Lean in? I’m struggling to stand up!
This recent quip from a fellow businesswoman snapped me back in time. To when I was a senior executive, in an organisation going through a whirlwind of M&A activity.
In the middle of yet another major acquisition, I had a moment. A meltdown.
I remember it vividly, as if it were yesterday.
My son was in the early days of his first year at school. I had left the office early to go to the gym. We had arranged for my husband to come home from his work in time to relieve the nanny. We were doing OK, right?
Driving across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I mentally checked my To-Do List: personal training session, a quick game of Wiggles Dominos with my son, cook dinner, our routine of toilet/teeth/tickles/story-time then off to bed. Eat dinner, make lunch for the next day. Then check and respond to emails to assuage my guilt at leaving the office that little bit early.
And bake a cake for the school fundraiser the following day.
At about 11 pm I took the cake off the cooling rack to put it into the cake box. And I broke it.
Several chunks of lemon coconut cake dropped to the floor.
Then I dropped to the floor and sobbed for an hour. I was inconsolable.
Every now and again my husband would wander into the kitchen and ask, “Are you ok?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Do you want me to buy a cake in the morning?”
Sure, I was doing all the right things that I knew were good for me:
– nutritious home-cooked meals
– quality time with my family
– engaging with the school community
– tactile, right-brain activities like baking (“… they’re good for your creative problem-solving …”)
Yet some days it was a struggle.
Just to stand up, let alone “lean in, take risks, and pursue your career goals with gusto”.
It was around this time that I made the decision to stop ironing my sheets.
Because I came to realise that a working career is a marathon. That it is just not sustainable to operate at a high-energy, super-busy, over-scheduled level all the time.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment. To think that whatever you are doing, at any given time, is the most important thing.
Back to back to back Zoom meetings and conference calls. Working from 9 pm to midnight to actually get stuff done. Feeling like you have moved from working from home to living at work.
This level of intensity is sustainable for a sprint, not for a marathon.
Sometimes you need to lean back and let go.
During the past six months, most of us have had more time at home than ever before. The result is a mixture of relief, frustration, joy, creativity, exhaustion, connectedness, and loneliness. Lost amongst overly scheduled diaries and haphazard events.
There will be days, weeks, and months when you are not going to have balance. Your cake is going to crumble. And that’s ok.
In our life and career, we sometimes make a very conscious choice not to have balance. Such as in our very first job in our chosen profession, or when we are vying for a promotion.
At other times, imbalance is heaped upon us. Like now.
Managers may be finding this time particularly tough.
They must endeavour to buoy their team and direct reports. Yet at the same time maintain a façade of being in control. All the while managing the same array of physical and behavioural impacts, the same feelings and thoughts, the same mix of good days and bad days themself.
One of the women I mentor told me that she has not seen two of her direct reports for more than three months. They speak by phone and have weekly Zoom team meetings, yet these two have chosen not to turn-on their cameras. She is becoming increasingly anxious about them.
She also commented that she is feeling exhausted all the time. Not being able to physically connect with her team is just as much of a challenge for her as the next person.
We talked through some strategies, the importance of seeking support from HR, and the need to acknowledge the double load she is carrying – her own and that of her team. It was all about the loss of choice and connectedness.
This new perspective gave her permission to let go and recognise she needed self-care. She wrote:
“Thank you for your ongoing support. I really found our time last week valuable in helping me to reset expectations of myself.”
Having perspective and a good helping of self-care are the ingredients that will maintain your equilibrium for the long haul.
And the cake?
Cut into individual slices, decorated with frangipanis from the garden, packaged up and delivered to the school fundraiser. Yes, it was all fine in the end.
And if I had bought a cake, well that would have been ok too.
You can have your cake and eat it too. Perhaps not all at the same time, nor in the way that you might have imaged. Yet sweet all the same.
Take care of yourself right now. So that as we come out of this strange time you are ready to jump ahead. You will be ready to be the obvious choice.