I recently wrote an article that was triggered in part by two threads in one of the online clubs I belong to.
Entitled How to avoid burn out it was a response to the conversations, and also born out of my own experiences in being Superwoman balancing the everyday work that pays the bills, the domestic and family responsibilities that come along with being a (solo) mum and the pursuit of a better place in the future ie happiness and success, perhaps best encapsulated by the dream of paying off a mortgage or finally arriving at the sunlit upper pastures of the four hour week.
The threads were written by two women, both of whom had been working excessively hard the last year or more to try bring their dreams to fruition, and both had recently achieved a level of success. However – and it’s a big however – in both cases the successes were less than what they had been hoping for and working towards, they were very tired, and inevitably they both hit a wall.
While I don’t want to get tangled up in a feminist discussion, I do think that there are distinct differences between men and women when it comes to entrepreneurialship, as well as in other areas. I haven’t analysed it in any great depth, so this is just my general view, but it does seem to have something to do with women not liking to ask for help, and wanting to be seen to be better or more competent than anyone else, and something to do with trying to be best in class in every area, whether that is he best mum, the best cook, the best dressed, and now, the best business women or entrepreneur. And this is particularly damaging in my view because few women seem to take the plunge until later in life when they are frequently trailing family responsibilities in a particularly hands on and domestic way that already means they are stretched thinly. And might just really want to be at home and see staring their own home business as a way to do that.
Because I have also noticed the disquietening rise ‘mumpreneur on a shoestring’ syndrome kicking in over recent years, and as many of you will be aware, I have written fairly extensively in Funky Angel and other places on how to keep work life balance, how to set up a business realistically, how to keep it going etc etc. While it is entirely possible to set up and start a business of a budget, it does bother me a little that some peeps seem to think that they can set up a thriving business on tuppence happenny and some goodwill, because although it is much much easier than ever before to set up a business, especially from home, equally it does take money and it does take effort and it does take time.
The broad problem is, I think, not so much a female problem but more a social one – the belief that all you need to succeed is determination and if you don’t then you are somehow lazy or inadequate, and just wanting ‘to be’ is somehow morally corrupt. I am sure it has its roots in our Puritanical period and the Protestant work ethic, but it really is a load of rubbish and extremely damaging for most people. All these stories of people making millions and achieving their dreams with a few pounds and a lot of hard work just aren’t realistic for most people and almost always lead to a deal of unhappiness and exhaustion and failed business that could have added so much to the economy.
There is nothing tougher, in my view, that working alone to achieve a dream, and I know this is a controversial statement, but doing it solo, especially with myriad responsibilities, is almost always doomed to fail, or perhaps ‘not succeed as well as it could’ would be better judgement. And this is not because of any lack of talent or industry or brilliant ideas on the part of the entrepreneur. No, not at all, as a business coach I am constantly amazed and humbled by the sheer quality and quantity of brilliant ideas, fabulous ability and breath-taking determination – this nation is still a nation of innovators and own business owners! No, the key points in achieving lasting success is to be realistic about how much you can accomplish in a day comfortably given your constitution and other responsibilities, that you can build yourself a team and recognise you are a human being who probably likes gardening or making cakes or reading and that time must be allocated for these things as well in order to achieve balance.
Try to do it all alone you and you will have to learn the hard way exactly what constitutes life/work balance and how it works in practice ie push yourself too hard and too obsessively and you will crash and burn – and it could take ages for you to recover and if there is no one else but you who is servicing your clients, running your marketing campaign and dealing with the admin? And if the answer to that is an “er…” then where does that leave your business?
People are not machines. People thrive on variety else they get stale and bored – they need routinue yes, but variety within that structure. People can handle change so long as they are ready for it. People get stuck when they don’t have other people to bounce off and interact with. Doing the same thing over and over again in the hope that this time it will work and will make you happy is sure recipe for failure.
Later last week I was talking to a client of mine, Jo Geraghty, who is very busy running two businesses – Beyond the Ladder Coaching and London Sightseeing Runs. Her approach to it is very different to the two entrepreneurs mentioned above – she has support and assistance, and her second business compliments her first in so much as it is a very active and relaxed whereas her main one is quite static, and so she can balance the smart, work based intense side of her life with something completely different. Another of our Agency client’s, The PR Network, is run by two business women and PR professionals with young children and they are extremely disciplined about days they work and very good at outsourcing all the bits of their business that they don’t want to or can’t do, and so have built themselves a truly hollow company in the process –and a highly respected and successful one to boot.
My work life is currently extremely busy but totally unstressful and very rewarding because I have excellent support and I am very organised and I understand when I need regular breaks and self care in order to keep on functioning at a high level. Two or three days a week I travel to London to work inhouse with Cision UK with my trusty netbook (AKA ‘home office on the move’) helping me cut down on the impact of commuting in lost hours and saving my shoulder from dying from a laptop’s weight! The rest of the time I work from home – business as usual. I am in touch with The Funky Agency Team via Skype, email, mobile social media, at regular intervals, and the domestic side of things either face to face if I am home (there’s a novelty!) or via text, mobile and social media, so when I have down time with friends, family and the children I can concentrate on BEING with them because technology in all its glory has made it so much easier to juggle the various demands and to do so gracefully.
The upshot is that I can therefore concentrate on being happy, putting myself first, enjoying my work and my closest best beloveds, and feeling balanced rather than desperately chasing my tail and trying to be Superwoman.
Superwoman? Pah, I’d rather just be happy…