There I sat, on Christmas Day, staring at the tray of sad, wilting sandwich fixings and stale slices of bread, the tray I had ordered for our team at Idealab, given that we were launching December 26th with our new dot.com endeavor Swap.com: Trade Your Stuff.
(Get the idea? Kids just got new Xmas gifts, and would want to upload their own junk for trade the next day).
We were fried to a crisp, burnt out, emotionally and physically stretched to the max, and yet I was the “superstar” who was going to pull it all off.
It was in that moment I said to myself No. No more.
I resigned on Jaunary 8th, after the big launch, and thus began my adventure in going back to school, getting my MA in Spiritual Psychology, and learning all about the burnout, self-abandonment, workaholism, and guilt that plague today’s strong, well-intentioned professional women…. And how to powerfully reclaim our self-advocacy.
Now, the conversation about burnout is nothing new.
But today, after Covid, shifting to work at home and then back again, school disruptions, financial instability, career insecurity, and the rest of it all, today’s executive woman is being stretched beyond the pale.
You know it. I know it.
And if we weren’t so depleted, anxious, confused (is it me?), we’d step forward and say:
“This way of working isn’t ‘working’ at all.”
It’s not our fault that we’ve ended up here. We are mired in societal beliefs and expectations that tell us:
- Successful, strong women should be able to juggle it all
- Success is built upon hard work and going the extra mile
- If you don’t keep up, someone else will
- Financial and career success and recognition requires sacrificing family, health, and other values
- One day it will get better, but for now, better to put head down and keep trudging against the wind
These expectations become our internal operating system, the standards to which we hold ourselves. The problem is, that these imprints are inherently false, but without seeing it, they run under the surface as our modus operandi.
And “inside of this” societal agreement, it’s not surprising we haven’t been able to find a truly sustainable way of living and working, structuring our businesses and careers, and balancing our maternal and financial needs with our deepest heartfelt priorities.
We are set up for burnout – and the secret, niggling fear that there’s something wrong with us. But it’s the paths and models for success that set up up for self-sacrifice, self-abandonment, and then self-judgment to boot.
So how to change this?
Let’s explore a few TRUTHS that will lead us down the path of transformation, and how to operate from these “re-written” awarenesses to create lives and work rooted in sustainability, wholeness, and well being at the core, rather than an afterthought.
1) We have been our own worst enemy by indulging these paradigms, and change has to start with us.
There’s nothing that says we can’t lead powerfully and be a badass in the boardroom while holding and maintaining self-honoring boundaries. The truth is, we “teach people how to treat us” by what we tolerate and model. Our first step is to take stock as to where we’re indulging the “more, more, more” framework by people pleasing so we’ll get approval, and perfectionism so we’ll assure the “safety” of our role and position by being the undisputed superstar.
2) We have to be willing to take the risk of contrary action, staying no, putting our well being first, and trusting in the outcome.
Ok, deep breath. Yes, this is scary. Everything within us may be terrified that breaking the status quo will come with great consequences. But guess what. It rarely does.
Take my client Juliet, a mortgage industry professional, who finally pushed back when her C-suite boss threw one more critical emergency on her plate… that should not have been her responsibility in the first place. She proffered “So would you like me to table x, then, to jump in and handle y?” And just in the way she said it (we practiced!), the message was received that she was not a boundless resource and would have to time-shift from one critical initiative to another – rather than self-abandoningly taking it all on. Even this small act of self-advocacy (coming from the energy of knowing her worth and value versus the energy of apology and feeling less than) landed right away – and the new emergency was put on the plate of the appropriate employee.
Or my client Amy, a 35 year veteran of Boeing, who chose to put her foot down regarding travel. Enough was enough. We crafted some powerful language around her non-negotiable commitment to her personal well being, and she marched in during a mission-critical time and let her superior know what she was willing and not willing to do, and why strategically her proposal was sound. Sure enough, responding to her certainty and strength-of-heart, the new arrangement with travel was accommodated.
And what I’d be remiss in not noting with both of these lovely ladies is the absolute trust they had adopted – though some thoughtful preparation and spiritual practices, too – that they were not “attached” that these jobs and roles were their salvation. That at the end of the day, their personal sovereignty and well-being meant more than anything, and they were certainly willing to continue performing for their companies in an exceptional manner, but were not going to be a doormat condoning overwork and depletion.
Yes, your internal fortitude is the foundation upon which other people “get the message” and act accordingly. The issue is more often that we don’t assert our limit.
So my takeaway for you today is to employ this 2-step process again and again.
First, as the observer, note and own the ways that you have created the monster that is your current, run-yourself-ragged lifestyle, sublimating your own needs for the supposed approval of others which you have let define you. Whose opinion of you matters most my dear?
Then, take the risk of a self-honoring boundary. Realizing the non-negotiables you have regarding family and self-care time, put your workplace in the position to do the adapting to your newfound self-worth, and see what happens. Remember to anchor into the realization that you are the incredible asset, your safety and success in the world are predicated on a much Higher Authority than any particular role, company, or executive board, and that trust will actually set you free.
With this commitment in place, the path to a different reality starts to open for you. You begin to see how possible it is to shift the dynamics in your life, work, organization, and relationships to create a reality rooted in wellness and sustainability. Imagine how continued progress along these lines can allow you to achieve what matters most (without stepping back from career!), take care of those you love (including yourself!), and receive what you need to feel sustained on all levels.
This is just the start. And you can surf on the momentum of the many daring, courageous women who have come before and dared to do just this. Together we can transform the epidemic of burnout and overwhelm. We can find fulfillment in high-octane jobs that truly accommodate the values we hold dear. And when you do so, remember, your example gives other up-and-coming women permission to do the same. (Can’t you just feel the new world being created?).