Many professional women talk about being stressed and under pressure to perform at work and then having to pick up a second shift at home – cooking dinner, doing homework with the children, looking after ageing parents or sick family members, and paying the bills.
The multiple roles that women play at work and home can feel like riding a unicycle. To stay on top, you constantly have to adjust your position and be aware of what is going on to counteract changes in movement or direction. This can get pretty tiring.
Research shows that single mothers run the majority of South African households. Not everybody has the support of partners or family and friends. Is it any wonder then that the country scores poorly when it comes to the number of women in senior management roles?
Only 3% of South African companies have a female CEO. But who has time to lead a company when you still have to buy bread and find superglue for your son’s bridge-building project?
Maintaining balance is important, but so is meeting deadlines and taking care of yourself. It should not be a matter of choosing one or the other but taking a long, slow look at your life and evaluating whether you need to make some adjustments.
1. Step out of the rat race for a bit
Recognise that you are not a hamster on a wheel. Everyone has within themselves the desire and the capacity to be magnificent, to be what they are meant to be and to develop their full potential, but too often we get sidetracked because we are just too busy.
Stop rushing. Take some time and sit back in your office chair. Be aware of your surroundings; listen to your body and to what others are saying, instead of merely hearing. Pay more attention to what is going on in the here and now and stop worrying about everything else – even if just for a moment. Stress has a way of making you feel that if you don’t do something right now the world will end, but this is not true.
READ MORE: How to relieve work stress
If you feel like things are becoming too much, you may have to drop some of the balls. Try to make a decision about which balls you can drop – and which will bounce (and not break). In practical terms, this may mean you are unable to attend a meeting, or need to postpone an important phone call so that you can take your dog to the vet or be home for dinner on a day when the family needs you to be there.
It is important for everyone that you find ways to manage the stress in your life. Stress is dangerous. Research shows that it weakens your immune system, makes you more prone to illness and even shortens your life. Think about how it would affect your life if you were to fall ill or suffer a breakdown.
2. You don’t have to have it all
So many women are trying to be the perfect mother, the most gorgeous partner, the most reliable of friends and the best boss all at once. You are not superwoman – you cannot be all things to all people. If you feel like you are trying to do too much and be too much, take some time out for deep self-exploration.
Think about who you are and what you are doing in your life. Examine what you dream about both personally and professionally and see how this plays out at work and at home. Are you where you want to be? How could you change that? This is the beginning of what is called personal mastery and it is a vital step in both professional success and personal happiness.
3. Don’t try to be perfect
Perfect is boring. Studies show that being good enough is much better for your child’s well-being, for example. And it’s ok if you lighten up on yourself too. Perfectionism has been linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety and even early death.
The same holds true for how you are at work. Research shows that women are excellent managers – so relax, you are already ahead of the pack! Women are good at communicating with others in the workplace, and are often naturally empathic and able to keep co-workers engaged at work.
Women are more likely to talk to co-workers, provide feedback and chat to them about progress at work and how things are going. The truth of the matter is, you don’t have to try to emulate anyone else to be successful in your job. Being a woman and just being who you are is more than enough.
4. You deserve your job
Many women suffer from what is called imposter syndrome. It is much more common in women than in men, and a giveaway symptom is the feeling that people will find out you shouldn’t be in your job, that you don’t deserve it and aren’t really good enough.
READ MORE: Understanding stress
These feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt are a sign of low confidence and are often related to the messages women were given as children, says psychologist and UCT Graduate School of Business lecturer, Sue von Hirschfeld. “Many women in high achieving positions think they are a fraud. They have different coping strategies, not all of them productive or even healthy.”
Developing confidence, trusting yourself and your own voice, standing up for yourself and allowing yourself to be heard can be very empowering and liberating for women who unconsciously, are still hearing their parent’s voice in their head, telling them not to make waves or be “cheeky” when talking to others.
We all need a wake-up call sometimes, to remind us that we are not asleep but alive in this life – our only life – and we have choices. It is complex and challenging to choose to develop a personal self and a professional self simultaneously and really, there are no easy answers or tried and tested recipes for success. This is a personal journey that every woman needs to undertake for herself with as much honesty and humour as she can muster. The first and hardest step is deciding to make a change.