Do you ever find yourself slumped over your desk with a heavy sense of despair after you’ve just looked at your “to do” list. It is so overwhelming you have no idea where to start except to maybe drive yourself to the ER to address the chest pains that have suddenly appeared.
For many of us career driven women we have much more on our list than just job related “to dos”. We have all of the pressures that society puts on us in addition to what needs to be done at work. If we are married, we are told all the things we need to do to be considered a good wife – keep a tidy house, cook healthy and creative meals, take care of our husbands and make them feel loved and important, be the perfect socializer, etc. If we are mothers, we are told all the things we need to do to be considered a good mom – be actively involved in our children’s educations and volunteer at school, make sure they have a broad range of extracurricular activities and social experiences, make sure they only eat organic food, etc. Whether we have families or not we are told we need to be actively involved in our communities, seek out cultural activities, and take care of ourselves through exercise and special treats like alone time, spa time, etc. It’s impossible to look at social media sites or pick up a magazine without being reminded of our inadequateness.
Oh, and not only are we expected to be able to do everything we are also expected to do all of this without needing any assistance and with a constant smile on our faces. I’ve spent my whole professional career being afraid to ask for help or admitting I didn’t know all of the answers for fear I would be seen as weak or less competent than my male co-workers.
In my early thirties I was one of the only women on a leadership team of twelve. My husband traveled a lot. Like six to eight weeks at a time. I had to balance long hours at a very demanding job with “single” motherhood. My male colleagues could not relate because they all had stay at home wives. They couldn’t understand driving their car at 400 miles per hour to reach daycare before 6PM and avoid having to pay $5 for each minute you are late. They couldn’t understand coming in to work at 5:00 AM so that I could attempt to leave in time to get to daycare by 6PM. They couldn’t understand cleaning the house at 1AM because that was the only time available to do it.
One day my boss pulled me aside to tell me that one of our consultants was pregnant. She was very knowledgeable and billable, which means she was valuable to the company. My boss didn’t want to risk the chance of losing her because of motherhood. He said, “you work insane hours and you don’t have any family here to help when your husband travels. You’ve got it figured out so I would like for you to teach her so that she doesn’t leave.” He had no idea of the stress, struggles, and guilt that went into “having it all figured out.”
But I did have it figured out, at least to an extent. I figured out that I couldn’t do it alone and that it was okay to ask for help. Here are three strategies that helped me:
BUILD A SUPPORT SYSTEM – AND USE IT
I built a support network of friends – or at least one very dear friend, a group of daycare workers, and neighbors who could get our daughter from daycare or school when my husband was traveling and I was in meetings. They could also get her fed and ready for bed if it happened to be a particularly late night. All were willing to be on call at a moment’s notice and enjoyed playing an important role in our daughter’s life. And even though she is now 13, they still play an important role in her life and I will forever be indebted to them for their willingness to help me keep my sanity.
Sometimes this support system comes in the form of hired help. Contractors who free up your time by mowing your yard, cleaning your house, or running errands can be a huge help and well worth the expense.
Sometimes this support system comes from your partner. Being able to sit down with my husband on a regular basis to go through our calendars is a huge help. It’s a time where we can proactively go through everything that is coming up and be respectful of each other’s time and work load by offering our assistance or help problem solve areas before they become an emergency.
Mentors and sounding boards can also be very important to your support system. Having someone you can turn to for a sanity check, whether it be from a personal standpoint or professional development standpoint will decrease your feelings of isolation and increase your confidence by providing another set of eyes and reassurance.
LEARN TO PRIORITIZE – WHICH MEANS BEING ABLE TO SAY NO
Take the time to understand what “having it all” means to you. Once you understand your definition of “having it all” then you can determine those things you need to do to achieve it and can eliminate or minimize those things that don’t get you any closer to your ideal – regardless of what the outside world says your ideal should be.
I eventually learned that my initial vision of my career – which was an awesome corner office of a large corporation – had come into direct conflict with my desire to be present in my daughter’s life as she grew up. In other words, the long work days, the missed birthday parties, and working at night during family vacations was not how I wanted my daughter to remember her childhood. The night she called me at work to ask if I was sleeping there again was the final straw. I had no less drive or ambition for my career. I just knew that for me, my initial vision was going to have to be adjusted in order to support my shifting priorities. I went through that process and found a new opportunity that gave me the challenges that I needed but also afforded me the flexibility to spend more time with my family.
On a smaller note, making even little adjustments can make a big difference. Is it so bad to have your holiday meal catered if you would prefer to spend time with your family just hanging out rather than being in the kitchen the whole time by yourself? If cooking a large meal causes you stress and creates guilt because you are not taking advantage of your time together, then why put yourself through it? Is it really all that important that your child have hand-made Valentine’s cards for their classmates instead of store bought ones? Are any of those children really going to notice? In most cases we are more worried about what others will think about us if they feel we have cut corners or took the easy way out. Which leads me to the final strategy…
Social media has been one of the biggest enablers for comparing our lives to those of others. Every day our news feed is a constant reminder of how we are not keeping up with the Jones. Comparing ourselves to what we see on social media or what we read in articles does nothing but make us feel less than and generate guilt and discontent. It’s not a competition. You are not less than worthy if you are not replicating everything you see on Pintrest.
We all are killing ourselves trying to cram more than what’s humanly possible into the 24 hours a day that we are each given. We are serving no one if we finish each day exhausted, grumpy, and guilty for what we weren’t able to accomplish. We can’t do it all. No one can. But learning to ask for help, eliminating those things that aren’t really serving us, and not comparing ourselves to everyone else can help eliminate this particular stress. The pressure we put on ourselves to do it all is generally driven by our insecurities. Once we give ourselves permission to seek assistance, our lives and the lives of those around us will improve drastically. Trust me, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of great genius!
If you are a smart, driven, professional woman who has identified that you need support and are self-aware, courageous, and determined enough to seek it out, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I have several complimentary discovery sessions available during the month of November that can be used to identify the type of assistance that will be helpful to you on your journey. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a time.