I was leading a discussion of a group of professional women about time management and work/life integration strategies and someone said something I had not heard before. This doesn’t happen often.
One woman, whose husband and child live 8 hours away because they could not find positions in the same city, said she has been put under even more pressure to be productive because “a woman without children doesn’t have any responsibilities.” (I will explore the cruel depth of that insult another day.) The pressure, she said, was coming from her supervisor, her mentor, her husband and her mother. There may have been others but that’s all I remember.
Seems everyone felt she was living the single life and should work 18 hour days to make the most of this gift she was given. And if she was not working 18 hour days she was being ungrateful about the sacrifice her husband and child were making. The result was that she never feels she is working enough, is wracked with guilt for stopping to eat or sleep and looks like she is hovering on the edge of a physical and/or mental collapse.
There was very little anyone could do for her in the limited amount of time we were together, but I touched on few points that I hope helped.
First, I always use the term work/life integration because balance implies equity or somehow tracking how much you put in the home bucket and how much in the work bucket. The first problem is that there are more than two buckets as most folks would also like to spend time with friends, doing service in their community, participating in religion and maybe doing something by themselves once in a while. When someone says work life balance they usually mean a nuclear family and a job, but that is narrow definition of life. Integration is less precarious and leaves some mental room for mixing instead of score keeping. Helping women understand that striving for balance can undermine enjoyment is a recurring theme.
Secondly, the Eleanor Roosevelt pearl “No one makes you feel inferior without your consent”. And that means you. Part of the problem with work life issues is that we are often willing to believe that others have succeeded where we have failed. Another scale where we can come up short. I call this the Bad Mommy syndrome in the realm I work in. Here her peers were willing to share their disastrous attempts at balance and their ongoing, and sometimes hilarious, failures at taming the Bad Mommy syndrome and finally convinced her that she was not alone. Cathartic all around.
The last thought I left her with that turned into a bit of a back and forth as she challenged me, was that ultimately it all comes down to her deciding to be Be Here Now. If she is working, just work and don’t think of anything else. If she is writing just write, if she is spending time with her child, do only that. Commit to what she is doing and stop wasting energy on guilt.
Here and now is the easiest concept to talk about and the hardest to practice. It is counter to the multi-tasking world we live in, but putting your attention fully on one task at hand can make you feel you have actually accomplished something. How many days do you leave work thinking you didn’t get anything done? Its hard. But it is one way this woman might address her rampaging guilt and sometime paralysis.
The good news was at the end of the session the exhausted woman said she was happy that taking the time to attend the session didn’t make her feel worse about what she should have been doing. I’m going to count that as progress on her behalf.
Taking my own medicine I committed fully to this blog post for 30 minutes, I have spell/grammar checked and am now publishing without guilt. There are probably typos, but at least there is no guilt.