Written by Jane Goldner Tuesday, March 20 2012
Pull up a chair and maybe bring a glass of wine. I am going to tell you a story of a woman who was in her thirties. She was married, had two young sons, was employed and in her doctoral program. One week, her housekeeper quit. She told her husband, “No problem. I can take over, and we can save some money.” Weeks later, she started having chest pains. She chalked up the tightness in her chest to stress. Each day, she woke up with chest pains that did not go away that week. Finally on Friday, her husband convinced her to go to the doctor.
After an examination and an EKG, the doctor said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but you have had a heart attack.” At once, her emotional brain caused her to burst into tears. Her rational brain echoed, “I told you so.” She went home and crawled into bed, where she spent the whole weekend wondering, how did she let herself get into this situation? How does a person get so overextended that she compromises her heart? I know this story to be true because that young woman was me.
Several decades later and smarter, I wanted to use my experience as a wife, mother and professional, among other roles, as well as my counseling and human resource development advanced degrees to help other women come to terms with the ‘everything to everybody syndrome.’ It is a difficult set of behaviors to change but change you can. With reflection and focused effort, you can learn to integrate your multiple roles without sacrificing yourself. In this Womenetics series, I will share what I have learned over the years, what I have learned from interviewing other successful senior level women and will be incorporating into my new book, “Women Driven to Success: Integrating Multiple Roles and Defining Leadership Success for Yourself.”
Where do you think it all started… our ‘everything to everybody’ behaviors? Well, blame Rosie the Riveter. The year was 1941. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and suddenly America was in World War II, deploying 13 million men overseas. Millions of jobs were vacant, but America needed more guns and goods. Uncle Sam created a campaign urging women to support the war by working. Half Hollywood glitz, half rugged and rough, Rosie the Riveter became the face of this campaign. She became a star, albeit a fictitious one, known for her motto, “We Can Do It!” And six million women did.
Rosie the Riveter affirmed to Uncle Sam that women, though great mothers and wives, were also savvy hard workers. As the war ended, however, men came back to work, and women were reminded that diapers and dishes were their destiny – not an engaging and lucrative career. Rosie wasn’t real, just a lure for women to become temporary workers until the “real workers” came back.
But then came the 1960s. Women fought gender and sexual discrimination – and made headway. Women pursued higher education in the 1970s and 80s. By 1977, 50 percent of all undergraduates were women. They jumped into the banking industry, holding 39 percent of all financial and management positions by the early 80s. In the 90s, more women held visible positions: the first female U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright; a Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor; and Dianne Feinstein and Barbra Boxer became the first female senators. From banking to politics, women did it – like Rosie said they would.
By 2007, women were half the workforce, though still earning less than men. But there is hope. The gap is narrowing. A woman’s potential today is limitless; she has a rolodex of role models to emulate – Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Meg Whitman — although not enough at the senior levels. Ambitious American women are doing diapers, dishes and million dollar deals – all in a day’s work. Yet freedom invites new challenges: How can a woman safeguard her sanity juggling a family and career?
Unlike her ancestors, we, “Rosies” of today, have a say in our future. We can choose a career, a family, neither or a mix of both. We direct our destiny, our fate, our future – and therein is the dilemma of our ‘everything to everybody’ behavior.
Yes, as Rosie says, “We can do it,” but by knowing who we are, what we want and making smart choices. One of those smart choices is not to be superwoman.
Come back for our next discussion to find out why.
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Jane S. Goldner, Ph.D. is a speaker, author, role integration coach and consultant. She brings 30 years of internal and external corporate experience as well as advanced degrees in counseling and human resource development to coach and counsel high-potential and women leaders. Jane’s first book, “Driven to Success: A 10-Point Checkup for Achieving High Performance in Business,” is a guide for business leaders to get everyone focused on achieving corporate objectives. Her upcoming book, "Women Driven to Success: Overcoming the Everything to Everybody Syndrome", provides women the understanding of how to integrate multiple roles without sacrificing their health, success, or peace of mind. Goldner is offering a Women Driven to Success Public Workshop on May 1-2, 2102.