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Why You Need To Drop The Superwoman Cape

Eleanor Beaton

This article originally appeared in Atlantic Business Magazine — Atlantic Canada’s Premeire Business Publication

Stephanie is a thirty-something woman on the brink.

She has a young child, a growing business and back pain that. Just. Won’t. Quit.

Her doctor has told her that back surgery is just around the corner. Her physiotherapist has advised her to exercise four times a week. As if.

“I would love to exercise everyday, but where would I find the time?” she asks sadly.

Other things Stephanie can’t find time for: fun, adventure, coffee with friends, regular date nights with her husband, opening mail in a timely fashion,  the occasional massage, a solid financial plan. In short, Stephanie doesn’t have time to take care of the one thing that matters most in her life: herself.

As you may have guessed, there are a lot of Stephanies out there. Chances are high that if you are reading this, you are some version of Stephanie, or you know a Stephanie: an ambitious, hard-working woman who wants professional success and a happy family life.

And because her priorities are clear (work and family), and because there are only 24 hours in a day, Stephanie has been on a steady, insidious and completely unconscious mission to starve herself of her very foundation: physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

As a women’s leadership coach, I talk to women frequently who are experiencing some version of Stephanie’s conundrum. On the one hand, they feel they have everything: a family, a home, a great job or business. On the other hand, years of not looking after themselves has caused them to feel stressed out, unhealthy, overweight, tired, undernourished, lonely and…wait for it…boring.

With the greatest love, empathy and compassion, I am going to share something else that is utterly boring: The Superwoman Complex. You know, that tired old story about the female linchpin who is holding it all together, using her body and soul as a human shield against the Very Bad Things that present nebulous yet imminent threats to her career, business and family. Yep, that story. Pretty boring, huh?

As I listened to Stephanie discuss her central challenge – that she is unhealthy and can’t change it because doing so will negatively impact her family and business – a coaching expression came to mind: story fondling.  We “story fondle” when we are so attached to our version of “the way things are” that we become totally resistant to change.

You don’t have to know Stephanie personally to see – in a heartbeat – that she absolutely has time to take 30 minutes to herself each and every day to nourish her health. Heck, she could even go hog wild every so often and take an hour. But for lovely, talented, caring, smart Stephanie, her attachment to her version of “the way things are” is so strong that imagining a daily 30 minute walk is an impossibility.  Emails might not get answered! Career-ending crises will take place! In this land of crazy, back surgery feels so much more doable.

A brilliant friend and facilitator Sharon LeBlanc from the Perfomance Synergy Group recently shared a compelling analogy.

Imagine you are juggling five balls, and each ball represents health, family, friendships, career, creativity. All the balls except the work ball are made of glass. The work ball is made of rubber. Drop the work ball and it bounces right back. Drop anything else, and it smashes.

I love that analogy because it simply feels true. The sad part? For many ambitious women, the work ball is the priority. That never gets dropped, no matter what. As for the other balls? Well, mind the shards.

I’m not advocating that you start dropping your work commitments in pursuit of your true, free, self. (Unless that feels right.)  Women’s economic empowerment and our resulting influence in the world of work has given us a wonderful opportunity to create a new paradigm of feminine leadership.

I’m talking about a world of work where real, human women work hard, contribute their best to their careers and families, and underwrite those contributions with a solid, consistent investment in themselves.

So many women put off nurturing themselves for a someday that – let’s face it – may or may not come.

So with that, ladies, let’s lay down our Superwoman capes once and for all. They’re heavy, unattractive and flap too much in the wind.