fear, they did that. Now, Gen Z is rejecting that form of marketing, so we see less of it and more body positivity, inclusivity, and positive marketing messages. What Gen Z craves is community, which is where marketers have shifted their efforts. Now marketers are creating invitation-only events, access to influencers, and curated events that create FOMO for anyone not invited. I think that it’s a marginally better approach than what my generation experienced which led to a lot of disordered eating and low self-esteem, but at the end of the day, it’s still marketing. If marketers want to help create a happier and healthier society, they will work to build truly inclusive communities. Many of the midlife women I know who are starting businesses truly want to create good in the world and are looking to create products and services that serve their communities. I think it’s achievable when one is an entrepreneur but once you start to scale and investors and shareholders get involved, I think it gets tricky to balance serving a community and the profit motive of outside investors. I think that if marketers truly want to serve, they need to work with the idea of a holistic ROI where return takes both profit and the satisfaction level of consumers into account. As more women, BIPOC folks and other traditionally marginalized people become funders, it will be interesting to see how the model changes.
For you personally, if you have all your basic needs met, do you feel you have enough in life?
I do now, but my definition of basic needs has changed over time. I’m a big fan of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and am aware of how important it is to create a life that addresses some of the higher order needs beyond food and shelter, like safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. I’ve found all of that through my work as a coach since it allows me to be creative, connect with interesting colleagues, serve my clients, get positive external feedback, and operate in a broader, supportive community. I’ve come to believe that satisfaction is truly an inside job. I meditate to isolate my thoughts from the messages of society. I do breathwork to keep my central nervous system calm. I curate and filter my social media feeds so that I’m seeing supportive messages. I only work with positive and growth-minded clients. I surround myself with supportive and collaborative people. I balance creative work with consumption. For years, I chased designer bags and fancy vacations and while I will always appreciate luxury and beauty, I know that they are not the root of a satisfying life. I’ve learned what enough means to me and that’s a key component of happiness.
Okay, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 things we can each do to address the feeling of not having enough.” Please share a story or example for each.
- Curate your social media. Over the summer, I participated in a couple of coaching containers that used Facebook groups and so I was on Facebook for the first time in years. I could feel my mood lowering as I read post after post of people humble bragging about their lives. Even though I knew for a fact that many of these people were going through some bad things, being flooded with their faux happiness was overwhelming. I know intellectually how fake social media is, but the reticular activating system and my central nervous system do not. I had to force myself to simply check the groups and ignore the general feed for the sake of my well-being. I decided to go a step further and ignore my personal Instagram and just use my business account and my dog’s account since those feeds are curated to show positive and supportive content.
- Find a vocation that you love. As humans, we are hard-wired to work. We are meant to live in a flow of creation and consumption that comes from finding something to do that capitalizes on our strengths. Most of my clients are middle-aged women who didn’t “have to work” and now face an empty nest. Helping them find a satisfying vocation — be it returning to work, starting a business, or doing encompassing and rewarding volunteer work — is the key to a happy midlife season. Paid work is often more satisfying since we live in a society that values money and it’s fun to be able to earn, spend, invest, save, and gift with ease. It’s hard for women to wrap their minds around being paid well for their talents since we received weird messages around wealth being not feminine when we were young but it’s very cool to see midlife women stepping into their power when it comes to money and business. I truly believe that work is essential to having a satisfying life.
- Address your money blocks. Most of us have a money story from childhood that holds us back in some way. Some of us grew up with food or housing insecurity and feel like we will never have enough. Some of us grew up thinking money was toxic or evil or that rich people are inherently bad and that gets in the way of us charging enough or asking for a raise. Money is a neutral construct and very few of these stories are true. Recognizing your money blocks is the first step to feeling like you have enough money. I became trained in the Trauma of Money Method and Sacred Money Archetypes to help my clients understand their money personalities and money blocks and in doing so better understand my own relationship with money. I realized that I’d believed the patriarchal lie that I needed to be married to be financially secure and that it was nicer to give my services away for free. Clearing these blocks helped me create the satisfying life I’m living today.
- Nurture your physical self. I’ve always been a smarty pants and was never an athlete, so I’ve always taken a mind-first approach to life and even wrote a book on critical thinking. I truly believed you could think your way into a satisfying life. Through my coaching studies, I dove into the work of Bessel van der Kolk and Gabor Maté and Deb Dana and learned how the body truly does keep the score. Now, I start business strategy sessions with clients with breathing and grounding exercises so that their nervous systems and brains are in the right space to make some good decisions. If you want to have a satisfying life and feel like you have enough, you need to take a holistic approach, making sure that the body and the brain are in a nice place of calm and balance.
- Challenge your filters. As a coach, I study the societal forces that inform our thinking. As a white woman in the west, I have been influenced by patriarchal thinking, the elevation of white values, and capitalism. So, I had to challenge my views that it was better for my kids that I be married, that perfection was a standard to achieve, and that you had to work yourself to a point of exhaustion to have money. Now, when I feel like something is holding me back, I look at the underlying beliefs and challenge myself to see if they are true if I use another lens. I also focus a lot on gratitude. Society primes us to always look for more, but when we appreciate what we have, life gets a lot more satisfying.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
I listen to a lot of work-related podcasts on entrepreneurship and coaching but when I want to relax, I love to listen to pop culture podcasts like Samantha Bush’s Hot Off the Mess, Everything Iconic by Danny Pellegrino or Juicy Scoop with Heather McDonald. Right now, I’m really enjoying Industry on HBO as all these young London investment bankers navigate patriarchal capitalism. It’s not exactly a joyful show but it’s very well done and makes me feel grateful I don’t work in banking anymore!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’m passionate about getting more money into the hands of women. Women, particularly women of color, women with disabilities, and the LGBTQ++ community, are still underpaid and do a lot of unpaid labor. Initiatives that support women tend to have a ripple effect in their communities so I’m very passionate about wage parity, equal access to capital, fair divorce laws, and initiatives to end economic abuse. When women feel more confident about money and have laws to support them, good things happen.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
You can find me at themidlifeedit.com. There you can get my free workbook, money mindset quiz, and links to my podcast and social media.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
About The Interviewer: For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. Drew is the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., a full-service PR agency lauded by PR Week and Good Morning America. Wasabi Publicity, Inc. is a global marketing company that supports industry leaders, change agents, unconventional thinkers, companies and organizations that strive to make a difference. Whether it’s branding, traditional PR or social media marketing, every campaign is instilled with passion, creativity and brilliance to powerfully tell their clients’ story and amplify their intentions in the world. Schedule a free consultation at WasabiPublicity.com/Choosing-Publicity