I know most of the people out there right now are giving advice about being all you can be at work, and somehow still keeping the home fires burning. I've spent the last decade and a half as a business journalist, and in that role I've met and interviewed many of the Super Women we've heard about amid the current work life balance discussion that has caught fire online and in the media.
So I feel an obligation to tell you the truth.
First: Many Super Women Don't Sleep.
It's nearly impossible to run a huge business and be a wife and mother and get a good night's sleep. I'm not saying they don't try. Just that, there are only 24 hours in a day. A couple of the Super Women have told me in private conversations that they lay awake at night searching the ceiling stressing about what they haven't accomplished during the day, or yet in their lives. I know, you may reject that as impossible, given their Super achievements, but that's what makes them type-A powerhouses. Too much is never enough. They believe they could always be working harder and achieving more, which doesn't lend itself to a calm mind, and a peaceful night's sleep.
Second: They Feel Guilty -- All the Time.
In an interview Sheryl Sandberg said, "I feel guilty when my son says, 'Mommy, put down the BlackBerry, talk to me' and that happens far too much. I think all women feel guilty." At work, they feel guilty that they aren't on their daughter's field trip or at home helping their son with his homework. And at home, they feel guilty that they didn't send that last email, or those last 50 emails. No matter where they are, they struggle to keep their minds present and not beat themselves up about what they aren't doing at that second. K.T. McFarland also talked about the Mommy guilt: "What do women do when they're not sure about their choices? Agonize! Feel Guilty!"
Third: They Argue With Their Husbands or Partners.
A study by the APA shows that, "Fifty-two percent of employees say that job demands interfere with family or home responsibilities, while 43 percent say that home and family responsibilities interfere with job performance (American Psychological Association, 2007). Stress is usually about who is doing more. When you are stressed, you tend to lash out at and abuse the person you are closest to. I have witnessed this first hand and have been guilty of it myself. We all do it, and Super Women are no different. If anything, I think they expect more of the people around them, and that includes their spouses.
Finally, here's the most important thing about Super Women you may not be considering: They aren't happier than you are. I say this as someone who has looked at this conundrum from all sides. I'm a working mom and wife who has always put a ton of pressure on myself to keep up with my Harvard classmates. I would never call myself a Super Woman, but I'm a journalist, a television host, an author, a mom of two sons, and a wife of 14 years. It has taken many years and yes, a lot of expensive therapy, to realize that the question I should be asking myself at all times is what will make me happy, not what will make me successful. "Success" is a trap. It's what we believe will make our peers respect and even envy us. But that definition can be changing and elusive, and most of all, unrelated to happiness.
So when the Super Women out there seem to be giving you advice about how to be a better you, don't resent them. Don't envy them. Don't beat yourself up for not leaning in. Instead consider leaning back for a while. Give yourself a break. And choose happiness instead.