This week I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the #SheisSustainable conference at Lancaster University, spend a whole day with my business coach and end the week with a gong bath! So I feel well and truly topped up and grounded around my business.
The She is Sustainable event was a very interesting 2 days looking at issues for women in the sustainability sector. I was there as an ethical business trainer working with those who choose to do work that makes a difference.
The conference confirmed for me that no matter what sector we’re in the same issues apply for so many women. Issues such as subtle, or blatant, every day sexism, issues of trying to juggle too much and too many roles, working too many hours, work-life balance and issues of self doubt and Imposter Syndrome – regardless of how qualified and experienced we are.
The political is personal.
In addition, people whose work is for ethical trade and a sustainable planet are usually people who are passionate and committed to their work which, whilst that creates a great energy, it also leads to burn out as achievements can feel small. And then there are u-turns based on the political will at the time.
The work is not 9 to 5. It is personal and emotional. That can result in big highs, but also high burnout rates.
Last month I wrote Can women have it all ? because of the worrying trend of record levels of burnout amongst professional women and particularly the under 30s. Over and over I talk with women who give so much of themselves but don’t top themselves up. Women who feel they still have to prove their worth, women still consumed with guilt for not being perfect at all they do.
So what can we do?
I’ve just invested serious money in a coach for myself because I know that I need that support – and having had some disappointing coaches I knew that I needed the right person for me. Having spent a day with my coach I am delighted with my decision. If I’m going to stay healthy and energised I need support and I need to check in that I’m focussed and not thrashing around speeding headlong into exhaustion (I’ve been there and done that already).
We know that proactive is better than reactive and that prevention is better than cure…. but we don’t join the dots and notice the patterns. If we did we would see that women are leaving organisations that they loved because their lives are so out of balance (sadly even when we go self employed we usually carry the same messages with us and still do too much). We would understand that it is absolutely worthwhile to invest in ourselves, or the people in our organisation, to sustain them/us via mentoring, coaching and training that supports us and helps us to manage our lives in a healthy way.
Taking time with a coach, one to one or in groups, helps us to re-gain focus and leaves us energised. Failing to do that, almost inevitably leads to overwhelm, sickness and taking our skills elsewhere.
We need to find and access the right support resources to sustain us if our work in sustainability is to be sustainable!
Post script – Of course it’s not only women that do too much. When I was in my late 20s my boss thought that we had to work 6 days a week if we were really committed youth workers. Luckily I soon realised that this was about his need to prove his self worth and if the organisation required me to work 60 hours a week they would have put it in the contract. I learnt there and then that was just bad management, and managers have a responsibility to be better role models than that.
Photograph of Professor Judi Marshall by Jane Binnion at the She is Sustainable conference, Lancaster University.