In short, yes and no.
Yes – you can have it all, just not at the same time. And it comes with many trade-offs, some of which you can’t get ready for.
And no – you shouldn’t expect to have it all by our society’s standards: having a great career, being in a happy relationship and spending a lot of quality time with your family, and on top of that, having time to follow your passions, see friends, get away from it all. Something will have to give. Or some part of that.
It’s our female nature to fall into the ‘perfectionism’ trap. We all want to be superwomen.
At work, at home, with friends who need help, and also – shouldn’t we look like models, too?. We take on more than we can handle, and even if we deliver on what we said we would, we don’t feel accomplished. We don’t even feel so successful, right? Our expectations driving us insane at times, causing burnout in some case by the age of 30. We feel often overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed. Last year I realized it was me and I was beginning to feel exactly this way. I wondered: is there a better way? And then I had my ‘Aha’ moment. You can design your own definition of success.
Success is often measured by how much we get done. What next thing can be marked as ‘checked’ on our to-do list. But what about our well-being, time to recharge, to simply – enjoying life? Think about it more holistically.
What is your own definition of success?
I remember asking myself the same question one sunny Friday afternoon in London. It was early September, I was done with work early waiting for a friend to join me – so that we could finally kick off the weekend and enjoy a well-deserved break. As you may know from my other posts, I was already feeling unwell at that time (a result of hormonal changes that influenced my entire body caused by exhaustion). I’d raise my own bar whenever I accomplished something new instead of taking the time to celebrate! It seems weird but it didn’t even cross my mind. When you are on a roll, you just keep on going, missing the important red flags that should stop you right then and there.
So I remember sitting in a park and thinking it was clearly not the feeling I was expecting to have, and to be honest with you, I was disappointed. With work, life, myself – it didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to spend my life this way. Regardless of how accomplished my CV looked or how much money I had on my bank account. I needed an inspiration.
Success = power & money?
How can we challenge the conventional wisdom? I knew that there is definitely more to success than accumulating power and money. Sitting there I created a list of people I could relate to, people who seemed to have found the answers. As everyone is different and copying others never works, I simply looked for parts of their lives that resonated with me. What was I looking for? I’ve decided to create a road-map for my future self.
- As a starting point, I wanted to have more energy – to live instead of sleepwalking thanks to coffee;
- I needed to feel excited again about my days;
- I still wanted to advance at work and be paid accordingly.
Now I don’t think there is work-life balance. It’s life, and by being smart about your energy during work, you find energy afterwards to enjoy yourself. If you give it all, there is not much left. If you are not sure where you’d like to end up in 5 years, take a moment to design it. Let your imagination guide you. Close your eyes and picture yourself in your best case scenario in 5 years (or any other period of time).
There are a couple of women I’ve admired over the years and have been inspired by what they do, and how they do it. Some of them are world-famous names such as Arianna Huffington (the founder of Thrive Global and the Huffington Post), Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook, very vocal about women in the workforce), Helena Morrissey (one of the most successful fund managers with 9 kids!). I’m sure you can create your own list.
You can also find inspiration close to you, and ‘real people’ often inspire me more because I know the full story. One of my friends is now in her late twenties and is new mom to 1,5 year old boy. She is also 7 months pregnant with her second baby. And she is a full time doctor working with newborns. Even though I don’t have a family, and don’t know when I’ll decide to have one, her approach to life really resonated with me. ‘When I thought about what I want to do in my life – she said – I knew I want to be a young mum. It felt natural as my husband also wanted to have kids early. Well, I’m not young by medical standards anymore, but still very much so taken into account how late women decide to get pregnant. I was working long hours as any doctor does, and in the moments of doubts, as there were many, I would repeat to myself: it’s only a phase. Enjoy being a mum while it lasts. Soon the kids won’t need me so much anymore, and then I can focus on my career. Life is long enough to do both, and not get crazy about not accomplishing it all at the same time’. She is one of my closest friends and I know she really meant it. She has this aura of peace surrounding her, and while her career is on the second plan now, she fully enjoys maternity.
You should also meet Marie, who is one of the smartest people I know. Very pragmatic about life and work, she spent years working for a global consulting firm, climbing the career ladder faster than any of us. 2 years ago she ended up marrying her long-time boyfriend of 9 years, only to get divorced less than a year later. She said she felt an immense pressure to settle down and be smart about life. Marie had doubts before walking down the aisle, but she told herself ‘worst case I can always get divorced‘. On her wedding day, as she was really stressed. She in did followed her plan B. Being a young divorcee of 29 she is no longer pressured to have a perfect relationship. That was a dream she wasn’t ready to make true, but the expectations she felt made this choice look like the best one. How many of us do the same? She now recommends getting to know yourself and your needs very well before you share it with someone else. She is having the time of her life travelling the world, she moved to a completely different field at work, and is happy. After her life didn’t work according to her plan, she redesigned herself. Marie now doesn’t expect someone else to make her life complete, but makes the most out of her days, doing things that young mums would naturally miss.
Those stories, as so many others showed me that:
- You can design your life, but make sure you are not following the expectations of others;
- Life still surprises us every day, and if you find yourself far from your dreamed scenario, simply follow the same steps again and redesign yourself.
Maximizing your overall satisfaction.
What if we looked at our lives – and all of its components – in a mathematical way. Let’s try to list the things that are important to us: work, family, health, free time, friends, hobbies, etc. Looking at your life and the resources you have – in terms of time and money, but also your family situation – how would you rank them from the most to the least important?
We know there are things that will have to be compromised for now – such as free time if you just started a new job or are always busy with your family. How many ‘points’ on a scale 1-10 can you ‘score’?
As an example your priorities could look like this: Family – 1, Work – 2, Health – 3, Friends – 4, etc. You should aim to score the most in the ones that are your priorities – to feel content. What usually leads to discomfort and stress is the feeling that we prioritize certain things, but our actions don’t reflect that. You could say that health is most important but be stuck with bad habits and no fitness regime – this creates a disharmony between your beliefs and actions.
The key to feeling accomplished, both at work and life, is to let go of some things and try to maximize your overall satisfaction.
What can you do to rewrite your life and design your own definition of success?
Arianna Huffington: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life
Anne-Marie Slaughter: Unfinished Business