It was 9pm on a Friday and Sheena Philipps, Sales Manager at Promote Technologies, was still on a virtual call with a prospective client and a team member. The call should have ended by 8.00pm but was running over. She had been trying to overlook the disappointment on her teenage daughter’s face. She had made a promise to spend Friday night binge watching movies with popcorn and ice-cream.
While she was putting her best efforts to grow in her career, and be a strength for her family, she felt guilty and did not want to earn the tagline of a working mom who did not have time for her two children and husband. She had also been struggling to keep herself sane amidst the multiple demands of dealing with work, two teenagers, housework, and her husband, while going through her own personal and emotional battles. It was like having to master 5 monsters at the same time. She could not help but feel guilty about something or the other every moment.
Sheena is not alone while experiencing these dilemmas and doubts.
According to a Wall Street Journal article, women tend to feel 30% – 40% more guilty and distressed than men when they must take work-related calls or e-mails outside of working hours. Almost every woman professional who is surrounded by choices is also masked by hidden fears, doubts and regrets.
These complex emotions evolve over time and take the form of guilt.
Guilt is a powerful, toxic emotion that comes from the inability to do something or change something that you wish had not happened.
Despite being in the year 2022, women are still fighting with the conventional expectations others have of them. At 19, they are considering their career choices, while, at 30, they are dealing with the pressure to have a family.
Surging towards their dreams requires women to make constant choices.
This article is aimed with a sincere intent to help women professionals from leaning out of their career path. When we say career, it is not just formal employment, but it is about nurturing your capability and passion to grow and contribute.
Evergreen Role Conflict Trap
It is important for us to understand the source of the guilt. For this, understanding the concepts of “Role Competition” and “Role Conflict” are crucial.
Role Competition is the feeling we have when we know a choice must be made amongst many roles (or tasks), but it is difficult to determine which role to select. In other words, these roles compete for our attention, and we end up multitasking.
Role Conflict is a situation where we choose one role at the expense of another, leading to frustration, anxiety or guilt and stress. This also gives us the feeling of neglecting other roles.
Executive Coach, Sripriyaa Venkataraman shares her experiences from coaching women leaders who have effectively handled role hijacking from competing or conflicting life roles – “I have often seen women leaders and managers whom I coach experience role competition and role conflict. What I have observed as a differentiator for them to escape this guilt trap, is their clarity in setting expectations – 1. For themselves 2. On their ecosystem. I have also seen leaders blend roles as a solution. Role blending cannot be done between two high-priority roles but can certainly be useful when combining one medium priority life role with a high priority role. For example, one of the leaders I recently coached considered her health as a high priority role and socializing with friends as a medium priority. She combined her health role with socializing and planned two online fitness workouts every week with friends.
The “Feel Good” Factor
Most working mothers feel they are good mothers only when they feel guilty. They express their care and concern by believing that they must do everything on their own rather than seeking help or delegating and therefore setting unrealistic expectations for themselves.
One of the women managers we interviewed said, “Multitasking is a devil which leads us to believe that we are doing our best on all fronts. But what we forget is, quality. At the end of the day, we end up still feeling guilty”.
Negate the “SHOULD” within you. Instead of saying ‘I should do this’, say ‘I could do this’. Many errands that you compel yourself to perform could be outsourced based on priority. Replace the “should” with a “could” by adding an alternative option.
Therefore, the key is to have mental clarity on priorities and learning to differentiate quality from quantity.
Reframe Your Fears
You are at war with your emotions when you constantly think about your child while you are at work and vice-versa. Make peace with your emotions if you want to succeed. A negative emotion hampers your productivity, and your aspiration becomes a load.
Work-life balance is over-rated. Senior leaders who have juggled their way up, reveal that you can never really achieve a balance. Sometimes family takes precedence; at others, work does. But you cannot evaluate that balance every minute, every hour or every day. You need to set practical timelines. For instance, over a period of 3 months or 6 months, you could reassess your priorities. It would help you arrive at a conclusion. Are you available for your family when they need you the most? Are you able to meet your short-term professional goals? Is it steering you towards your main purpose? Your choices will earn your family’s respect. Over time, they are going to be proud of your journey.
According to an article in Forbes, guilt is an emotion of social exchange. It needs two parties to exist – one party who feels guilty and another who agrees with it. In this case, society is the second party. Guilt also plays a regulatory role. Society, Government and Employers benefit from the guilt professional women harbour, as it drives them to work harder and strive more instead of asking for help.
Celebrate Your Small Victories
Whether it is a promotion at work or a game your child won after hours of practice, celebrate the event. You are a winner- it might be as a mother, a wife, or as the new employee of the quarter in your organization. Cultivate gratitude for the opportunities you have and celebrate the small wins.
Dr. Margie Warrell says, “Many people are overly tough on themselves; focusing far more on where they’ve fallen short of the person they aspire to be, rather than celebrating how often they actually are.”
Talk To The People Who Matter
Guilt comes out of self-criticism. The more you think about it, the stronger it gets. You need to weaken it by talking to people who have travelled the same road. Having a healthy network of go-to people – friends, family, spiritual or professional mentors truly helps you achieve balance.
Revealing your fears and emotions that are bothering you also unwinds them from your conscious mind and helps you relax.
Many senior women leaders are ruling the hierarchy after beating the odds and breaking glass ceilings. Their journeys might not have been easy, but they are surely proud of it and so are their families. Had they allowed guilt to overwhelm them, they would not be rejoicing in their victories.
Some of the highlighted psychological measures can help you escape the tricky trap. In the end, it is all about your personal commitment to lead a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.