By Susan Ford Collins
I was sitting in the office of one of America’s top CEO’s when his phone rang and a male voice started yelling. I couldn’t help but overhear.
Afterward, the CEO-Dad said to me, “I need to apologize… not for my son who was upset because I told him I would be at his championship game this afternoon but I have a product launch and can’t go. No, I need to apologize for myself. My son had every reason to be angry with me. I let him down, again. ‘I hate you Dad. You never keep your word!’ were painful words to hear but they were well deserved. I have to do better.”
Having raised two daughters as a single mom and encouraged them as they pursued their careers and raised families, I am all too aware that—despite our best efforts—working moms aren’t always able to keep our word with our kids, either. We, too, are getting caught in the ultimate dilemma: Will I succeed at work and fail at home? Or will I succeed at home and fail at work?
History has relied on women for birthing and caring for children, for educating and nurturing their new ideas. When marriages lasted for a lifetime, women worked at home and men provided for the family, but today the game has changed. Women are not only competing in the workplace (successfully I might add) but trying to do everything else—without extended families or “stay-at-home-husbands” to pick up the pieces for dropped clothes and forgotten lunches, mortgages, and credit cards.
It’s not that women want to be taken care of, it’s that we want to be treated equally, and we’re not. We’re under-appreciated, undervalued and underpaid. And, disappointed in ourselves for not being able to achieve the impossible: do it all.
Beginning of the Workplace Squeeze
Historically, most women never wanted to work outside the home; they were busy with kids, meals, gardens, and canning. But world wars pushed us into making airplane parts and packing parachutes and some women stayed on in the workplace. Then the Great Recession started moving their husbands’ jobs overseas to China and India, and women went to work to maintain their family incomes. As the economy recovered, homes got bigger and so did mortgages, and the cost of all the stuff we thought we needed to feel good about ourselves, so more and more women started working 9 to 5.
Then something even more life-changing occurred. Cell phones and the internet made the workplace 24/7, eating up the separation between days, weekends and evenings… time that used to be reserved for families, friends and whew… ourselves. Now even when we make it to our kids’ ballgames, we’re not all there… still getting calls from work and stepping out to handle them… a more subtle but just as powerful rejection for our kids. “Did you see that great play I made, Mom?” “No I’m sorry, honey, I was on the phone.”
What our kids really want most is our undivided attention… every once in a while. And what we all want as women and men is the support we need to give it, and to have a moment of undivided attention for ourselves.
Teens told me they didn’t want to be successful
I did a study of 1,250 middle school students, parents and teachers and asked a whole auditorium of kids how many wanted to be successful. We were all stunned when less than a quarter of them raised their hands! When I asked why, they answered, “If you’re successful, you never have time for family, friends or fun, and your boss is always calling and asking for more.”
After watching us being squeezed, is there any surprise our kids don’t want to do the same thing?
Today, women work by choice and by passion, too. They want to do a great job at work and at home, and they don’t want to have to choose. How can they find balance?
What is success anyway? It’s time to redefine that word
- Success is completion… Yes, it’s the accomplishment part that’s included in the dictionary.
- Success is also deletion, knowing when to say no, when to stop doing what we’re doing, the way we’re doing it.
- Success is creation… inventing new ways of dividing up the functions our society needs to run smoothly and be healthy… not just according to old familiar rules and habits, but according to how women and men are living today… given where we are in history.
None of us can handle the workplace squeeze unassisted. It’s time to look at what we can do to support each and every woman, and man, to nurture and educate our next generation, and care for our previous generation. To produce and compete so we can provide financially, materially and emotionally. And to create and deliver the support systems we need now, and fund the startups by both men and women we will need in the future. Cell phones, the internet, and social media are spawning new business opportunities and providing new services to help us rebalance our lives.
Is there an app for that? Or do we need something more?
Technology can help us do tasks more easily and quickly, providing online services for finding trustworthy childcare, home care or companionship for elderly parents. For decorating our homes by following a billion dollar-plus startup, created by a wife and husband who decorated their new home and share what they learned online. Plus phone apps for finding grocery stores, take outs, and emergency care, as well as directions for quickly getting there from wherever we are.
But even more important, we need to rethink our priorities—to let go of old success measures that make us feel we’re coming up short, when we’re not. Old dreams we had as kids, teens, newlyweds or new employees. When was the last time you sat down to ask yourself whether what you thought would make you happy, is making you happy now… or what would?
As I wrote this, I called and texted many times with my daughter Margaret, a busy neuroradiologist, and she reminded me to tell you something I taught her as she was growing up. Like the highly successful people I shadowed, we each need to Success File each day… setting aside time to acknowledge ourselves for what we’re completing, deleting and creating: the lunches we pack, the foods we choose to eat, the support we give and receive, the old habits we eliminate, the problems we solve, the decisions we make, the new ideas we generate, and ultimately the difference we make wherever we are. Big successes are simply an accumulation of tiny ones.
Today we are in the gap between how it used to be… what success meant then… and how it is now… what success means to you now. This is the Workplace Squeeze. By redefining success for ourselves, our coworkers and families, we can begin experiencing the joy of success we set out to share.
Susan Ford Collins is a sought-after speaker, trainer, and the founder of The Technology of Success. She began her career as a young researcher at the National Institutes of Health with a radical idea: to focus her research on healthy, highly successful people (HSPs) rather than dysfunctional ones. With more than two decades studying HSPs and two additional decades working with them, she now shares what she has learned about leadership and management. Susan and her husband live happily in their tropical Miami home, surrounded by lush gardens, koi ponds and an indoor/outdoor aviary filled with exotic finches.
The Technology of Success book series includes:
- The Joy of Success: 10 Essential Skills for Getting the Success You Want
- Success Has Gears: Using the Right Gear at the Right Time in Business & Life
- Our Children Are Watching: 10 Skills for Leading the Next Generation to Success
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