Image by Pete Linforth
(Editor's Note: While this article is written for women, its conclusions can be applied to men as well...)
For the most part, women have never had it so good. Thanks to our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, we've achieved equality with men (even if some men don't think so). We've made incredible strides in white- and blue-collar professional arenas, and we have broken strict gender barriers in nearly all industries. More than ever, we're respected by others and we respect ourselves. And we deserve it! We have more independence, options, and conveniences than ever, as well as the capacity to live rich, full lives.
Along with the many options we have created for ourselves, however, comes some very real confusion accompanied by a sense of being overwhelmed. Unlike the women who came in generations before us, we are lacking a concrete paradigm to live by. Instead, we are expected to do it all -- all the time. We have taken our ability to multi-task, and to accomplish a tremendous amount, to new levels. We are "super women" with much to celebrate -- yet we are exhausted!
One thing that hasn't changed very much is that many of us have a tendency to sweat the small stuff! Women are incredibly strong and, ironically, we do really well when the stakes are high. If there's a crisis, we're on top of it. If a friend is in need, we'll be there. If there's a sick child, turn to a woman for strength. If a sacrifice needs to be made, chances are, we will rise to the occasion and find a way to do what needs to be done.
On the other hand, we're the first to "lose it" over fairly small stuff! We can be nitpicky, petty, uptight, and tense. Many of us are perfectionists, overly controlling, and easily offended. We take things personally, and can be very reactive and dramatic. We're often quick to get bothered, irritated, and frustrated.
"Normal" Issues & Challenges
I'm a normal everyday person who has either dealt with, or is currently dealing with, most of the issues and challenges in this book. To one degree or another, most of us have struggled with body image, family choices, budgets, men, friends, lifestyle, time management, communication issues, parenting, and balance. I certainly have. This is the stuff life is made of, and from which none of us are exempt!
I suppose that my greatest asset is that I'm a genuinely happy person most of the time. I tend to see the glass half full instead of half empty. I've always felt grateful to be a woman and to be alive. Happiness and peace of mind have always been a priority. Because of my basic nature and the efforts I've taken in this direction, I've come to see that it's not necessary (most of the time) to sweat the small stuff. I've found that the less bothered I become, the more I'm able to celebrate being female.
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Like so many other women, I find all sorts of reasons (albeit some very superficial, but enjoyable nonetheless) to relish being a woman. I love T-shirts with a bit of lace, French country prints, and cinnamon spice scents. I love taking aromatherapy baths and playing with makeup. To me, there is nothing greater than being "mommy," and I adore doing my girls' hair and nails. I also love being Richard's wife. I cherish my girlfriends and the sensitivity, understanding, and compassion we offer each other day-to-day. I love expressing myself passionately through art, creating a haven out of my home, exercising, practicing yoga, and meditation -- and I admit, I also love to shop!
On the other hand, I have also experienced, firsthand, the many challenges, circumstances, and issues facing women today; everything from being a full-time business owner to part-time career woman blended with motherhood. I've also been a full-time mother and home manager. I've been successful at some things, and less successful at others. There was a long time when we struggled to make ends meet financially. I've been single, and I've been married. And of course there was a time, although I sometimes have difficulty remembering those years, when I was a struggling teen and college student.
I Am Woman! I Am Invincible! I Am Tired!
I saw a bumper sticker that said: "I am Woman. I am invincible. I am tired." Girlfriend, doesn't that say it all? Where do we women get the idea that we have to be perfect and do everything with the gusto and grace of Wonder Woman? There's no harm in giving everything you do the best you have to offer, but when your expectations are too high and your head hurts or your hair feels as though it could fall out, you need to consider wishing the Wonder Woman in you goodbye.
The key to this strategy is threefold. One, let go of the notion that you can do it all. When you can't accomplish everything on your list, that doesn't mean you're inadequate. Two, be willing to ask for help when you need it. Three, be willing to make changes when your system fails. If you can do these three things, you have begun to say goodbye to Wonder Woman!
I remember thinking that I would be the kind of woman who could easily balance motherhood, career, and outside interests, as well as have a perfect marriage. I did a pretty good job until our second daughter, our lovely Kenna, came along. Then my system failed and became out of balance. Kenna was one of the sweetest babies ever created. She was, however, an ear infection infant, and ran high fevers often. Dosed with antibiotics, she was sick a great deal of the time. Day care was out of the question; I wouldn't dream of having someone else care for my sick child. But Richard and I were running out of answers.
Wishing Wonder Woman Goodbye!
Finally, a solution came to me one stressed-out morning. As I finally quieted down, I realized that I was trying to maintain an image that was now totally out of control, and that was bigger than I had energy for or that I ever imagined it would be. It was as if a light bulb went on; it became obvious that it was time to wish Wonder Woman goodbye -- and that's exactly what I did!
I began to think it was time for my first career change; I was going to go from graphic designer to home manager. Although it wasn't the best of times financially, we decided that our family would be better served if I took a leave of absence from my business. I knew that this was probably going to close a chapter in my personal history, and it wasn't going to be easy, as change rarely is. However, I decided that I needed to prioritize my family's needs (and sanity) over my own need to hold on to the "Wonder Woman" who thought she could handle running a business during nap times. It was just too much!
After the initial adjustment, I figured out that taking care of our two daughters full-time was a lot of fun, even if it meant less money -- and it was so much more gratifying without the frustration of having a work schedule to attend to.
Is Your Stress Necessary?
Stress is a very real phenomenon, but consider how much of it you create for yourself. If your husband's income alone is not enough to adequately provide for your family, then your only choice may be to go to work. On the other hand, if your husband's income is ample, yet you choose to work, and you're constantly stressed-out and made miserable by your job -- well, in my book, that's a different story.
It might sound as if I'm making the case that all mothers should stay home with their children instead of working. I'm not. All I'm saying is that all of us need to take a look at our lives as circumstances change, and reflect on our priorities. As big events occur -- bringing babies home from the hospital, having ill parents, or tending a sick child, for instance -- we can't just expect our lives to go on as usual. We need to evaluate whether or not our current lifestyle best serves us, and if not, to navigate our way in a new direction by making small shifts and adjustments. Being stressed-out to the max virtually all the time is not giving your family the best you have to offer, because there's no way the material things you provide will replace your sanity, and that of your family.
If, on the other hand, you can create some flexibility in your work schedule when needed, and you have excellent help, and all the family members are thriving, good for you -- you've found a balance that works.
We Can't Do It All!
Keep in mind that Wonder Woman thinks she can do everything and be all things to everyone, all at once! She never says, "No, but thanks for asking," when asked to volunteer her time. She can't set limits, and she continues to add more and more to her calendar without letting go of anything. She darts here and there, leaving a frenetic trail of busyness. She adds one more committee to her list, or one more pet. She never says no to a lunch date or social request -- unless, of course, she's already booked. She always takes in houseguests. Does she have a family? Well, if not, you can bet she plans on squeezing one into her schedule! Whatever her reasons, she does too much and eventually she caves in from exhaustion!
If this sounds familiar, it's time to reevaluate your "Wonder Woman" image and self-imposed expectations. Whether you're a stay-at-home, full-time mom or corporate executive; single, married with children, or otherwise; you need to ask yourself some basic questions. Would you enjoy your children more and have more to offer them emotionally if you took an occasional break? Are you spending too much time away from them in the name of good works? Is your home-based business totally taking over your life? How much of you does the company you work for really own, and how much are you willing to give up to continue to climb the corporate ladder?
The point is, if you're stressed, working too hard, and completely out of steam, consider what things you have control over and make some changes. Most important, realize that you don't have to be perfect -- and that Wonder Woman is merely a figment of someone else's imagination.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hyperion, New York. ©2001.
Don't Sweat The Small Stuff for Women: Simple and Practical Ways to Do What Matters Most and Find Time for You
by Kristine Carlson.
Examining the stresses and burdens that women are often confronted with--whether in the boardroom or the office bullpen, in relationships, or among friends--New York Times bestselling author Kris Carlson gives you proven strategies for balancing yourself within a chaotic world and finding ways do what you like best.
About The Author
Kristine Carlson is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller Don't Sweat the Small Stuff in Love. She has been a guest on numerous national radio and television shows. She has run several successful business, and has a passion for meditation and yoga. She was married to bestselling author Richard Carlson for over 15 years. (Richard died suddenly in December 2006.) She is the author of Don't Sweat The Small Stuff for Women. Visit her at www.dontsweat.com and https://kristinecarlson.com/