Lead Like a Woman: The Power of Letting Go
Last Thursday I had a big to-do list. I left the office and went immediately to a work-related event, from there I picked up my kids (two kids in two different locations, just for a bit of added complexity) and drove us to a family event. I was hungry. They were hungry. We had leftovers in the fridge, but we wouldn’t be home to eat them until 9:15.
So I caved, and we went to Dick’s Drive-In.
This International Women’s Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about perfection. I’m a woman who wants to be perfect. When I cook, I want to cook from scratch, with only the freshest ingredients. As a working mother of a baseball player who's angling to get drafted to play D1 ball, I spend half my evenings in the car traveling to and from games, and the other half working late trying to manage the ever-growing inbox. A home-cooked meal with the entire family at the dinner table is the dream; Dick’s Drive-In scarfed in the car is the reality.
Wonder Woman Versus Roseanne
For high-achieving women, earning a seat at the table has meant trying to excel at everything, all the time. This is a damaging pressure, and it’s impossible.
I want to share one thing this International Women's Day, and it's this: You can save a lot of your sanity by looking at a situation, figuring out what matters the most, and letting go of everything else.
When I ordered drive-through for my kids, I tried to let go of the fact that we weren't having a home-cooked meal at home. If the goal was to get food in stomachs (which it was), then I succeeded. It may have been a Dick’s Deluxe hamburger, but it was food. Nobody starved to death that night.
Learning to make those trade-offs is hard. It goes against what we’ve been told about success. But it’s so, so important. Here are three principles that have helped me become okay with letting go:
1. No multitasking
Have you ever been watching a movie and looking up the director on IMDB, then realized you have no idea what happened in the last scene and you can’t remember the director’s other movies even though you just looked them up? That’s because multitasking doesn’t work.
A Stanford study found that multitasking is less productive than just doing one thing at a time. It also found that people who claimed they were good at multitasking were actually worse at it than people who claimed to be bad multitaskers.
The same principles apply to your life. Who’s going to benefit if you write that email to your boss from the sideline of your kid’s basketball game? Not you, not your kid, and not your boss, who’ll get an email written by a person who’s only half paying attention.
2. Know that social media is personal PR
When you see an Instagram post of your friend’s beautifully remodeled kitchen, full of light and hip little decorations, there’s a lot you’re not seeing. Like the six weeks of sawdust and chaos it took to get that beautifully remodeled kitchen. And the fight she and her husband had over how much it cost. And the tantrum her kid threw in it this morning.
Social media is personal PR. It shows the picture-perfect version of a person’s life, not the sad moments, tired moments, or the good-enough moments. Many studies have shown that spending lots of time on Facebook correlates with a diminished sense of well-being, at least partially due to our habit of comparing our lives to the lives of our friends.
Stop. Remember that we’re all struggling to balance our to-do lists and our personal lives. It’s not a competition, no matter how much our brains want to turn it into one.
3. A rising tide lifts all boats
We’re taught to measure ourselves against other women. New research on female competition verifies what any woman who suffered through middle school already knows: Women are more sensitive to social and emotional cues than men, we’re competitive as hell with other women, and that’s a bad combination.
There’s no female equivalent of the old boys’ club, but we could start to build one by curbing our tendency to compete with each other. An environment of empathy, encouragement, and assistance among working women benefits everyone and hurts no one. So when your coworker is running late to a meeting, and her laptop is in the middle of a Windows update so she can’t log into the Skype meeting, and she has toilet paper stuck to her heel, stop and help her out. One day she may do the same for you.
Accepting the Trade Offs
This is a turn that has to happen internally. And the way you make these trade-offs gets re-calibrated as your children grow up, your relationship matures, and your parents age. What's important right now might not be in five years.
And there's no need to apologize for this. Be proud of what you've accomplished, not worried or sorry about what you haven't. Sometimes success means making sure everybody is fed and alive, and waiting until tomorrow to deal with those 100 emails in your inbox.
Back in the car, my kids and I were having a delicious and nutritious meal of Dick’s Drive-In, talking about school and baseball and life. Maybe it wasn't the sitcom ideal of a quality family dinner, but it was a family dinner. And for me, that was good enough.