“9 out of 10 women studied are experiencing at least one of the 12 crises working women face today, and over half don’t know what to do about it. On average, working women are experiencing three crises at the same time.”
These 12 emotionally-devastating crises stand in the way of happiness, are not the same for women as for men. If “happiness” is an experience of living well, liking yourself and what you’re doing, feeling excitement, joy and fulfillment during many of the days of your life, and feeling “in the flow,” the truth is this: the 12 hidden crises are preventing women from achieving happiness, and it won’t get better unless women take strong and focused action.
As one who works with women all day every day, and as a woman, mother, and high-level professional myself, I have very solid views on what women think and experience in terms of happiness.
Women’s definition of happiness and their challenges in achieving happiness, are very different from men’s.
Here are some key differences between men and women’s experience of happiness:
1) Work-Life Balance – The Number One Crisis for Women, not for Men
Women need to experience a sense of balance between their professional and personal identities to feel happy. Because so many women work both inside the home and outside of it, these two colliding roles (and yes, they crash together powerfully in women more so then men) – and doing them well with a feeling of empowerment — are vitally important to women’s sense of success and happiness.
In Marcus Buckingham’s stimulating column on the Huffington Post about Women’s Happiness, he talks about women believing that there’s no such thing as balance anymore. He writes that, according to the women he interviewed, “They didn’t talk about balance much at all. They seemed to realize that not only was a perfect equilibrium nigh on impossible to achieve, but also that even if they did manage to achieve it, it wouldn’t necessarily fulfill them anyway–when you are balanced, you are stationary, holding your breath, trying not to let any sudden twitch or jerk pull you too far one way or the other. You are at a standstill. Balance is the wrong life goal. ”
I, and the women I speak with, see it very differently. Women are struggling and deeply longing for balance, in ways men can’t relate to. Why? Because women are still shouldering the majority of domestic responsibility, including child and elder care, while holding down jobs. They are handling much more of the work inside the home, and they are connected viscerally and emotionally to their success (and perfectionism) as caregiver in different ways than men are.
Women feel more angst and guilt about what they are doing or not doing. Women are chronic “overfunctioners” – and men are not. They beat themselves up for what they are not doing well enough, and for focusing on themselves and their careers rather than their family life. Why is this? I believe it’s about cultural training, expectations, role modeling, and a bit about hardwiring when it comes to women’s emotions, brain functioning, values, needs, and instincts around caring for their children.
Balance for women doesn’t mean inertia – it means knowing what you love, doing it, and not eating yourself alive with guilt about what you are aren’t accomplishing when you’re focus on one thing (work), not the other (family) and vice versa.
Lack of balance is the most severe crisis of the 12 hidden crises women are facing. The balance women striving for is not “a pie in the sky” dream – it’s an essential component of a happy life – a sense of empowered equilibrium in which women are standing strong and stable on equal footing, giving priority to what they care about and love, without falling apart in the process. If women have given up on that, then they’ll fail at being happy.
2) “White Male Competitive Career” Model Is Breaking Women
Further, at the risk of alienating some of my male readers, as a women’s advocate I must state this well-researched phenomenon – women’s inability to achieve balance is made more challenging by the existing “white male competitive career model” in place today in corporate America.
Basically, the model has been constructed with underlying assumptions that successful professionals must adhere to the following rules: 1) follow a linear career path (no off-ramping and on-ramping), 2) focus on “full time” and “face time”, 3) commit most intensively to their career development in their 30s and 40s (when many women are having babies), and 4) feel motivated best and most by power and money.
These are generalizations, yes, but overall, there is strong evidence that the male competitive career model in American today is a complete misfit and damaging for women, and it needs to be shifted to embrace and honor women’s needs and values (click here for suggested employer initiatives that will address this ill-fitted model for women).
What can women do to address these crises, and experience more happiness?
This is not a quick fix – it’s a breakthrough process that takes time, energy, and commitment, but it works. When women take the following actions, they experience more happiness and fulfillment in their lives and work:
1) Grow stronger in identifying what really matters to you, uniquely and specifically
2) Tune out what others tell you (men and women) about how to live your life – be your own expert on your happiness. Trust yourself.
3) Honor your values and needs from an empowered stance at work and at home – step up and take charge of yourself. Stop making excuses.
4) Evaluate your family situation realistically. Ask for (demand, if necessary) a more fair distribution of the domestic responsibility.
5) Stop overfunctioning and let go of perfectionism – focus hard on want you care about deeply, and let go of perfectionism in what you don’t care as much about.
6) Speak up and take action to bring about shifts at home and at your place of work and in the existing career model, so that they embrace and honor your needs and values
7) Identify what your “ideal” life looks and feels like. Get empowered outside help to create a success action plan, with concrete goals and outcomes, to achieve your life visions.
Say Yes! to your happiness. You can do it!
There are 11 more crises women face today that men do not experience in the same way as women. Crises for women are characterized by “I can’t do this” thinking – a negative mantra that keeps them sad, sick and stuck. While men experience some of these same crises, women internalize and process them differently, and each of these crises prevents women’s happiness.
Here is a sampling of the 12 hidden crises of women today:
- Suffering from chronic health problems
Failing health—a chronic illness or ailment—that won’t respond to treatment
The mantra: “I can’t resolve my health problems.”
- Losing your “voice”
Contending with a crippling inability to speak up—unable to be an advocate for yourself or others, for fear of criticism, rejection, or punishment
The mantra: “I can’t speak up without being punished.”
- Facing abuse or mistreatment
Being treated badly, even intolerably, at work—and choosing to stay
The mantra: “I can’t stop this cycle of mistreatment.”
- Feeling trapped by financial fears
Remaining in a negative situation solely because of money
The mantra: “I can’t get out of this financial trap.”
- Wasting your real talents
Realizing your work no longer fits and desperately wanting to use your natural talents and abilities
The mantra: “I can’t use my real talents.”
- Doing work you hate
Longing to reconnect with the “real you”—and do work you love
The mantra: “I can’t do work that I love.”
Be Your Own Happiness Expert – Take My Breakthrough Challenge!
Please take my challenge this month – Ask yourself, then 10 women and 10 men you know the following questions:
1) How do you define “happiness?”
2) Are you experiencing happiness, by and large?
3) If not, what gets in the way?
4) If you are experiencing happiness on a regular basis, how do you achieve it?
Compare the answers between men and women, and let me know what you learn.
Key questions for the week – What do YOU think are the differences between men’s and women’s views and experiences of happiness? How are men and women different in achieving happiness as they define it, and what does that difference mean to you? Finally, how can women achieve more happiness in their lives?
Please share your views!! A diverse, open, and supportive dialogue is the first step to breakthrough.