As I travel the country talking with women, what I've consistently heard is that they want meaningful work that allows them to play to their strengths and to define success on their own terms. Even in this recovering economy, women don't just want jobs -- they want careers with a purpose. Achieving this isn't as difficult as you might imagine. Career and life gratification comes from defining success on your own terms and being confident in the choices you make.
Women have been bombarded with cultural images of the wonder mom or career mogul, only to find that society's perfect picture of success is almost impossible to achieve. Women are plagued with guilt because of the choices they make and my goal is to help them define what their version success means and to enjoy it authentically.
Instead of stressing yourself out with New Year's resolutions, consider spending your energy defining what success really means to you. Here are some thoughts to get you started:
Give yourself permission to do what you want to do. I've interviewed hundreds of women who pursued careers and personal lives based on what others wanted for them, only to wind up miserable. Take control of what you really want and know that you will thrive when you give yourself permission to do what gives you strength and purpose.
Give up the guilt! As if family members don't spew enough guilt for the masses, women have a penchant for taking the weight of the world on their shoulders. So what if you didn't have time to cook a meal from scratch and served your kids pizza for dinner? At least you spent quality time eating with them. Guilt is a useless emotion that will plague you until you set yourself free. Give it up and watch yourself bloom with self-confidence and peace.
Ask for what you want. Even high achievers don't accomplish their goals alone. Can you do it all? Yes, just not alone, and not all at the same time. The juggling act of life and career does not have to send you into a frenzy. Ask for help and reciprocate when others ask of you by paying it forward when you can. There is a reason it takes a village, and you deserve to assemble your team to help you along your way.
Create your career off-ramp and on-ramp. We all know a woman who has said: "I don't work -- I just stay at home with my kids." That is malarkey ,since motherhood is the most stressful and important job on the planet. Embrace the time you have with your kids and don't capitulate your status in the world. Enjoy your time out of the traditional workforce and consider ways that you can honor yourself in the process. When and if you want to re-enter the workforce, take advantage of the on-ramping resources to get yourself into a career that meets your values and allows you to define what success means to you.
Raising children may not be the only reason to take a hiatus from your career. The sandwich generation is taking care of kids and elderly parents simultaneously. If you pursue an exit strategy, give yourself a break and define success in terms of your immediate tasks -- don't lament why you aren't moving forward with your career. Success should be appreciated incrementally, so live in the moment and savor your success day by day.
Take stock of your values. As life changes, so will your values, so don't expect your definition of success to be the same throughout the decades. What you prioritize will be different as you enter the workforce post college from what you focus on as you look to retirement. Likewise, how the personal integrates with the professional will change regarding children, partners/spouses or aging parents, for example. Enjoy the flexibility of values shifting and adjust these as you re-define your success throughout the years.
Play to your strengths. Life is too short to be stuck in a job you hate. When you focus on what you do well, you gain energy and enthusiasm. Weakening tasks deplete your drive. Your are not broken, after all -- so honor what you do well and focus your life and career on activities that energize you.
Tune out negative chatter. It's easy to get sucked into the black hole of what other people believe success should look like for you. Perhaps they envision you earning a certain salary, sitting in the corner office or at home with kids and not in the career world at all. You need to be in charge of what's important to you. Turn off the self-doubt and change the negative chatter channel to focus on what's working for you. Surround yourself with positive people who will help you dream big and develop a plan so you can achieve the success that really defines what you want.
It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind. The beauty of success is that it should be constantly changing. You always have an opportunity to redirect and reinvent your career and personal life. You have the power to show up, stand up and speak up to assert your unique definition of success. It's all about taking a seat at the table and declaring your intentions. Enjoy this power, use it often and don't be afraid to change your mind!
Love yourself. Once you give yourself permission to really love yourself, success, satisfaction and peace of mind will come more readily. This New Year, try not to focus on what's wrong with you, but rather focus on what's right. Instead of lofty resolutions that are difficult to keep, consider a new way of thinking that honors your strengths and plays to your passions.
Success is yours for the taking, but don't let anyone else define it for you. Honor your values and design your own career and life destiny so it doesn't happen by default. The New Year is a fresh start and I wish you great success defined just the way you like it!
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name www.carolinedowdhiggins.com She is the Director of Career & Professional Development and Adjunct Faculty at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline on Tuesdays at 5pm ET Caroline also contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, and More Magazine online.