While I was being interviewed on a radio show about the topic of finding happiness, a professional working mother called in to speak with me. She wanted me to help her determine the answer to a poignant question: Why did she feel so unhappy? The caller questioned whether the cause was her current job which she no longer found fulfilling, or if she was simply buckling under the pressures of being a working mother.
This isn’t the first time I have heard the same question. The caller was seeking a simple answer to a problem with which many of us struggle. We know something isn’t working and we want to find the “one thing” that makes us feel overwhelmed so we can fix it and move on. We are smart enough and strong enough to do that—it would be so simple.
In my work as a coach and consultant, I find women often identify the source of that nagging overwhelmed feeling is either 1) lack of support in a personal relationship, or 2) how we feel about our employment. These seem like the obvious culprits because they are things we can change and either option leaves us blameless.
Working mothers are masters of juggling the needs of our families and our jobs. It’s rare that one single issue or person can cause us to feel overwhelmed. Rather, we need to look at the bigger picture to find the sources of our unhappiness. What we should consider is the compound effect of many small stresses in all areas of our lives that accumulate over time.
Women who are highly driven to succeed strive to live up to the big expectations we have of ourselves in our jobs and in our roles as mother and wife. I call it the Superhuman Paradox. We want to be regarded as a successful and competent businesswoman with the salary to match. Plus, we want to cook like chefs, decorate our homes like professionals, raise the smartest kids in their classes, and have perfect bodies. It seems possible because we find women in our personal and professional circles who actually seem to attain these high standards. We think, “If they can do it, why can’t I?”
The problems begin when we end up spending too long at work and rushing through our evenings at home. Of course, our jobs are important and we must advance our careers, but long hours build pressure in other areas of our lives. On the other hand, when commitments to our family and friends seem unending, we can begin to believe our personal lives are getting in the way of our professional goals. Without a functioning work-life balance, we are bound to collapse under our constant pressures.
What you can do:
The one thing you can do to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed is to have a realistic approach to balance all the demands in your life. While most of us already know this, we don’t bother adopting a healthy routine or we continuously postpone it to later. You’re too busy right now to find balance, right? Wrong. You feel too busy because you are out of balance.
Here are three tips you can use today as the first steps toward a better balance:
1. Structure your day! Before you turn on your computer at work, decide what you want to accomplish today and make that your main focus. Give yourself a deadline for when your workday will end so you have time to spend with your family and fulfill your commitments at home. Honor your own decisions.
2. Shut off distractions for 90-minute increments. With your main focus set, you know your primary goal for today. Focus for 90 minutes on one project, then check your email, then focus again.
3. Set personal priorities and stick to them. You determine what is most important to you. Take care of yourself, your relationships, and your families. Remember, the people you want to stick around the longest should get the most attention. Without your support group, there is no balance.
Like the woman who called in to the radio show, we know when our lives simply aren’t working. It feels like something has to give. If your job isn’t as fulfilling as it once was, finding a better balance will put you in a position where you have time to pursue a promotion or new direction. Also, stop trying to be perfect at everything all at once. None of us is superhuman.
The key to finding a work-life balance that suits you is not to look for changes only in your professional or personal life. You need to consider how those lives can mesh by giving a little on both sides. Happiness comes when it all works together.