Ever feel like a bowling pin?
No matter what we endure as women, we always feel as if we have something in our life that keeps knocking us down. And often, we truly can be our own worst enemies. We constantly compare ourselves to one another, and we berate ourselves for not having it all together like other women do.
Not only is this unhealthy, it is also misguided and unfair. We have no idea what other women have on their plates, professionally and personally. Sure we all show up looking like we have it all figured it out… we’re manicured, holding the latest designer bag, wearing the best designer shoes and jewels. We look GOOD. But the truth is that under all of the polished glam, we are all in the same boat, just trying to navigate our way along just like everyone else.
Nobody’s perfect, even if they look like it
I know better. Because I’ve had countless honest conversations with other women like me, and also because so many women have told me that they think I have it all together!
What they SEE is a CEO of a multi-million dollar firm who has absolutely brilliant and beautiful children, a husband who is madly in love with her, a woman who has everyone eating out of the palm of her hand, and a woman who doesn’t have a care in the world.
What they DON’T SEE is a woman completely in over her head, who wonders when the world will wake up and realize that I have no idea what I’m doing, who has two children that have taken the concepts of “negotiation” and “sarcasm” to new heights, and a 45-year old husband who I love with all my heart and treats me like gold but still has not learned where the hamper is.
So my reasoning is that if everyone else thinks I have it all together, when I really don’t, then they must not have it all together either, right?
Running a business and marriage are very similar
The thing is, you just don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. When you look at your neighbors, you think that everyone has it figured out except you. They have the perfect relationship, perfect kids, perfect relations with the in-laws, always doing quality family time projects, saving lots of money… everyone except you knows how to do it right. The truth is that most of us are actually struggling in some aspect… life is messy and complicated!
Lessons From Emerson
I want to share with you a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. My husband gave me a card with this quote, at a point in my life when I was having a hard time handling everything that was on my plate.
”Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”‘
I think about that quote often – particularly at the end of a day when I feel I just wasn’t as productive as I could have been. I try, on these days, to be kinder to myself. Not that I’m letting myself off the hook – come on, did I really need to take the Facebook quiz to learn which Sesame Street character I am, or what my Mafia name would be?
But we aren’t going to be running on all 8 cylinders every hour of every day. It’s just not practical. And what I’ve learned from all of this is that somehow, the important tasks always get finished, and it is OK to push some things off to the next day.
Let’s shift away from the concept of “work-life balance” and adopt the concept of “work-life synergy”
The idea of balance sets up a woman for failure. The very definition of balance conveys harmony, equality, equal distribution of various components, and emotional stability… and who among us can be emotionally stable 24 hours a day?
In all seriousness, the goal of work-life synergy is a much kinder and gentler goal for us because each and every day is different. We must look at each day as its own puzzle that has interlocking pieces which are constantly shifting. On some days, the puzzle will take on a more work-focused scenario. We may spend 80 percent of our time on work priorities (meetings, deadlines, networking events), and only 20% of our time on personal priorities (saying good morning to the kids, making lunches, tucking them in.)
The next could be completely reversed…perhaps we need to care for an aging parent or an ill child. Most days will fall somewhere in the middle, but every day will be different from the one before and the one that comes after.
Regardless of what the day-to-day scenario is, we must remember to give ourselves a break, and reward ourselves for all that we have done.
Ask for help
The ability to ask for help is a wonderful and essential strength. It does not indicate a weakness. When we inaccurately convince ourselves that we are all alone on the Island of Difficulty, we inadvertently isolate ourselves from others that can help. You are not alone.
If you are struggling with an issue at work – either as a business owner or as an employee – you are not alone. If you are struggling with aging and ill parents and don’t know how to stay focused on your work, you are not alone. If someone you love is battling cancer and you want to know how you can help or how you can cope, you are not alone. If you are at a crossroads at your life – either personally or professionally – you are not alone.
You owe it to yourself and the people that love you to get help – whether it is professional help, spiritual help, or simply reaching out to your inner circle of friends.
Research has proven that the happiest people are those that have strong ties to others.
In a Duke University Medical Center study, researchers found that people with fewer than four close friends were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who had more friends. And for women, this network is even more essential. In the Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School, it was found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they got older, and were more likely to lead a satisfying, joy-filled life.
Finally: stay healthy
Women are notorious for putting themselves at the bottom of the list.
I often think about the standard operating procedure to follow in the event we have a flight emergency. “In the event of an emergency, secure your own oxygen mask first, and then secure the masks of your children.”
This is an instruction we should follow every day of our lives. In order to have strength for our loved ones, we need to practice self care.
I’m often asked, “Marissa, how do you go to the gym at 5:30 in the morning?” My answer to that question is, “How can I not?” To be strong for everyone that needs me and trusts me – my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends, my employees, my customers – I must strengthen myself, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
I often say, “Strengthen the body, strengthen the mind, strengthen the outcome.” The 60 minutes that I give to myself every morning mentally strengthens me to face what is ahead of me, and to deliver what others expect and need from me.
In addition, it strengthens my immune system, my heart, my joints, and my lungs. It keeps blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol problems at bay. It keeps my cognitive functioning as sharp as a tack. It ensures I sleep well at night. It enables me to live my life on a daily basis without the need for any medication.
How many of you are overdue for an important doctor’s visit? A mammogram, pap smear, dental exam, dermatologist exam, a physical? I am a melanoma survivor. You must move your health to the top of your to-do list. Your conference calls, meetings, and presentations can wait.
To not practice self-care not only deprives me of my best self… it deprives others of my best self.
Giving yourself the gift of self-acceptance and forgiveness
I’m finally at the point where I’ve learned to be more forgiving with myself – to know that overall, I’m doing OK, the business is doing well, and the kids are on the right track. And I think this is really one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves – permission to be imperfect, permission to be in our own unique place without thinking about how it compares to a place where someone else is standing, and permission to exhale…to just breathe.
Every single reader one of you reading this has a story… a journey of triumph and inspiration. I hope this inspires you to celebrate all that you are, and all that you bring to your families, your organizations, your communities, and to the world around you.
What you are doing is extraordinary.
Image: Rance Costa, Creative Commons
Guest contributor Marissa Levin is Founder and CEO of Information Experts. Marissa was named a 2008 BRAVO Award winner, and a Smart100 CEO for both 2009 and 2010, by SmartCEO Magazine (which honors the region’s 25 most influential women CEOs); recently she was listed in Washington’s 100 Technology Titans by Washingtonian Magazine. She is also the DC Women’s Entrepreneurship Examiner. Describing her true passion as “helping other business owners be successful with their own business growth”, Marissa can be reached through her blog Marissa Levin.
This post was originally published by Marissa Levin in her DC Women’s Entrepreneurship Examiner column. We’re greatly appreciative to republish an edited version here with Marissa’s kind permission.