Career Talk For Women: New Year, New Voice

Each month, my business column will offer insight into a career topic specific to women in the workplace. The name of this monthly feature is, Career Talk For Women.

This feature is geared toward any woman who actively strives for higher levels of professional fulfillment, and the men who care about them. It’s no secret that the world needs more women who are shamelessly confident in their ability to serve as role models and change agents. Our region is no exception. This month, I will focus upon the tone of the internal conversations we have with ourselves in the midst of life’s professional and personal challenges.

Recently, I was talking with some women I had just met during my child’s holiday classroom party. Like them, I was there to volunteer as a parent helper and in the midst of preparing for our craft activity, we began to engage in typical first-time, “nice to meet you” dialogue. When we got past our initial introductions, the topic of our careers came up. As we were telling each other about our jobs outside of the home, an interesting question came up. One of the mothers I just met simply asked the rest of us, “So do you think it is really possible to have it all as a working mother?” At the surface, this was such a simple question. As I contemplated it over the next several days, I realized just how complicated the answer really is.

As women in today’s society, you and I have the freedom to make choices about how we live our lives. For example, we can choose to work outside of the home or be a stay-at-home mother. We can choose to live the single life or marry our life partner. However, if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us are perpetually unhappy. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, American women are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression than men. Why are so many of us unhappy?

After contemplating this very question for several days, and reflecting upon my own internal conversations as well as those with female clients I’ve coached or female colleagues I’ve worked with over the years, I am going to suggest an answer. Despite our differing family situations, the stresses of life that we as women experience related to work and home responsibilities are different than men. From a very young age, we are raised to act in a way that makes others happy – often at the sake of our own happiness. We are given princess tiaras to dress up in and are read fairy tales laden with messages reinforcing superficial beauty in the hopes of attracting our perfect prince charming so we can live happily ever after. We are groomed to expect that we can have and do it all. We are constantly told what we “should” or “shouldn’t” say, do or think. As adults, when we stumble and can’t juggle the management of our careers and home life very well – and always look amazingly put together at the same time – we beat ourselves up for not being able to achieve everything we “should.”

What “shoulds” do you live by? Regardless of what’s on your personal “should” and “should not” list, do you realize what such lists are doing to you on the inside? Of course, these lists typically manifest themselves through moments of self-correction or punishment in the form of thoughts going through our minds when we have failed to do something perfectly. Our unrealistic expectations for perfection and our attempts to have it all are perpetuated by the harsh voice in our own heads. Listen to your old voice that has been stuck on replay, and find a new one for 2014. Practice replacing “I should” with “I want.” Stop doing what you don’t want to, but think you should and accept yourself and your unique capabilities.

You see, everyone wins when you take that step to find your new voice and practice embracing what brings you true joy. As a woman in the pursuit of eternal happiness through perfection, everyone loses. We lose the gift of embracing new perspectives that come from our own mistakes, those we’re closest to lose out on carefree interactions with us, and our children lose hope for experiencing contentment and fulfillment in their own lives.

Happy New Year. Happy New You.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly15 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at ecipolla@jlnick.com or visit JL Nick and Associates website at www.jlnick.com.