In recent months my coaching clients have been almost exclusively women.
Superwomen most of them.
But they don’t feel like it.
Let me tell you about Jane.
Jane isn’t one woman, she is many. One of many facing similar issues.
Most of the Janes have children. Some their own, others are step-parents.
Some of the Janes don’t just have children but other relatives to care for too.
All of the Janes have jobs. Some of them work full time, others part time. Many of latter have often found however, that whilst their hours and pay have reduced, the work certainly hasn’t, and nor has the size or the needs of their teams.
Some of the Janes have flexible working – but often it is precarious, on the whim of an individual manager. Some of the arrangements are formal, others are of the ‘please can I work from home tomorrow’ variety. Without this little bit of flexibility, often begrudgingly given, the house of cards would fall.
Most of the Janes are, of course, doing a whole heap of the emotional and domestic labour of their family lives too. Carrying the mental load of remembering birthdays and school PE kits and food shopping and getting the ironing done.
Some of the Janes have senior roles, big teams, plenty of responsibility.
Some have partners who are genuinely sharing the domestic and family load, others are very much on their own with it all.
Many have hobbies and interests that have fallen by the wayside as they juggle and juggle.
They come to coaching to talk about their work life balance. To talk about their wellbeing. They feel that they aren’t (delete as appropriate) exercising enough / being a good enough manager / developing their career at the pace they wanted to / finding any time for CPD / not getting to the school events / eating properly / spending enough time with their children, parents, siblings or friends / networking / reading books / being a good enough mum, partner, step-parent, daughter / giving their children healthy enough food. They believe they are too unfit / relying on childcare too much / not coping / forgetting stuff / not delivering on their objectives / failing to have it all.
Here’s the thing all the Janes have in common.
They think it is them.
They don’t realise it is structural, societal, organisational.
They don’t realise that their company or their manager could be more flexible or the work could be organised differently and that would make them more productive and their lives easier along the way. That they don’t have to take all on all of the emotional labour even if they have been conditioned to believe that they must. They don’t realise that it’s the organisations that is at fault with its presenteeism and its obsession with 9-5, face to face. They don’t know that they don’t have to have it all, do it all, that it is okay to say that you are tired and need a break. They don’t know that you can just say screw the ironing and go to work in a crumpled shirt.
The strive for perfection is a heavy burden. The shoulds, the musts, the ought tos and the got tos.
The Janes don’t realise that I listen to them in awe as they balance and juggle and strive. As they manage families and relationships and careers and teams and all the day to day fuckwittery of life.
As a coach, my biggest challenge is not to over empathise, to over identify. Not to stand there and shout ‘Yes! Me too!’.
I so want these women to see and stand in their own power. To see their own awesomeness. To realise that it isn’t them, it’s the system.
So to the full time women and the part timers, the single moms and the married ones and the ones in between. To the biological moms and the step moms, the organic moms and the frozen fish fingers moms (because that is all they will bloody eat this week). To the carers for relatives and the team leaders. The senior managers and the newly promoted. To the women navigating the school drop off and after school club pick-ups and still remembering to do the Tesco big shop on your phone on the train. To the women studying into the evening or working a side hussle.
You are awesome. All of you.
And remember, even Superwoman occasionally needs a day off.
In other news, I searched for an image on the site I usually use for a hero, to accompany this blog post. It only gave me pictures of men…..
What an amazing blig! You’ve just described me …. the struggle is real. To all the other super mum’s out there, we stand united!
Wow, that all resonates!! This was me from 2010 (well probably before, but that’s when it got really out of control) until 2014. 3 kids, 1 big job in a fast paced, huge growth company, 1 big mortgage on a house that’s 165 years old, 1 husband setting up his own business, 3 hours commuting each day etc etc. Work was my number 1 priority. Work mattered most; being there, doing a great job, keeping every plate spinning every day – the demands never stopped and I felt ineffectual to change it. I used to daydream about breaking my arm so I could have legitimate reason to take a few weeks off. Then I had a heart attack caused by Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) and suddenly work didn’t matter in the same way anymore. They managed without me and I didn’t feel that same drive to care. Life has gone on with work way further down the rankings and I’m much happier. Plus I see my kids every day AND get to talk to them for more than 10 minutes at bedtime. Wish more of us could see a better way to work to make everyone happier. Thanks for this piece.