It's been over a month since Anne-Marie Slaughter's controversial article appeared in The Atlantic. As I thought about her article and read many of the responses to it, it occurred to me that there is something missing from this conversation. We've managed to reduce a complex amalgam of issues to a yes or no question. As you progress on your work/life journey, ask yourself these six questions to gain clarity and deeper self-awareness.
How do you define "having it all?"
To Slaughter, it means having a successful career AND raising a family in the process, but "having it all" is ultimately self-defined. To some, it means being a stay-at-home mom and raising kids. To others, it means choosing not to have kids and focusing your time and energy on other pursuits. It can also mean the freedom to start your own business. Personally, I think "having it all" is about having choices. Your definition may change as your life and career progress.
What do you value?
Identifying your values is the first step, but it's equally important to put those values into action each day. Your core values are an essential part of you that are based on your life experiences. In The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz write that "Values hold us to a different standard for managing energy... too often, our motivation for a behavior is expedient rather than value driven." For example, I value self-care, but for too many years, the expedient thing to do was work one or two more hours in an already too-long work week rather than taking time to rejuvenate. As a result, I burned out. I created a very simple values worksheet that can help you get started. For a copy, please email me at email@example.com.
Do your values mesh with your employer's values?
You spend so much time at work that major disconnects between your values and your employer's values will become hard to overlook. Many companies spend thousands of dollars to craft lofty-sounding mission and vision statements that have nothing to do with their actual culture. Does your company actually support the values it says it does, or is there a disconnect? The disconnect between my own values and those of my former employers were so pronounced that it factored into my decision to start my own business where I have a say in the values that are set.
What do you want in life?
I wish there was a course on this in high school. So few high-achievers really take the time to think about this question because they are too busy achieving. It's not until they burn out, get divorced or run into some other major life hurdle that they pause to figure out the answer. If you're unsure about what you want, start by creating THE LIST. I created this exercise when I was trying to figure out my next career after practicing law. It helped me reconnect with the activities and general pursuits that I've always loved to do, but which disappeared in the hustle and bustle of life. To develop THE LIST, set aside some time to reflect on all of the things you've loved to do throughout your life. You will start to see patterns throughout your life when you felt great joy performing an activity or impacted someone's life because of the unique talents you bring to the table. Use THE LIST as a self-awareness tool to help you assess what you want out of life.
What faulty assumptions are you making?
For many successful women, their deeply held beliefs about how they should live and work produce faulty assumptions or "crooked thinking" that underlie stress patterns and undercut resilience. Do you feel like you have to do things perfectly? Do you think you have to handle it all with ease? Are you convinced you have to handle it all on your own? It's imperative that you unwind these thinking traps so that you can accurately assess how you are progressing on your journey.
How is your current situation working for you?
This is the $64,000 question, and the answer can be a tough pill to swallow. You might realize, as I did, that your first career is just a stepping stone to something else. You might realize that you made decisions based on what others wanted for you, not what you wanted for yourself. It could be that what worked for you a few years ago no longer works today. Or, you might be perfectly content where you are at. Dissatisfaction doesn't necessarily mean you have to make a major change, but you should have a deeper conversation.
"Having it all" and related work/life balance issues are important topics for many women today. Gaining a better understanding of that means asking yourself some complex questions.
Whatever you decide and however your journey progresses, periodically checking in on where you stand will help you have a healthier and happier life and career.
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a lawyer turned stress and resilience expert who works with women attorneys to help them manage their high-achieving ways to build stress resilience and avoid burnout.
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