I’d like to introduce you to my mother so that I can properly explain why I want to help other women.
Mum was a formidable lady with piercing blue eyes and untamed curly brown hair. She was a determined and intelligent dynamo who whirled through our lives making sure her four children and her husband had what they needed. I was fortunate to be her last child. As well as giving me love, security and education, she strongly encouraged me to be my own person.
Mum had to resign from her career when she married dad.
This wasn’t because dad made her resign, or because it was socially unacceptable for women to work once married (which it was). She had to resign because in the early 1950’s (and up until the 1960’s) there were laws and policies barring married women working in some occupations. Some women even tried to keep their marriages secret to keep their jobs.
Despite this, mum managed to have a career running the operation of my parents’ business. But juggling the demands of the business with her growing brood of children became a struggle. She was torn between raising her children herself and the responsibilities of the business. At that time, my parents could have afforded to hire a nanny, but mum felt she’d be a failure as a mother if she handed over the care of her children to someone else – even if it was only part-time. So, my parents gave up the business, and mum became a full-time mother.
Does her story sound familiar? Perhaps you have your own version of the same dilemma? It’s a tough decision to have to make if you’re faced with it.
How do you make the right decision for everybody – yourself included?
Mum made what she felt was the right decision for her children. It changed her life, and not necessarily for the better. The economic impact on our family finances was severe. The true impact on her of giving up her career is a secret she’s taken to the grave. I have vivid memories of her enjoyment when she finally re-entered the workforce later in her life. I’ve often wondered if she’d have been happier and more fulfilled if she’d made a different choice, and juggled career and motherhood.
I’ve been luckier than mum. I’ve had more options and more rights in my life than she had.
As a result, I can now look back on my own long and fortunate career with gratitude. The future for women in the western world holds greater potential now than at any time in my life – perhaps at any time in history.
We have a window of opportunity to realise lasting change for the status of women. Who knows how long the window will stay open?
However, with this opportunity comes added pressure on women to be ‘successful’. Each role women fulfil seems to come with different, and often conflicting, expectations of what success looks like. Instead of being energised by the opportunity before them, I see many women tiring under the weight of these expectations.
Let’s face it, we all have obligations that restrict our choice. The bills don’t pay themselves, relationships take time and effort, and children need parenting. We all want to succeed at what we do, whether it’s by choice or necessity.
How do we decide what success is?
Who makes up this stuff about what success looks like?
Is it someone living in a parallel universe where their life is a replica of yours? Of course it isn’t. So how can anyone else tell you what success is meant to look like for you?
Are you facing a situation where you’ve got to choose between your obligations and your own needs? Do you know what the right decision is for you? How does a woman deal with the dilemmas she’s facing and make the right decision for everybody – especially for herself?
Unless we take care of ourselves we won’t be table to take care of others.
Try the following exercise
Grab a blank piece of paper and a pen and find a quiet spot. Keeping in mind your own needs, ask yourself this question:
What’s important to me, right now in my life?
Go with what’s in your heart, and let you pen write until it’s finished writing.
When you’re done, read what you’ve written and decide one action you can take right now. Keep it small; all progress is made by taking one step at a time.
Then take that step.
If you feel it’ll help you, share your action step with someone who’ll support you to take it.
Jacqui Alder is a respected HR executive, writer, and mentor to women.
I write these articles for you and value your feedback. If you’d like to hear about a topic, have tried one of the exercises, or used any resources please let me know your thoughts. You can contact me by posting a comment below, send me a message via the Facebook page, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.