I am often asked why women get stuck at career crossroads. There is a myriad of reasons why women get stuck, including gender stereotypes, gender inequality and discrimination. But there are also reasons deep within us that can be driving women get stuck. So if you have ever felt like you are stuck or at the crossroads of your career, then I’d like you to reflect on some things.
- Are you heading to work after a holiday break and your heart is not filled with joy?
- Is your head a bit fuzzy with the career possibilities in front of you …? or the lack of career possibilities?
- Are you struggling to set your career goals or objectives?
- Are you worried that you have no idea what your passion or purpose is?
YOU ARE NOT THE LONE RANGER!
I have worked with literally hundreds of women who have careers that are stuck or who feel like they are at some kind of cross-road. Some of those women have been courageous enough to share those doubts that have plagued them. Here are some of the things that I have learned about why women get stuck, or how they are stuck:
- I don’t really know what makes me happy
- I do not stop to give myself credit for the things I have accomplished in my life
- I don’t have enough ‘me time’
- I don’t sleep enough
- I really don’t look forward to going to work
- I don’t like talking about myself
- I don’t know what my purpose is
- I feel stuck, how do I get unstuck
- I never have enough time
- I am restless, I want to do something different, but I don’t know what
- I don’t know who I am anymore
- I am at a turning point and I need guidance
- I want to take care of me now
- I want to be in control
- I’m busy doing nothing
Women share these insights with me because I ask them (often) to stop, breathe and reflect.
WHAT IF WOMEN PUT THEMSELVES FIRST?
What stops us from putting ourself first? I get frustrated because I have heard from women for YEARS that they are putting themselves last, over and over again. There are many theories about why women put themselves last including, social conditioning and gendered stereotypes around the 3 C’s (cooking, cleaning and caring!)
We know that attitudes about women’s work versus men’s work mean that women often prioritise themselves last, at the expense of their physical, emotional and career well-being.
So I wonder what would happen if women chose to prioritise themselves, their wellbeing, their happiness and their career? Do you know the airline safety message? The flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. This is an important metaphor for those of you who run around taking care of everything and everyone else except yourself.
Your priorities are exactly that. Yours. But setting your priorities means taking the time to examine what is important to you and why. It is also the first step to stop women from getting stuck, or to get unstuck!
BUY YOURSELF SOME TIME
When women work with me, they are buying time. Time for themselves to reflect and learn, about themselves. I am a firm believer that the power of reflective exercises cannot be underestimated. Reflection doesn’t mean navel-gazing or simply wandering back through your personal history. It means taking time off the hamster wheel of busyness (oh that B word!) to examine what makes you tick and why. I mean, when was the last time you simply sat and daydreamed?
Reflection gives your brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, to untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform your future mindsets and actions.
If you don’t know what got you here, how will you know where your “there” is?
I get it. I am all about #GSD, but to know thyself is a gift. You might think you know yourself. You might think you know who you are. But look closely, do you really?
Why do you behave as you do? How do you make decisions? How do you feel about yourself? Why? How do you feel about the people in your life? Why?
Ralph Ellison said, “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” Self-Awareness is the foundation for emotional intelligence (EQ) self-leadership and is a skill.
However, let’s get you into action mode with some practical steps to start your reflective practice and journey to freedom.
- Mindfulness Meditation: develop your observer’s muscles
Mindfulness meditation is not about clearing your mind of all thoughts. It is about practising an activity that focusses your attention on one thing, often your own breath, for a period of time. It helps to develop your ability to observe self. I use iPhone apps for guided meditations such as Calm, Headspace and Smiling Mind. All of these are either free or have free trials.
- Self-Questioning: How to answer ‘is this it?’ and other vexing questions.
- Your Strengths: Know Them, Use Them
Knowing your strengths and preferences is a key reflective exercise. It is also a practical way to get some insight into what you might want to consider doing more of or less of. I highly recommend the Gallup Strengths Finder. USD$20 will get you your top 5 strengths, and insight report and action plan. Plus an e-book on all of the 34 strengths.
- Discover Your Values: honour them every day
I know that the times when I have been most unhappy, restless or unfulfilled is when I am out of sync with my personal values. Your values highlight what you stand for. When you are aware of them and honour your values in your life, relationships and work, you are more likely to experience fulfilment and less likely to escape into bad habits.
This article was originally published by Advancing Women, and authored by Michelle Redfern
About Michelle Redfern
Michelle is the founder of Advancing Women, an enterprise providing research and advisory services on equality, inclusion and gender diversity. She is also the founder of women’s network Women Who Get It, co-founder of social enterprise CDW (Culturally Diverse Workforce) and Co-Host of A Career that Soars! Michelle is determined to contribute to achieving global gender equality in her life time, especially through her research and advocacy about the leadership gender gap in the sporting industry.
Michelle is an experienced Non-executive director and is currently Chair of Speckle Financial Health and a member of the Wayfinder Steering Committee. She was previously a board director for Williamstown Football Club, Good Shepherd Microfinance, Gippsland Football Netball League and Business Without Borders. She is an Ambassador for Honour a Woman, Respect Victoria and Flexible Working Day. She has held executive leadership roles ASX & FTSE listed companies NAB, Telstra and Serco during her 30-year career.
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