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How Successful, Working Moms Unpack Stress and Get Solutions to Find Time, Joy, and Rest

A letter to Executive working moms, inspired by Indra Nooyi

Nikita Lawrence, Women in Leadership Mentor & Consultant

Though many companies around the world are working to create more opportunities and increase the representation of women in senior leadership roles, there is still much work to be done, both for women and women of color. While women currently make up 57% of the workforce, 70% moms with children under 18, according to the department of labor, women make up 23% of c-suite roles, with 4% represented by women of color. 5% of top Fortune 500 companies are ran by women. In addition, according to the Women in the Workplace study, men hold 62% of manager positions while women hold just 38%. Sponsoring, Developing, and creating a pipeline for women to ascend into the highest levels of leadership in any organization is a necessary step for companies to see more representation at the senior leadership level, and that’s one aspect that needs to be solved. The other piece is that we must begin investing in the emotional wealth and perception of women in leadership. We need to re-evaluate the perception that success in the c-suite is impossible unless you sacrifice quality time and relationships with those you treasure most, your family. The question of commitment for women in leadership who have children often is a masked concern of whether she will be able to be 100% dedicated without interruption from her personal life matters. The silent expectation that women are required to sacrifice quality time and relationships with family for career success often leads many down the path of making choices that later result in painful regrets, missed opportunities, and lost memories.

Navigating the private internal struggle between being making work or family the priority, brings much complexity to navigating both life and work successfully without having to sacrifice either. The reality is that both life and work are priorities, but you are only able to be in one place at a time. Quality time can be described as treasuring each moment that is shared, uninterrupted, being fully attentive to the needs and energy of the person you are spending the moment with; fully present, available, and engaged. Creating lifetime memories often isn’t a result of a super-fantastic occurrence that was planned, rather, a result of an intentional commitment to treasure every moment presented with those you love deeply and treasure the most. We must make each second and moment meaningful and valuable. With mentoring women in leadership, I’ve found sometimes, with mounting work stress and chaos, we can neglect our own self care regimen and self-sabotage the special moments that bring joy, peace, and renew our energy.

I too am a working mom in leadership, and it pains me at times to reflect and realize in the past I’ve often presented my very best at work but left nothing for my daughter or husband. The reality is that while mommy would be working and helping hundreds of managers learn how to be more successful, I would still carry the stress and non-stop work world home, being physically present but emotionally depleted and absent. I can think of countless times that I thought I was spending time with my now six-year-old daughter, but forgot to remove the laptop, turn off cell phone, wait to send the email just long enough for her to tell me how her day was, and really listen uninterrupted as she spoke. For me, I knew something was wrong when it became a habit for her to say, “Earth to mommy” when having a conversation with me at home and mommy was still not fully present enough to hear the question she was asking…or when she would ask me, mommy can you put the phone down….or when I would call her name multiple times, not getting a response because by then she had learned what it felt like to be ignored.

I’ve learned, sometimes our kids and spouses just want to have quality time long enough to create a memory in what feels like the smallest moment but really is monumental in relationship. Some memories are created when mommy listens to the latest “knock, knock joke”, or listens to the exciting news that happened at School or at work for our spouses; showing the appreciation for our family, caring about the things that are happening in their world.

As professional women and working moms, sometimes we have a desire to prove ourselves; that we are good enough, smart enough, and decisive enough. We try to prove that we have superpowers and can “super manage” anything life throws at us, while preparing the perfect dinner, wearing the perfect dress, raising the best kids, and hoping to be the best wife. The stress that comes from us not saying no when we should, produces an undesirable feeling of being caught between a rock and a hard place, once again being stretched beyond our limitations. But what happens when we’ve become so focused on building our staff, leading the department, being all things to everyone, that we forget to build our home and the relationships that are contained within?

Now more than ever, I personally find great value in authentic and genuine relationships that encourage you when you get it right and strengthen you when you don’t . I even admire the strength that we can exert from top leaders that have shown us a road map and demonstrated the grace required to expose areas that still need strengthened. Yes, we all should be self-aware and able to see our blind spots, but sometimes we can get so laser focused that we forget to remember what really matters the most.

· Sometimes, we need the words of a few successful, professional women to remind us that we are beautiful, brilliant, and valued.

· Sometimes, we need someone to say, it’s ok to say no and not feel guilty. It’s also ok to not be ok.

· Sometimes, we need someone to ask us how we are really doing and wait for the authentic response.

· Sometimes, we need someone to let us know it’s ok not to make every meeting we are asked to attend; and that it’s ok to leave the office before sundown; and that it’s ok to trust the team covering our vacation to make sound decisions so that we don’t have to be “accessible” during family time or time away.

· Sometimes, we just need a little reassurance that it’s always ok to make our family and our self-care a top priority without fear of appearing unable to handle the responsibility of senior leadership.

· Sometimes, we need someone to say it’s ok to be both Strategic and empathetic; people oriented, and results driven; focused and fun; emotional and encouraging.

· Sometimes, we just need someone to say, I know it gets hard, but you really are doing a great job, and sometimes you will make mistakes, and that’s ok.

Unpacking stress and finding solutions for time, joy, and rest all comes down to perspective, priorities, and commitment. Sometimes our perspective is that no one else could do what we do, be that at home or at work. Sometimes that is true, and sometimes it’s a cover for not wanting to give up the thing that makes us feel more valued. The reality is that at work, it can often feel as though things won’t happen the way they should if you aren’t there. The truth is that when you decide to move beyond your current role and there is a vacancy, the role likely will be filled and a replacement will begin to perform the work it felt like no one else could do quite like you. With your family, your presence truly is irreplaceable, and when you don’t make those you love a priority, it hurts more deeply than it ever could be expressed in words. As you choose powerfully, remember to make each moment special and treasured. Create a list or core values that you will govern your decisions and behaviors based upon, so that each choice becomes simple as you keep all things in perspective. Some opportunities that are presented in life are those that only come once in a lifetime.

You will have to make powerful choices. When you align your values to your choices, you will find that you almost always make the choices that you can live with, and not those that you later regret. In addition you can use the three strategies below to continue finding solutions for time, joy, and rest.

  1. Reduce your Personal
    Responsibility List.
    Make
    a list of all of your current responsibilities and then create three
    columns adjacent to your list. Each column should be labeled with a title,
    “Me” , “Someone Else”, and TBD respectively. See below for image example.

My Responsibilities

Me

What I want/need to keep

Someone Else

What I can ask for help with

TBD

within next 2-3 days

1. Preparing holiday dinner party

x

2. Daughter’s ballet recital

X

This exercise is for you to really think about everything on your plate and to start sharing the “wealth”. There may be some things that you personally want or have to do, but I would imagine the line between want and need could be debatable. The goal here is to identify what you really want to keep on your responsibility list and what can be transferred by way of delegation. Micromanaging can be the largest obstacle and enemy to finding more time, rest, joy and peace. Learn to give up what no longer works for the quality of life you want, and delegate, outsource, out-task, and find help for the rest. To maximize this exercise, discuss your list with a mentor, coach, or trusted friend who will be honest with you about what you may still struggle with letting go of.

  1. Learn to use the power of Yes
    and.
    Embrace saying Yes to your own
    wants and desires, saying NO to additional requests that
    aren’t priority and will require more energy than you have available,
    without GUILT. Your own wants and desires require attention, focus, time,
    and energy. If you consistently say yes when you should say no and vice
    versa, you will live a very frustrated life. The power of ‘Yes and’ is
    that you say yes to yourself, your self-care, the needs of your family,
    AND we will need someone to figure out the rest. Who’s available to help
    with this? This may at first feel scary and perhaps a little
    irresponsible, but guess what…someone always does, and even if that
    someone doesn’t get it right every time, it’s ok to make mistakes, learn,
    and choose better the next time.
  2. Develop a proper self-care regimen. Develop a self-care regimen, routine, and system for
    diffusing, refueling, and refreshing yourself, your mind, and your
    thoughts. This should be something that you commit to do on a daily or weekly
    basis. It may include spiritual, emotional, or physical activities including:
    meditation, prayer, walking outside, reading in the sunlight, spa
    treatments, massages, painting, writing, or any other activity that allows
    you quiet time and space free of chaos, clutter, and disruptions. This
    self-care regimen may also include 15-20 minutes every day that you don’t
    think about anything at all, but diffuse the stress and worries from the
    day, reclaim your peace of mind, refocus your perspective, and reframe
    your thoughts. The goal of your self-care regimen is for you to rest and show
    love, honor, and appreciation for who you are as a person. During this
    time of care and rest, you will find yourself re-fueling so that you can
    present the very best version of yourself to those you treasure the most on
    your journey to achieve both life and career success.

In closing, always remember to keep in perspective what you really want, and what matters most to you. On the quest to acquire more success, achievement, accomplishments, freedom, always be mindful of your intentions, so that your actions reflect the life and legacy you intend to have recorded in history. May you find more joy, time, peace, rest, and all of God’s goodness as you soar into the very best years of your life. 

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