It’s that time of year when the diary is looking really full- and it’s not even December yet. Deadlines are looming, so are countless parties and social events. Then there are the nativity plays and carol concerts and Christmas school fairs which need time out of your work day. And that’s all before you’ve even thought about presents, shopping and looking your best. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is also the Most Stressful Time of the Year.
But actually, how different is that to the rest of the year? The festivities sort of step up the pace a bit more, but I’ve had periods over this year where I’ve literally had weeks of going from one thing to the next without any break or down time in between. I’ve juggled childcare and domestic life with meetings and deadlines and volunteering work and family commitments.
It’s the unwritten rule of modern life that we all need to pack in as much as we can in order to feel validated. It gives us a sense of purpose. We look at the woman next to us and think we need to maintain the same pace as her, or we simply feel we have to accept lots of responsibilities…because that’s just what you do.
Margaret Sentamu said: “women carry a disproportionate weight of responsibility in society” and how true that is.
Whether it’s the economic or social climate that we live in, we all feel that we ‘should’ have it all. A great career with a clear path of progression, a social media strategy with Brand Me all worked out, a great figure, a thriving relationship, a foot on the property ladder, an active social life, healthy active kids with their homework all done. All perfectly captured on Facebook and Instagram- on which you have hundreds of followers of course. We all know that none of that ever happens at the same time. None of the pieces of the jigsaw ever fit together that well. But somehow we think they should.
Feminism gave women more choices. No longer are we expected to fit into some patriarchal mould of womanhood. But all that choice has brought with it a lot of pressure to perform. We’ve bought into the lie that we can have it all- and should.
Ladies, we’ve got to stop should-ing on ourselves!
We blame society, the media, Instagram- anyone really, for that pressure, but really it comes from within.
When my daughter started nursery at the age of three, I felt I ‘should’ fill the few hours while she was away. My other mum-friends all seemed to be going back to work and I felt I ‘should’ re-invest in my career too, and with that came the pressure to succeed. I spent my few spare hours researching writing and pitching stories. I’d be tired and irritable all the while as I never gave my body or my brain time to reload.
Arianna Huffington is someone who knows all too well the cost of not taking time to reload. In her book this year, Thrive, she talks about the breakdown she suffered seven years ago. She attributes this breakdown partly to not sleeping enough, carrying too much responsibility and too many burdens. I love two of her top tips for maintaining a healthy work- life balance: go to sleep half an hour earlier than you already do, and choose to off-load something everyday that isn’t working for you whether it’s emotional or professional. This coming from a tremendously successful woman who’s been there. She knows.
So here’s a radical thought: how about NOT having it all, take on fewer commitments and do them really really well. Work out what’s essential ‘to being you’- and select the top two priorities and give them your all. And above all, schedule in some down time once a week. It might just be blocking out 45 minutes on a Sunday afternoon to have a nap, or an hour to finish reading your book.
And if off-loading some of the burden just feels impossible at this point in your life then ponder this advice that I was given last week:
“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and before you know it, you’re doing the impossible.”