There seems to be this poorly kept secret among women—but especially among working women, and working mothers in particular. At some point, I think I’ve unknowingly even joined in the mirage myself: the widely held perception that women can do it all. That you can be the perfect Pinterest mom, the fitness guru, the high performing careerist, and the committed community advocate—all at the same time. (And all backwards and in high heels, of course.)
To quote our dear Vice President, that’s a bunch of malarkey.
Nobody talks about the fact that “doing it all” requires help. Successful women in business have 24 hours each day—just like everyone else. So, what’s their secret? They’ve discovered the benefits of outsourcing, streamlining to make things more efficient, asking for help with some things so they have time to focus on their priorities. Each of our strengths and priorities is different, and that’s what makes us unique. So, why do we need to pretend we’re doing it all?
The Misled Perspective
I’m guilty of this myself from time to time. I scroll through instagram and see one friend’s perfectly hand-crafted kid birthday party, another’s hardcore fitness routine or perfectly clean house, a third friend’s amazing looking home cooked meal—and on a weeknight, no less. We see people’s curated social media feeds, and it’s so easy to build this picture of the perfectly balanced, high achieving woman that seems to be everything that we’re not.
But no one wants to talk about what’s behind the scene: the nanny watching our children, the cleaners keeping our homes tidy, or the meal delivery service we depend on every night. As if somehow, if we admit that we need help balancing it all, that in some way diminishes our success.
Confession: I Don’t Do it All!
As a single mom who has to split time with my son, the time I do get to spend with him is precious. So, when I’m faced with spending a few hours on the weekend cleaning my house … or taking him to the park, building forts, or reading together, of course I choose quality time with the kiddo. But, I also don’t want to live in a messy house. It’s easy for me to rationalize the value of a cleaning service: The benefit of preserving that time to spend with my son far outweighs the cost.
I understand that there’s a level of privilege involved in this. I have a good job with a good income, and it allows me to do things like hire cleaners or subscribe to a meal delivery service.
When it comes to talking about the help we have—whether it’s paying for conveniences or relying on the generosity of friends and family to pitch in—why are we so hesitant to lift the curtain and share reality? By shying away from reality, aren’t we just perpetuating this (unrealistic) superwoman image?
Perhaps part of the problem is that we see these decisions as frivolous, instead of smart self-care.
Self-Care Isn’t Frivolous
I used to feel weird about expenses like a blow out or a massage. They seemed so indulgent. But over time, I’ve realized that when I’m happy, healthy and balanced, I’m a better mom, friend and business owner. Sometimes, indulging in a little pampering is good self-care.
A few weeks ago I was in Chicago and I had almost a dozen meetings scheduled for two days straight. As an introvert, I knew that would require an enormous amount of energy for me. I decided to fly in late Sunday afternoon to get settled and make sure I wasn’t scrambling Monday morning before the marathon of meetings kicked off. I knew I’d have a few hours of down time, with no commitments. So, I decided to do something just for me: I got a blow out. It was amazing and exactly what I needed to start the week on a high, energized note.
That said, not every form of self-care has to be expensive. I’ve found other practices to add to my routine that just help me feel more balanced, without any huge expense.
- Gratitude journal. On Thanksgiving last year, I started keeping a daily gratitude journal. Each day I write three things that I’m grateful for that happened that day. Some days they’re really small things. Other days they’re really big. This small practice in the grand scheme of my daily life has added perspective, and it’s something I do each day that’s just for me.
- Meditation. Incorporating meditation into my weekly routine helps me sleep better, focus better, feel less anxiety … and so on. With meditation, I’m generally a better version of myself. I try to meditate three times a week—typically at night before bed so that I can stop thinking and wind down. It’s amazing what even just ten minutes of quiet can do.
- Friends. Whether it’s making brunch together, play dates with the kiddo, or just enjoying a glass of wine in my backyard, spending time with friends is grounding and therapeutic. I’ve been fortunate the last couple years to develop an incredible support system who help me through the stressful times and are there to celebrate with me when things go well. Sometimes as busy professionals, we’re so consumed by our work that we don’t make time for our social lives, even though it’s a key piece of happiness.
In the long term, neglecting to take care of yourself and meet your own needs doesn’t only hurt you; it hurts everyone else around you, too. No matter what your role is or how many hats you wear, each and every one of us can only be our best selves for others in the long term if we prioritize taking care of ourselves. As soon as we all stop trying to “do it all,” we create more room to succeed in our own specialties, whatever that may be.