Can women have it all? And what is your “all” anyway?

Have we been sold a lie – that “women can have it all”? Because a lot of the women I speak to every day think they should be able to “have it all” but in the pursuit of that, they seem to have completely lost who they are and why they’ve been chasing after it. And frankly they’re exhausted.

A lot of the women I work with one to one are between 35 and 55 years old – and what this means is, that we were brought up in a society where we were told by our parents, teachers and caregivers that as strong, independent women, we can “have it all” – career, family, success, all of it.

I for one went to an all-girls secondary school where the focus was on getting girls into science (I did a food science degree when in hindsight a psychology degree would have been more my thing) and we were told that we could have everything that those up the road at the Boy’s school had.

But the reality is we were still brought up in households where mum’s did the majority of the heavy lifting when it came to running the household and most definitely had the burden the hidden mental load.

So, on the one hand we were being told to “Reach for the Stars” (the actual motto of my school) and on the other hand what we witnessed to be the norm was supermums that held it together for everyone whilst maybe working part time at most.

Fast forward a few decades and the luxury of part time is not afforded to many of us – and when it is, for many it’s the “we will pay you for four days, but give you a five day workload” kind of part time (been there, done that).

Often, women DO have to make the choice between their career and their family because the infrastructure and flexibility just isn’t there in the food industry to support those women who want both (apart from in some progressive businesses which is great to see). And the archaic views around men being allowed more parental leave and lack of flexibility for all genders leaves it commonplace that the women pick up the slack (not all men, just like not all women before I get flogged by the model dads out there!)

“You can have it all, but you can’t do it all” – Michelle Pfeiffer

This is the mantra I use with my clients. Because so often, we have translated the “have it all” message into thinking that means we MUST spin all of those plates ourselves, irrespective of whether that completely wrecks with our own physical and mental health & wellbeing. This leads to burnout quicker than you can say “school fete volunteers needed”.

Ok then, so how do we have it all without doing it all? Well, here’s some tips to get you started:

1.      Define your “all” – what do you actually want? What does your ideal day look like? This is really important because a lot of the time we spend our time comparing ourselves to others and their instagram / linkedin highlights without really thinking about what WE want. And remember, as your life stages change so might your goals and priorities – and that’s ok. Take time to consider it.

2.      Think about what can you delegate at work and at home. Use the thought process “is this something that only I can do myself, or something I could get someone else to do?” – at home this can look like – only I can attend the school play, but I could get someone else to do the ironing.

3.      And while we’re on the delegation thing – if you can afford to, get a cleaner. Just do it, don’t kid yourself you enjoy doing that. (Remember that just because our mums ran themselves ragged, doesn’t mean we have to!). Seriously, think about what you can outsource.

4.      Let go of that “mother energy” at work – your team are not your kids and you do not have to be their agony aunt, carer and fixer. Empower your team to do their jobs and see how much time this gives you back.

5.      Become a boundary queen – we are all guilty of a sneaky look at our phone while we’re playing the umpteenth round of some kids game that’s boring us to the back teeth, just like we’re guilty of a sneaky look at the school app to see if any pics have been uploaded that day. That’s fine but when work really starts to encroach on your personal time, you need to start holding your boundaries firm, which will mean starting to say no to some things.

6.      Do something that’s just for you – not for work, the kids, your partner – just you. Something that will fill that tank up again – be it as little as a cuppa with peace and quiet OR something huge like a girls holiday – remember that it’s not selfish to look after your needs. It makes you a better mum / partner / manager.

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to stop beating yourself up and show yourself the same compassion you would to a friend in your position.

There undoubtedly needs to be change in society / the industry to help women find a better balance so they can continue to be amazing at their jobs while parenting / caring for others / “having it all” but in the meantime, I want us to all give ourselves a break and remember “you can have it all, but you can’t do it all.”

If you want some help working out what your all is, get in touch on amy@amywilkinsoncoaching.co.uk

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