Nerves. Expectations. Answers. Avoid looking like an idiot.
These words seem rightly placed based on the expression on Marilyn Monroe’s face as she met the press back in 1956. While she may not be the poster girl for working mums I think this snap captures the feelings many women conjure up when we feel a little under the spotlight.
And by spotlight I mean situation. It’s that moment when we feel just a little bit judged. Like all eyes are on us. And our families, the houses we live in, the jobs we do or just our decisions about our ‘next move’. There’s a concern that what you do (or say) next is going to be scored, commented on and repeated in detailed descriptions by those close to you when they’re asked cookie-cutter questions like: ‘So how’s she doooooinnnng?’.
The feeling? Fear.
Personally I think it’s a pretty strong word for what most would describe as being ‘just worried’ about what others might think. But after scouring through articles about female fear and it’s ties to failure, perfection, self-doubt and life-paralysis it’s a serious description for a serious problem.
Bryce Covert’s article for The Nation details US statistics that indicate women are self-selecting out of ‘hard fields’ like Science, Technology, Economics and Math for fear of delivering imperfect grades. Catherine Clifford’s article at Entrepreneur.com talks about the fear of failure that stops women keeping pace with men in the entrepreneur stakes.
While I’m not lining up at uni to take on astrophysics nor am I looking to kick the boys outta a self-start-up business I do get this trend.
My most recent fear-moment (and I have many of them) came this week when it reared it’s ever-so-fricken-huge head in a delayed realization of what returning to work from maternity leave meant for me.
(Hold in there for a sec for those without kids…)
Essentially in this situation – you’re again – the new girl. You’ve been out of it a while so you’re new in the sense ‘you weren’t here’, as your colleagues say, when that major event that seems to be consuming everyone (else) happened. You’re playing catch-up.
Fear 1: You’re behind in your job. And others know it.
You’re also forever working to a deadline. The deadline to leave home, arrive at work, finish that report, get to that meeting and finally run out the door (while still looking like a committed employee) before your child is the last one left at childcare. Gone are the days when you can stay back to ‘catch-up on a few things’ or have brilliant networking chats in the hallway. Let’s face it: a working mum is a walking egg timer.
Fear 2: You’ll never be able to perform like you used to.
Then when the work days are over and you return to the sanctuary of your home you cant help but see the tired-toll smeared across your little one’s face.
Fear 3: I’m doing more damage than good.
Judgement. Perfection. Guilt. It’s all rolled into a messy lunch box that gets carried off to work and still stinks after you’ve washed it.
Now I’ve written before about the ‘having it all’ saga before but mother-of-two and PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi, gave a beautifully refreshing take on something that this week was driving my fears. (The 2 minute video really is worth a watch if you’re want a bit of a laugh).
“We’re screwed. We can not have it all.” Nooyi says.
She explains that the biological clock and career clock are in total conflict with each other. We must make choices between being a wife and mother everyday, multiple times a day and find coping mechanisms to do so.
I took comfort in this. If we’re screwed what do I have to be fearful of? If Nooyi’s observation is true then there’s a pretty high likelihood that, yes, at times my fears will be realised. I might have to play catch up for a couple of months at work, I’m probably going to have days (and weeks) that are far less promotion-worthy than those before I had a child. And yes, there’s probably some form of loss, damage or missing out that’s happening on some level of my little girl’s growing awareness.
And I actually feel better already.
Hear that? It’s acceptance. And I think it’s just the ticket women need to cope with fear. Whether yours is tied to kids, your job, your relationship status or bank balance I think accepting what we’re afraid of, in fact, makes it less scary and helps us take back the power.
Not our nation’s capital but an emerging therapeutic activity known as Acceptance and Commitment Theory. ‘Act’ as it’s pronounced is basically about building our resilience to failure and fear by accepting the, well, shitty feelings. Accepting what’s out of your personal control and committing to action that improves the situation – your life.
This makes sense to me. Accepting the fear, the out-of-our-control and committing to doing our best to get the job done is enough. And better yet, it’s freedom. If we stopped putting so much energy into avoiding what we fear most and put more energy in to what we want more you’d see a lot more female entrepreneurs around the place.
We can let go of fear. You have at some point before. We all have. If I had never of let go of fear I’d never have gone back to work. I’d never of had a child, started this blog, moved interstate, traveled overseas or married my husband! So accept your fear, find it, feel it and let it lead you to what you really wanna do.