As a student in the 80’s Can women have it all? was the big question around feminism. I was then sad, but not surprised, to hear the exact same question recently after delivering a session at the North West Chamber women’s conference, when one of the speakers reported that she’d ended up in hospital, essentially with burn out.
So CAN women have it all?
I still hate the question, because asking that of men makes no sense at all (and if you’re not sure about that statement check out man who has it all on twitter @manwhohasitall – Helping busy dads to juggle a successful career & fatherhood ).
But women are experiencing record levels of stress, poor health, overwhelm and burnout. This month it’s hit the media that researchers at Cambridge University have published a study — based on 48 different reports from around the world — showing that women (and, in particular, women under 35) are twice as likely to suffer from severe anxiety as men. We are also seeing reports of large numbers of millennial young women already hitting burn-out.
So what’s going on? Is this all because women are stepping into the roles that are rightfully theirs, whilst still managing everything else too?
Some argue it’s the price we pay for feminism and that women should be back home in traditional role. And of course there are large numbers of women choosing to do it differently by setting up businesses from home while their children are small. But that doesn’t stop overwhelm and burnout. And that for me is the big issue, and why I run Spinning Plates workshops.
I’m coming at the question differently. For me the answer is yes of course we can have it all, but first we need to check in and figure out what is it that we want?
Women can do what they want, just as men can, obviously. The issue is what do we want? What I want right now is very likely to be different from what you want – and that is totally fine. The point is to define success for ourselves.
Some of the high stress levels are certainly due to our dual roles, (and not just dual, apparently 13 million Brits aged 40 to 60 have a caring responsibility for an elderly relative), some is how we are expected to be connected day and night resulting in less down time and some is simply expectation.
We are still so busy comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves failing that we lose sight of us and what is the right path for us. When my daughter was a baby I beat myself up on a regular basis that my mum, who had 4 children, coped so much better than me. But then I had to remind myself that she had a husband bringing in a full time salary. I was breadwinner, mum and dad in our home.
Of course there’s often a dose of sexism thrown in to add to the stress. I started my business in social media, which is a very male dominated field (why?) and I’ve had my fair share of full on attacks via twitter, so without a doubt there are a few people out there who need reminding which century we’re in. And changes do need to be made to organisational culture, which is inevitably based on a male model, but whilst there’s willingness it is slow and I estimate it will take another 2 generations before both genders are equally comfortable in the work place – and in domestic roles.
So let’s come back to expectations. For a whole range of reasons we women think we should not only be able to do everything, but we should do everything perfectly – and then take on another couple of tasks for good measure.
Last year I did a survey of women in business asking what blocked them from delegating and these were the top answers.
- People pleasing
- Disorganised – too busy to stand back
- Control freak
These are the same issues that stop us from asking for help – even when we are fall over exhausted.
Overwhelm does not mean we have to give up what’s important to us, it means we have to take a step back to identify what it is that is important to us, and dump the stuff that someone else can do better. That’s hard for women, largely because of messages from childhood that we’ve internalised. Somewhere along the line we have come to believe that crazy busy is honorable, even when it isn’t productive.
I have a cleaner because I’m rubbish at it, I don’t like it and what a cleaner can do in 2 hours takes me all day. £25 a week buys me time and a clean house. That is clearly a no brainer right? But I had such an internal struggle over it because I believed if I work from home I should be able to do the house work in my lunch break!!! That struggle became one of my best read blogs (you can read it here ).
Be smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it
It is often only when hitting burn out that women take stock and make good changes. I’d like us to be more pro-active and address the issues before that.
How about taking 2 minutes right now to check in with yourself. How are you doing on a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being you’re running on empty, 10 being you’re totally topped up and living high on life? According to Joan Borysenko if you are at 7 or under you do not have enough resource to be creative and innovative. And you’re quite possibly missing out on your share of fun and laughter.