I Don’t Know How She Does It – Part 3

It’s part three of the five part series we’re running on the blog, sovaldi and this week Christine talks about the guilt we experience as working parents and how our professional life can enhance every other aspect of our lives.

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Women in Business: Getting to Grips with the Guilt Trip by Christine Brown-Quinn

How can you possibly have a career and a personal life and not feel guilty that someone is getting short changed?  Is it a no win situation which just can’t be resolved?  Sorry for the cliche, but it’s actually a win-win situation.

First, let’s take a look at your personal life. You have a lot of commitments, right? But isn’t this what makes you feel connected to this earth?  Commitments are a good thing – you may have a commitment to a sports team, a local school, a charity or a family matter. These commitments take you away from work, both mentally and physically. (Again, this is also a good thing which I’ll come back to later). Your instinct is that your priorities are in the right place, but you still feel guilty leaving clients or colleagues with unfinished business.

Now let’s take a look at your professional life.  You are no doubt enjoying the challenge and collaboration of working with other adults.  Knowing you, I bet you’re really throwing yourself into the new job, the new role, or project.  But I hear you. You’re telling me that despite this job satisfaction you still do experience that tinge (or on a bad day, that pang) of guilt that you should be home having a glass of wine with your partner or reading that bedtime story with your kids.

Well, if it’s any consolation we’ve all been there. The point is you’re not alone and it’s not personal – it’s part of the human predicament.  It’s  part of what defines us and you’ve got to stop beating yourself up about it. It’s not your fault, so there’s absolutely no reason why you should feel guilty!

Kate Redding, the working mom played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the film I don’t know how she does it, demonstrates beautifully that so much of the guilt we experience is self-imposed. We set unrealistic expectations of what we can achieve – whether that be at home or at work.  Kate seems to feel guilty about everything and as a result she seems almost scatter-brained and unfocused in almost every situation. Her guilt seems to be driving her to be uber human.  (She really stoops low when she dresses up a store-bought cake as homemade for the school bake sale. She doesn’t want her kids to feel like she’s contributing less than the other mothers. Oh, please!).  In a way we set ourselves up for feeling a sense of failure, a sense of guilt, because we can’t meet a pie in the sky expectation.

Ok, so although you buy into my logic, you’re still not over it.

Here’s the real key to getting to grips with the guilt trip. What you have to realize is that it’s because of your personal life (rather than in spite of!) that you’re a better professional, a better business person. People like to deal with other people. The unique approach, values and integrity you bring to the work environment are your greatest contributions. Your uniqueness comes from your personal life, your upbringing and your personal experiences.  Also having a personal life pulls you away from work – it saves you from burn-out (I saw plenty of this in my corporate life!).  It allows you to break away and recharge your battery, which of course makes you more productive in the long run. Ever notice how much easier something feels once you’ve had that mental break?

Fine, I get all that, but I still feel guilty about not spending enough time with my partner.  I feel guilty about leaving the kids. Did you ever think about how your professional life makes you an interesting person – how it broadens your perspective? Have you ever thought about how your professional life enables you to support your partner’s career (you realize just how tough it is out there in the real world!)  So many skills and qualities that you apply in your personal life have actually been developed in your work life.  You’ve got it – your professional life makes you a better person – you as a partner, daughter, friend or mother. You can help your relatives and close friends get out of those tricky situations because you solve problems at work all day long!

Bottom line?  Although you want perfection, just focusing on that one thing doesn’t get you there either.  Once you accept that you can’t possibly be everywhere and do everything, and also accept that it’s the varied dimensions in your life that might it worth living, you’re well on the road to recovery.  No more guilt.  Time to enjoy life’s variety!

This blog is part 3 of a 5-part series: I don’t know how she does it. For other blogs connected to this series, click here.

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