Updated: Oct 16, 2021
The illusion of having it all is a message that is reinforced across multiple platforms. Yet we always fall short of the marketing images telling us we should be richer, smarter, skinnier, busier, happier, a better mum, wife, girlfriend and all round perfect human. Truth is though no one actually has it all, so can we all stop pretending and get real about our imperfections?
As women we easily get caught up in comparing ourselves to others, falling short of ideals and looking outside ourselves for approval. I remember when I was a stay home mum during the early years of my four daughters lives and other women in my mothers group used to call me "super mum." I wasn't at all comfortable with this praise because having four babies in five years babies meant work wasn't really an option and my main focus and identity was on being a mum. What identity? Being a full-time mum of four was it's own kind of challenge on many fronts.
The mums I knew who worked full-time were amazing women but they only had one or two kids and I can't even imagine how any woman has the energy to work all day and come home to housework and babies all night but my hat goes off to the women and men who work and take care of children and home lives. The majority of women who have careers work twice as hard and the stats show that women are doing way more than 50% of the home chores too.
I soon learned how challenging managing a career and family life can be when I swapped the kitchen table for the boardroom part time and set off on my own. Being a single mum and learning the ropes of growing your own small business was a steep learning curve and I can't thank those who supported me enough. Tough lessons I wouldn't change for the world and at the same time it's taken years to find the right balance, stop obsessing over what I can't control, and figure out where I am best to put my time and energy in service of the greater good. I'ts a constantly evolving process.
Just like the other day I decided to stop washing up the dishes and let me partner do it. I cook every night because I am confident in the kitchen and my partner has taken on the job of washing up with the kids help. For a few days I struggled to not take back control, dominating over the kitchen space and reluctant to leave it. He was also slower in getting started and it takes him a lot longer to clear the kitchen but I hold myself back, breathe and just left him do it and he does an amazing job. The guilt and stories I had to let go of just so he could take on the regular task of washing the dishes was almost shocking to me. I laugh now because I am certain this is the best thing for the whole family because I simply can't do it all!
We try to optimise our lives the best we can but there is a always a trade off between our career, children, wellbeing, health, family, interests and friends etc The choices that present in our daily lives can get overwhelming and it takes discipline and self awareness to navigate it with a sense of balance, authenticity and growth.
Gloria Steinem said it best:
'You can't do it all. No one can have two full-time jobs, have perfect children and cook three meals and be multi-orgasmic 'til dawn... Superwoman is the adversary of the women's movement.'
Constant striving for perfection is harmful not only to yourself but those around you; it sends the message of not being good enough. What would it be like to let go of lofty ideas we can have it all, breathe in some self-compassion, be authentic and assert a more wholesome way forward for ourselves and others?
Here's three ways that help shift toward a more real work and lifestyle:
Focus on what matters most
There might be activities that are important to get right and these might require a bit more energy than others that are not so important and require less energy; like the laundry. Who actually cares if the folding isn't perfect? Or if your kids hang them on the line all wonky? Or they sit in the laundry basket for a week unfolded! You've all heard the saying "don't sweat the small stuff" and this just means don't obsess over everything. Look at opportunities where you can grab a meaningful few hours here and there. Prioritise what matters and focus your attention on the activity at hand and try to bring a more equanimous attitude toward things the you simply can't control or don't want to.
Draw the line
Don't say yes to everything because soon enough you'll be working to other peoples agendas, be dreadfully busy and the quality of your work and relationships may suffer. Having good judgment can help you prioritise the things that matter and help you say no to stuff that really doesn't add value, support and sustain you and your career.
Know how many hours you're willing to work, how many hours your children need you, how many nights you can spend out socialising and how often you can travel. If things don't work the way you want them too then at least you know it was on your terms. There'll be plenty of distractions along the way but stay aware and don't compromise on time or your values without making a conscious choice.
You're a whole human being and most workplaces expect high performance but they know we all have other aspects to our lives that are equally important. A good manager will make room for the whole person and when you can be yourself your workplace relationships will be richer and your time at work more meaningful. Make sure you communicate what you need to ensure you can keep the balance right.
For example I have four kids and don't like to work late. I like to be home with the family and one of us tries to be home after school. The more I explain to my clients that it is important to me to prioritise my time in this way the more they work within my boundaries. I don't take late appointments and instead offer early appointments outside of normal business hours as that has less impact on family life. I set the standard by being honest about the fact it's not easy and doing what I can to help myself.
How can you aim to make 2019 less about perfection and more sustainable and fulfilling?