Yesterday, in front of 275 people, I cried asking, “have women been sold a bill of goods?” to the famous Canadian rower, Silken Laumann. If I was going to have a public breakdown, this was likely the best place to do it – in front a room of supportive men and women all there to celebrate International Women’s Day. And while I am all for vulnerability, this was pushing it, even for me.
Silken’s answer was perfect, “women can have it all, but not at the same time…let go of the guilt…your children are going to benefit from having an amazing strong mother who loves her job.” And then she waved and smiled at me when she sat down. I felt pretty cool (well, as cool as you can feel after crying in front of a room packed with people).
Throughout her speech, I felt a range of emotions bubbling up inside me. I connected powerfully with her when she spoke about the frustration and rage she has felt with her children and when she finally asked for help. I was inspired by her tenacity and incredible strong will; hearing her speak brought me back to my six year old self watching her win Olympic bronze, ten weeks after her almost debilitating leg injury. I felt incredible sadness as she shared the end of her first marriage and the surprise and shock it left her with. I was in awe of her dedication to inspiring other young women and her mentorship commitments.
So I guess, when she put the ask out to the audience, “I’d like to hear from any parent who may be struggling,” I felt I needed to share. I felt I needed to share a little piece of my journey into motherhood and how I have put such incredible pressure on myself to perform. To perform as a mother. To perform as a friend. To perform as an employee. To perform as a volunteer. And not only to perform, to perform perfectly. And that right now, with my return to work and maternity leave behind me, I’m wondering if women have been sold a bill of goods about having it all. But, I couldn’t get it out. All I could muster was to ask the final question, have women been sold a bill of goods.
In that moment, and after more reflection yesterday, I realized that perhaps this is and has been much harder than I thought. Perhaps I haven’t actually given myself the space to revel in the absolute hardness of it all. I think I’ve just kept pushing and pushing and pushing. Pushing because I want to be that fabulous, awesome, inspiring mother, employee, friend and community leader that everybody idolizes. Yikes…
I’m not alone in this pressure thing. No siree. I’m pretty sure most women (and men), put an incredible amount of pressure on themselves to have it all figured out, or at least to portray they have it all figured out. We love hiding behind our well-curated lives.
So what can I do about it? No, better, what can we do about it? We can start to explore and deconstruct what Silken shared. It’s not a new phrase, we’ve heard “you can have it all, but just not all at once” before. But perhaps we haven’t actually spent time thinking about it. She also shared, “we overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can do in a year, 5 years, 10…”. This is so profoundly true. And I think this is a good place to start.
I’m going to start putting things into perspective and working everyday to take the long view. This will be a challenge given that my dad’s nickname for me is “I want it now Morgan” and most millennials want instantaneous gratification (myself included). Below are some of my suggested actions for myself, but also for anyone interested in challenging themselves.
- To make a to-do list with one bullet. Whoa. That’s going to be hard (and I’ve already broken this rule today as I sent myself an early morning email with specific action items and timelines).
- I’m not allowed to sweat it if I don’t accomplish that action item. I either shift it to the next day or remove it completely. Maybe it’s not that important.
- Say “no” to things that just don’t work for me right now. Be careful not to limit the long view, but work to be kind to myself in the present moment.
- To stop aiming to perform perfectly. Notice, I didn’t say to stop performing. I’m never going to stop wanting to perform – I am an achievement oriented person who enjoys immense gratification from doing. But what I can do is stop trying to do it all right now and to stop trying to do it perfectly.
- Continue to be vulnerable. I have shared quite a bit about my maternity leave and return to work with folks. I’m going to continue to do so. Perhaps I won’t cry in a room of 275 people, but then again, maybe I will.
So maybe we have been sold a bill of goods, but then again, maybe not. As Silken said, “we can have it all, just not all at once…and you are enough.” Let’s try to take this to heart.