The pressure on women to ‘have it all’ is higher than ever. Dr Linda Friedland has some advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of trying too hard.
The reality of ‘having it all’, as we have come to know it, is utterly exhausting.
We have prided ourselves in our capacity to do it all; raise a family, build a thriving career, maintain relationships and stay on top of it all. The reality is that something always gets sacrificed. It is neither work nor the children but rather our energy that takes the brunt.
In truth, for most of us ‘having it all’ is not a philosophical debate because the majority of women who choose to have a family, most certainly need to work at the same time.
We should be asking another type of question entirely; how can we possibly do it differently? It is not necessarily the combination of work commitments and family responsibilities that depletes us.
It may be lack of flexibility in our work environment, insufficient childcare options and many other issues. But mostly it is the self-imposed unrealistic standards that we set for ourselves that get in the way of achieving peace of mind. Most of us do a great job at work and are devoted mothers at the same time.
What takes a real beating in doing it all is our own mental and physical wellbeing.
Here are five top tips to get on top of it all:
Forget about balance
The reason we feel so frustrated much of the time, is that the balance we are pursuing just doesn’t exist. So long as we are chasing an unattainable goal, there is no hope of getting close. What does work-life balance even mean? That work and life (outside of work) each have equal measure? There is almost always much more work than family - time or me-time. Most of life is filled with hard work. The prudence is in being super-disciplined in establishing strong and effective lifestyle strategies and sufficient recovery time. Think more of a fluid dynamic equilibrium than static solid balance.
No awards for superhuman
Working hard is essential but the need to persistently prove yourself and go beyond the call of duty is not. These common characteristics of executive women are both unnecessary and the classic cause of much of the burnout and breakdown experienced. When you leave work . . . leave work! Although it is much easier said than done, know when to stop. Your time outside of the office should be spent on you and the people you care about. And don’t hesitate to ask for help
Be Bold, Dig Deep
“Put your hand up and be bold and be courageous. Be prepared to back yourself, be prepared to have a go,” said Gail Kelly to women in Australia at her Seven Lessons for Life farewell speech when she retired as CEO of Westpac earlier this year.
She continued by sharing: “It’s been trouble for me all my life, the sense of; Gosh, I’m not good enough, I’m not adequate, I’m not going to do this well. I might fail, what happens if I fail?” As women our lack of self-belief and the constant ‘self speak’ of not being good enough is what may obstruct our path and exhaust us.
There is an antidote to fatigue and its impact on performance and competence. Not surprisingly, it’s rest. It’s not how long you take off that matters most, but how skillfully you use these very short periods of renewal. Get up from your desk and stretch your muscles. Take a short walk. The simplest way to recharge energy is by breathing. Learning to practice mindfulness and meditation are very effective ways to defuse stress, strengthen neural connections, oxygenate the brain and enhance powerful brain neurotransmitters.
Recharge the battery
In ‘having it all’ neither work nor family is generally sacrificed, but rather your own needs. Ensure you structure some time for yourself to defuse your stress and to recharge your energy such as a regular massage. Although it often seems impossible, with discipline and planning you can ensure you keep well hydrated, exercise moderately and eat the most nourishing foodstuffs. Develop a healthy sleep strategy too. For far too long, sleep has not received the attention it deserves. It is undoubtedly the most powerful restorative tool we have at our disposal.
By glibly repeating “You can have it all” you are simply airbrushing reality. It is a falsehood to think it is simply a function of a woman’s determination. There are still trails to blaze, ceilings to break and gender inequities to correct. But if ‘having it all’ means a little more compromise and a little less perfection, a little more flexibility and a little less rigidity, a little more courage and a little less fear, then yes, it may indeed be possible.