The 3 common mistakes career women should avoid BEFORE having a family.
On the blog this month we’re answering the question “What are my chances of happily having it all when the time comes to have a baby?”
Firstly, If you’re a little put off by the phrase ‘having it all’ don’t be! Back it the 80’s and 90’s era of second wave feminism, ‘having it all’ came to mean successfully combining a top-flight career with raising a horde of children in superwoman fashion, like the archetypal 80’s ‘career mum’, Nicola Horlick. Time moves on though and attitudes change. We don’t expect women to achieve or even aspire to a superhuman lifestyle these days – and we understand that this model is unsustainable for most of us. But the phrase ‘having it all’ is every bit as relevant today as it was then, albeit with a shift in emphasis.
‘Having it all’ is now about identifying what makes you happy and fulfilled, and making it work – for you. There’s no gold standard you have to reach – it’s about defining your own values and priorities for living a meaningful life. No-one can tell you what ‘having it all’ means for you. It’s up to you decide what you want, on your terms. If you want a successful career and a family – brilliant! Welcome to the club! Forget Nicola Horlick though – you just have to be true to yourself and do it your way. Even so, no-one is pretending it’s going to be a walk in the park. You absolutely don’t need to be Superwoman, but being Resilient Well-Prepared Woman would be beneficial (though it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it?!!). The good news is that resilience and preparedness can be learned and practised, and that’s what Babyproofing is all about.
So now we know what we’re talking about – let’s revisit our initial question. What ARE your chances of happily ‘having it all’ (in a very human rather than superhuman way) when the time comes to have a family?
It’s a question I pondered frequently when I was working in the city, before I had kids, but knowing that I wanted them some day. When I looked at my lifestyle, the hours I worked; the late nights and frequent weekends – when I looked in vain for convincing role models who were successfully balancing challenging careers and family life, the answer was unequivocal: “There is no way this is going to work”. It’s how we all felt – all us female lawyers at that critical stage in our careers when we were making decisions about whether to go for leadership roles or not. We agonised over whether we stood a better chance of success if we waited to have kids until after we’d made it (and then risked being punished by our biological clocks) or if we had kids earlier (and then risked damaging our career prospects). This dilemma is one of the hardest things about being a career woman who knows she wants a family in the future – have a look at last week’s blog post on this very topic.
But If only I’d known then what I know now. It wasn’t just biology and circumstance conspiring against me and my very capable colleagues. We were unknowingly self-sabotaging, making mistakes which would severely hamper our chances of happily having it all when the time came. And these are the same mistakes I see clients and other talented career women making every day. So heed my advice – take action now, prepare yourself and don’t be one of them. Avoid these 3 common mistakes:
- Thinking you’re powerless. When you work in a competitive environment with demanding clients and bosses and long hours that consume what feels like every ounce of your soul, energy and time, it’s easy to feel you have no control over your life and therefore little hope of making it work when you have kids. But this kind of negative thinking is a mistake. It prevents you from taking positive steps to babyproof your career by preparing for the challenges ahead, and stops you from drawing on your inner power and resources to find solutions to problems. Negative thinking is probably the biggest obstacle to successfully ‘having it all’. Instead, be ambitious, set yourself goals and challenge your cautious or negative preconceptions. Take control of what you CAN change instead of focusing on what you can’t. (I offer some tips for harnessing positive self-belief here.)
- Relying on hope and good luck. How can you feel powerless and hopeful at the same time? Well, strangely, I did. While I felt I had no control over how things would work out when I had kids, I also clung desperately to the hope that it would all somehow just fall into place. That I’d get lucky, and stumble on the secret to making it work without any effort at all, (even if the evidence of others around me suggested otherwise), or that by the time I had children, the challenging workplace environment would have magically changed for the better. Are you making this common mistake? Thinking things will all fortuitously work themselves out when the time comes? When I’m working with a client and discover this is their thinking, I am quick to remind them of the marathon metaphor that I use to describe working parenthood. If you were planning to run a marathon, would you show up on the day of the race without any planning, preparation or support? Would hope and good luck be enough to get you through those arduous 26.2 miles? Exactly. You’d never do it because you know that hope and luck (while helpful on the day) just don’t come together as a strategy when you are doing something that is as challenging as it is rewarding. Don’t make this mistake.
- Avoiding the issue. When you’re faced with a question to which you don’t know the answer, what better way to tackle it than take the ostrich approach – to bury your head in the sand and avoid the issue altogether? Much less stressful! Are you making this mistake? Based on the conversations I have on this subject, my guess is that you might be one of the majority of women who are. So first, know that you’re not alone. Second, know that it’s completely understandable. After all, you’re so busy coping with what’s going on in your life now, how can you find the time or energy to tackle the incredibly challenging question of what’s going to happen in your life in the future? Remember, I’ve been there! But it’s a false economy to postpone dealing with a major issue because more urgent but less important problems are demanding your attention now. The day will come when balancing your career and family will be both pressingly urgent AND important, and if you’ve avoided addressing the issue up until that point, then when, how, and where will you find the strategy, the stamina and the staying power you will need to succeed? It might even be too late.
So, instead of unwittingly sabotaging your future by making these mistakes, sit down, and calmly ask yourself 3 questions:
1. Do I want a family in the future, and do I want to keep my career on track when I do?
2. What is my plan for making career and family work so I can happily have it all?
3. Am I doing everything I can now, before I have kids, to increase my chances of having a fulfilling career and rewarding family life later?
If you don’t have a plan or any idea of how to answer these questions and prepare as yet, don’t panic! There is plenty of support and guidance available for you here. A good place to start is the Babyproof Your Career online course which combines resources, coaching, exercises and group and tutor support to help you prepare for making a success of working motherhood in the future. The course launches next month, so pre-register your interest here.
Do you know someone you know who would also benefit from this message? If so, please share!
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at email@example.com