Inspiring women: Sarah Sparks “Cherish every moment, even the hard ones”
-Nov 15, Hannah Hargrave, Living -
Sarah Sparks spent her thirties in a fast-paced, high powered job which sounded great on paper, but ultimately left her burned out, depressed and convinced that she could never have children. Now 58 and a mum of one who works as an award-winning life coach, she talks to Lumity Life magazine about how she turned her life and career around in her 40s and why it’s so important not to let life pass you by.
In her thirties Sarah appeared to have it all. From an outsider looking in she had a well-paid job in the city, a happy marriage and a designer wardrobe to rival even the most avid fashionistas.
In reality Sarah was battling crippling anxiety and depression, she was exhausted and she was desperate for the one thing she couldn’t have – a baby.
Sarah’s mental health was so badly affected by her stressful career and her six heartbreaking and failed rounds of IVF that she ended up in The Priory rehabilitation clinic – on more than one occasion.
But despite everything she went through Sarah – who had a high powered job at Goldman Sachs – turned her life around, forged a new career as a life coach and became a mother, and, she did it all in her mid 40s.
Now at 58 years old she is a single mum to an “amazing” 13-year-old boy, an award winning public speaker, executive coach and on top of that she looks and feels better than ever.
Sarah, pictured below, has opened up to us about the joys of being a “geriatric’ mum, having the confidence to change careers and learning to be grateful for what you have.
You’re 58, you look amazing! How do you feel?
“I’m thinner than I’ve been in a long time, fitter than I’ve been in a long time and I don’t look my age but I’m realistic that I still look older than I did. We have to let go of that ideal that the only beauty is youthful beauty.
“We can’t stop ageing but we can change our attitude towards it and how we want to age. I savour the idea of ageing gracefully but I also like the idea of ageing disgracefully. I’m keen to do both.
“I definitely feel younger than when I was working at Goldman Sachs in my mid 20s. I’ve got more energy, my skin is better, I sleep so much more, I exercise more and I’m just a changed woman.”
It must have been hard though because you did used to love the job didn’t you?
“I lived for my former career,” says Sarah, who was head of financial regulation at the company. “I loved the work hard play hard aspect of it because I’m a people pleaser, and when you do a good job people want more of you. But it wasn’t a healthy lifestyle and I paid the price. I was mentally ill, I had depression and anxiety. My marriage broke down and I felt really alone.”
You didn’t really have a lot of choice but to move away from that career for the sake of your health, but it still took courage. What advice would you give to other women who want to change their career path but are too afraid?
“The thing I always bear in mind is that it’s either have that courage or endure a lifetime of doing something you’re not meant to be doing in this world. If you chose to stick at it, it’ll likely cause you some level of tension and stress inside your body. It will maybe even eat away at your relationships and you won’t be successful in the long-term.”
But how do you discover what your calling is, especially when you’ve been doing one thing your entire adult life?
“Think about what brings you joy? What are your values? Are you living by them? What are your strengths and are you playing to them most of the time? If you’re not it can be pretty wretched to be playing to your weaknesses all the time.
“Play to your strengths. Knowing what makes you tick helps us find the right career or get out of the wrong one.”
Do you feel that it’s important to focus on yourself in the long run too?
“Often people don’t do what they want in life because they fear that would be selfish. But you think about what they tell you when you’re flying, to put your oxygen mask on first because you can’t be any help to anyone else if you if you don’t have that oxygen first. You have to look after no.1 first if you’re going to be able to help anyone else out. The sadness about this faulty thinking is that it’s passed down in generations. Teens might think ‘I can’t do what I really love because I have to go to university and get the job my parents want me to do.’ They then wake up 50 years later thinking ‘what was that all about?’.
“It’s ok to be you and follow what you love. You don’t have to conform but you do deserve to be happy.
“You can make changes whatever your age too. I look forward to it. I know it’s going to be hard for the people around me to keep up but I know that in 10 or 20 years time I’ll be different again.”
Changing your career can mean a change in financial circumstances too and that’s not always for the better. But you have said you feel more content with less money?
“In the Western world, for the most part we don’t need as much as we have got. But letting go of that can be very painful and I know I had to go through a grieving process. It’s made me appreciate so much more and that’s where my contentedness comes from. That actually you can have a very wonderful life with less. It has made me appreciate the simpler things in life. Like I have a garden which I love and every morning I come down and look at it and I can’t help but smile. Small things like the look of a rose or a young child’s hand in yours or just looking at loved ones have become treasures.
“It’s no longer the designer handbag or the £600 shoes which I used to have at pride of place in my wardrobe. They were lovely don’t get me wrong but they don’t give me the pleasure that they use to and I’m so much more content now without having more.”
Becoming a mum must have opened your eyes to many more things too. Can you tell us about your journey to motherhood – at 46!
“Well my son was actually a bit of a surprise,” admits Sarah who thought after six rounds of IVF she’d never fulfill her dream of motherhood. “That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, go through all those rounds of IVF. It was a huge emotional rollercoaster and it was draining and demanding. When the doctors told me they wouldn’t do anymore rounds I had to go through a grieving period. I didn’t think I could be a parent when I so desperately wanted to be. I even had to let my frozen embryos perish.”
But it finally happened naturally when you were least expecting it?
“Yes, I was going through a tough time with my ex-husband (he was my husband at the time) when nothing I did was good enough, and then ‘hey presto’ I discovered I was pregnant.”
What was your initial reaction to the news?
“I did burst into tears when I first found out I was pregnant because I thought I was too old. I mean the very fact they call you a ‘geriatric mother’ – that’s the actual term – at the doctor appointments is enough. When my son was very little I was stopped in the supermarket and someone asked ‘are you having fun with grandma?’”
Tell us about the benefits of being an older parent too?
“It has been the best journey ever. Having a child when you’re older means you have to stay physically active, especially being a single parent. I’m also hanging out with mums who are 10-20 years younger than me. But the biggest thing is realising how quickly time flies and to make the most of it. I only have my son half the time and it’s made me also see that when I have him I really need to be present and make the most of the time I have with him. Cherish every moment, even the hard ones.”
Learning to be grateful can be difficult but it’s so important isn’t it?
“The power of gratitude is something we should all learn. Research has shown that if you start appreciating what you have got you automatically begin feeling better about yourself and stress and anxiety reduce. When you appreciate what you’ve got you realise you have already got a rich life. It may not be financially rich but you have a very rich life.”
If you found this inspiring, perhaps you’d enjoy reading about how alopecia was a blessing in disguise for one of our clients and how another faced down early menopause and came out feeling better than ever.
To find out more about Sarah or to talk to her about her professional speaking or life coach work, see her website: www.sarahsparks.co.uk