Growing up I was a straight A student. My family valued my independence and I leaned into their praise. It became part of my identity. I learned how to rely on myself. It was taboo to ask for help. It was a sign of weakness.
I know I’m not alone. Without getting into the larger debate about the status of our education system, I think it is fair to say that our education system rewards those who work on their own and disciplines those who collaborate. Just think about the years of school assignments and tests. What percentage did you have to complete on your own and what percentage were you allowed to work with a partner or in a group? In many cases, collaboration is considered “cheating”.
I understand why our education system is set up this way. How else would you evaluate individual accomplishment or give grades? How would the schools themselves be rated?
However, is the structure of school reflective of the structure of the world outside of school? Is this really the way we work and are “graded” later in life?
I think that the answer, in many cases, is no. Maybe we still have to study on our own in order to complete certification courses. But I think we will find, in many cases, that those who are the most successful are those who are the most collaborative. The people who work well in teams and know how to bring different people together to work toward a common goal are those who ultimately achieve the most.
My independence and inability to ask for help has been the single biggest hurdle of my career and of my relationships. I have had more than one manager look at me and say, “Kim, why didn’t you ask for help?” I have had more than one friend or boyfriend look at me and say, “Kim, I didn’t know you were so overwhelmed. I would have helped, but I didn’t know you needed it.”
Super Woman Complex
For us, as women, there is this pressure to be “Super Mom”. To remember everything, to make everything look perfect, to do it all and have it all, and without help. We become our own worst enemy, inviting overwhelm and stress into our lives, because we want to prove we can do it on our own.
I don’t think men have this same challenge in the same way. It is understood that once a man becomes a high-ranking executive, he will hire an assistant because he can’t do it all on his own. It becomes a status symbol to need help in this way.
How many times have I heard a woman say, “I need a wife”? Women are doing more than ever, with hands-on parenting in the home, rising higher in our careers with increasing work demands, pressure to be healthy and make time for exercise, and the barrage of information we receive through the news, social media, email, and tv.
These are my observations. Here are my solutions:
Ask for help.
If you are feeling overwhelm, tell someone. Decide what you need and ask for it. Do you just need a few hours at the house alone? What would it mean for your spouse to take the kids for a few hours and give you some quiet time? What would it mean for you to go to your boss and say, “I have x, y, and z projects right now. I need some help prioritizing. Which is most important? I can’t do all 3 at once. Could we bring in help?”
Women who get things done are most likely to get asked to do more. We are also most likely to say yes when we want to say no because “we don’t want to let someone down”. For myself, I will do anything for a compliment. My love language is Words of Affirmation. When someone tells me, “Kim, you’re so good at this. Can you help out?” my automatic inclination is to say h*ll yes! Of course. However, I have learned to be more discretionary with my yes’s. Asking more questions about the parameters and expected time commitments. I have learned to say, “Thank you so much for thinking of me. I am truly flattered, but I am unable to assist at this time”.
When I look at my calendar and see more activities and to-do items than I see time in which to complete them, I ask myself “Which is the highest priority?” and “If I only completed one or two of these items today, which would I feel best about?” Not everything needs to be done today. Focused procrastination is an important skill. Don’t put off the important or time-sensitive. Purposefully delay that which is less consequential. This is one of the strategies discussed in the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, which might be worth reading if this is a skill you would like to develop further.
I have learned the 4-4-4 technique. 4 breaths of a duration of 4 seconds breathing in, 4 second hold, 4 seconds breathing out, and a 4 second hold. Through the breath you can create calm in your body. Yoga, stretching, and massages can also be great for creating calm in the body. After a massage, I am so relaxed nothing can create stress in me. I also subscribe to the meditation app, Headspace, so that I am meditating each night before bed to improve my sleep. You could also try going to YouTube and look for free guided meditations. Listen to calming music. Find the ways that you can physically use your body to help quiet your mind. Breathing is the simplest and quickest.
Block time for yourself on your calendar.
In a world that is constantly demanding more, we have to proactively create time for ourselves. I put a 2-Hour “At Home Spa Day” event on my Google Calendar that is set to repeat every two weeks. Two hours every two weeks I will do a charcoal face mask and change my nails and sit with my feet in an electric foot massager. Using all the beauty products and lotions that I’ve bought but never remember to use, I deliberately make time for me.
Even Wonder Woman was part of a team. If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, you aren’t alone, and you don’t have to do it alone.