Achieving big dreams, especially as a woman, requires great sacrifice

136

When I imagined being a top executive with a six-figure salary, PTA mom and owner of a spacious home and new car, I did not imagine it would be messy, emotional or lonely.

But now I know that when a woman dreams big, achieving that dream comes at a great price. Being Super Mom and Prized Professional, being known and appreciated and admired, requires intense personal sacrifice.

It might mean you’re exhausted all the time or working in the middle of the night with a sleeping child splayed across your lap. It might mean you gain weight, serve frozen pizza for dinner and have no time for sex. It means you likely keep a pair of shoes and a clean suit in your car and change in the Walmart parking lot after dumping food on yourself on the way to one of your many obligations.

Being successful as a woman means giving up one thing to have another, a choice most men never have to make.

We imagine the perfect female is fit, packs nutritious lunches, exercises every morning, wears great clothes and has no gray hair. She attends every work event, PTA meeting and class presentation for all her kids. She shows up at school plays and soccer games with a smile and perfect lipstick.

That woman cheers on a husband who does half what she does every day, without resentment. She maintains an enviable social life, bakes cookies and casseroles for the church, meditates in the mornings.

She is an illusion.

We strive for these impossible goals because many of us are first-generation executives, the first in our families to enter a mostly male world where our value is calculated by and based on male approval and expectations for working women. There are few female mentors in powerful positions to model a manageable, human ascent.

I come from women in manufacturing, who toiled on factory floors and juggled jobs to make ends meet. The women in my life never navigated this intellectual world that I aspire to lead, so I am left to figure it out alone. And if I consider conveniences of my new world — like hiring a nanny or buying decorations for a baby shower rather than making them myself — it feels like I’m selling out. Because I learned early that strong women do everything.

To be sure, I have great male mentors. They are generous and kind and encouraging. But they can’t know what it’s like to be me — an ambitious professional who also is an always-working, tired, married mother of three young girls. These amazing men encourage me to go for top positions, listening as I detail the demands of my personal and professional lives, but they have never had to juggle like I do.

Men are not usually expected to be primary caregivers, meal-makers or housekeepers. Few take charge of family health and well-being, and if they put on a few pounds, no one cares or comments.

I believe there is another way for ambitious women. Here’s what I propose.

First, don’t believe the lies other people tell. It’s a mistake to compare myself to other women, particularly on social media. No one shows their behind-the-scenes dumpster fire. Living a big life is messy.

Second, don’t strive for balance because you will never get it. Life is hectic, rushed, messy and mentally and emotionally challenging. Focus on one thing fully, then move to another; don’t try for both at the same time.

Third, many women find their journey interrupted. You oversleep, gain weight, miss a deadline (or several). You question your abilities. Maybe you’re not cut out for this. Self-doubt is inevitable, especially as the stakes grow — more kids, bigger house, higher position. Expect it to be hard. Don’t let the challenges derail you. Silence self-doubt and stay scrappy; accept setbacks. Keep going.

Fourth, quit the shame game. You chose to be a working mom. That means some days you run on three hours of sleep with makeup applied in the rearview mirror while waiting in the Starbucks drive-thru. You’ll yell at your kids, reheat leftovers for dinner, and never go to bed at the same time as your husband.

Don’t feel bad. The path to every dream comes at a cost, and it’s your choice to pay that price, so drop the pity party. Also, kids are fine with frozen foods, and sometimes it’s OK to yell at them.

Stop buying self-help books and asking advice of people who have not been where you’re going. You must create the map and write the book, so the next woman can learn from you.

If you want it bad enough, you’ll make it.

You will help define a new image of a successful woman for children raised by mothers who broke more ceilings than any generation that came before. And that makes it all worthwhile in the end.

Facebook Comments