It’s really common to feel alone. The pandemic has fuelled this even further. We all relate to the saying “we’re all in the same storm, but in very different boats”.
The feeling that everyone is struggling has become normal.
This is unfortunate because it leads to the feeling we should be able to “get on with things” even when life feels more difficult. Maybe you feel afraid to “bother” someone else with your struggle, when the person you are “bothering” is in their own storm too?
As mums many of us have experienced feeling like this before. When someone asks “how are you” and you answer “I’m fine” when the honest answer is that you’re not?
Is this the approach you take in your career too? Answer this question more honestly….
What are we afraid of when it comes to career growth?
Does sharing we are struggling make us weak?
Are we scared we’ll be perceived as not coping at work, if we share that we don’t know how to navigate the next step in our working world? Could others perceive we’re not juggling family and work life successfully enough?
I had a coaching call with a highly intelligent, extremely compassionate and successful woman last week.
This woman is under a lot of pressure at work, as are all of her team. She has spoken to “the powers that be” about her teams stress levels and the impact to their wellbeing. Also she is putting as much as she can in place to alleviate things for them.
I asked “what about you”?
It materialised, she’d been doing the “well it’s busy of course, but I’m fine” approach. She wasn’t “fine” at all. Admitting she wasn’t fine would feel like she was failing: letting people down and giving the impression she can’t cope. She did recognise that if, in three months she breaks down, she’ll be asked, “why didn’t you say something”?
Of course, our conversation was much bigger than this and I truly hope the work we did together has helped her gain a new perspective and understand that honesty is important.
Who’s supporting you and your career growth?
McKinsey found, 18 months after the start of the pandemic, women on average felt more burnt out than men.
Given that the stats show women picked up more of the home-school slack and continued to bare more (on average) of the ‘mental load’ at home, this isn’t a surprise.
McKinsey also found that women are doing more to rise to the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) challenges and contributing to wellbeing agendas in the workplace, more than ever before. (click here for the full McKinsey article)
They are taking on more work at home and in the office. With this comes a higher risk of burnout. Which in turn may mean many women will remove themselves from leadership opportunities in the future.
This is hardly helping to change the status quo and reduce the gender pay gap.
This got me thinking about how us women work.
It’s clear what we do is nothing short of fantastic.
But are we engaging with others to support us?
If we have the “I’m here to support people and look after their wellbeing, but not my own” approach, that is fast-track to total burnout and exhaustion. It’s evident that fear of failure and perception from others that we aren’t coping, traps many of us into staying stuck in this inefficient work mentality.
If you’re reading this and thinking “Rebecca is literally talking about me” – what may help you?
Allies. Get lots of them to support your career growth.
In different shapes and sizes.
Allies add more value to your career and life in general than you can ever imagine.
Allies may help you
- talk things through
- bring new perspective
- encourage you
- introduce you to new people or areas
- advocate for you into areas you may otherwise not have access…
Through all of these connections, your confidence will be boosted, you’ll gain new evidence to show you CAN do things you thought you couldn’t.
You may even realise you’re only human and it is ok to be honest, vulnerable and successful – all at once. Nobody is good at everything and there is no such thing as “Superwoman”.
Where can you find allies?
Whilst I strongly believe employers hold responsibility for taking care of their employees, we also need to take some initiative and responsibility ourselves. If we are to grow in our careers, it’s down to us to seek out our own allies. They can help us develop in a range of ways. So who might they be?
Here’s some examples:
Sponsors will help you build credibility. They can use their position of privilege to sponsor your cause or goal.
They can help position you where you want to be and support your career growth.
So, if you’re striving for the next step but finding it hard to access the right people or places, you probably need a sponsor.
The feeling of going it alone and all the self-doubt that can creep in can quickly push you down. Having a sponsor to elevate you and talk things over with and who can help position you, can work wonders.
>>WHERE TO GET ONE?
Maybe you can find someone more senior in your workplace to mentor you who can act as a sponsor? Think also about people outside of your workplace, who do you know that is successful in the area you are striving to reach who can be your sponsor elsewhere?
Amplifiers are able to “shout” for you in a crowded space, where you may not ordinarily be heard. They will help you have a voice. So if you’re struggling to get your message to the right people, who may be an amplifier for you?
>> WHERE TO GET ONE:
The Find Your Flex team can definitely help you find employers who are open to conversations around all modes of flexible employment opportunities.
Maybe you feel like every time you apply to a job you are just another faceless applicant in a crowded market. Who do you know – or could get to know – that works there already? They can be your amplifier!
Advocates are able to use their power, influence, status or seniority to bring you into their circle.
This can be helpful in a multitude of circumstance. Whether that’s the next career step, or simply needing someone to tell you the pressure you are putting yourself under is too much.
Rather than feeling like you are demonstrating your inability to cope (highly unlikely to be true by the way!), who can help advocate for you and your team?
Using a more senior or experienced voice may be the key to being heard and finding better ways of working.
>> WHERE TO GET THIS?
To find your advocate you must be honest and even a little vulnerable. Find that person who already has a “seat at the table” that you want to be sitting at. Share with them what you are trying to achieve so they can be your voice in their already existing circle of trust and influence.
Scholars are ready to listen and learn about things that impact your ability to reach your goals and can help to act or influence change. Are you working on what feels like an impossible task because one thing in your organization persistently gets in the way? Who could that scholar be that is ready to listen and understand and help remove that?
>>WHERE TO GET THIS:
This will really depend on your struggle. For example, maybe everyone else is physically present in a meeting at 4pm that you simply cannot be in due to childcare commitments. This may impact your ability to reach a certain goal as you never hear the important stuff first hand. Who may be willing to hear and learn from this and influence change? Maybe you feel there is a diversity & Inclusion issue that stops you reaching your goals due to unconscious bias. Will increasing your network and raising awareness help?
A confidant will create a safe space to express your fears, frustrations and needs – and help you navigate through them. This is that person you can be truly honest and vulnerable with. I put myself in this category as a career coach. In the example I shared above with my client, I was acting as her confidant. Nobody in her organization will ever hear that conversation, but they will, hopefully, see the results. The results will enable her to approach things in a slightly different way but gain a positive impact for her and her team.
A connector is willing and able to share useful connections to help you towards your goals.
We all know them. That person who always says “oh, I should put you in touch with X! You two would really get along / they could really help you with that / they know all about that”. These people are great for so many reasons – especially when you’re struggling, can’t see the next steps and don’t have the right connections.
SO TAKE ACTION!
You are not an island.
Nobody wins when you hit burnout or stay struggling in a job that is no longer right for you.
So let me leave you with this:
- What is your struggle?
- What is the one (or two & THREE!) thing that feels hardest right now?
- What would you like it to look like instead?
With that in mind, what type of ally (or allies) could help you with that?
Who are they and what needs to happen for you to start that conversation? Think outside the box –allies could be peers, mentors, previous colleagues, mentors, coaches…
Engaging and building ally-ships can take some time – which you may say you don’t have. However, one thing I can guarantee is, by shifting your mind-set this way and taking time to do so, you’ll always find new ways to do things you never thought were possible. There are no prizes for doing everything alone.
So – who will you connect with today?