“Your career…acts like the call of a siren, luring your sailboat to crash on the rocks“.
These were the words that I heard whilst listening to a seminar delivered by Kathleen Byars of Corporate Women Unleashed yesterday and are words which keep playing in my mind.
I cannot stop thinking of how true and how dangerous this can be….
I like to think that I am pretty alive to this issue and in the office, I know others are watching to see if I can “have it all” or at least some balance and freedom to see my children and work on my own terms.
And yet, on the back of a difficult couple of weeks and another late night last night, I wonder just how immune I am….
Is it not true that I was short tempered and grumpy with the girls this morning because I didn’t have enough sleep last night? Unable to bear the noise of L’s constant singing, turning H out of my room because I just needed some peace….Is it not true, that I am forever promising Dan that I am leaving the office only to still be at my desk an hour later….repeating the false promise two or even three times before returning home to find Dan already in bed. Is it not true that two weeks ago I missed out on personal appointments and personal opportunities because the demands of the job meant that I simply had to return every email and every call within 10 minutes? And how many times, have I started a better diet and an exercise regime, for it only to last for my one calm week before the swell of new transactions?
Sometimes, it feels inescapable – like there is no other way. This is just the job; it’s part and parcel of life as a banking lawyer. But other times, I find myself seduced by the work; by the thrill of intellectual stimulation, the sense of achievement. By the need to prove myself, to prove I’m good at something. By the need to be the one who gets things done.
And guiltily, I am sometimes seduced by the opportunity to escape the chaos and the mess that life at home with three growing girls, a crazy dog and probably too many things in the diary can bring. For me, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be there but just sometimes, when I am sat on the drive, summonsing that new and different energy to be Mummy (real Mummy, not frazzled worn out Mummy) can feel like a Herculean effort. So just sometimes, I hide behind my desk, too short of fuel to show up as the Mummy I know I am and too ashamed to be any Mummy less.
And as I write this I am horrified at how long and how far, I have allowed my little boat to drift. I thought my anchor was well and firmly down, tethered by the pull of home, my bright, beautiful girls and my calm, strong husband. Yet, I find I have not been vigilant enough and the call of my career has secretly pulled me too close to the rocks….
And what about you? How long has it been? How many times have you not been the parent/partner/friend you wanted to be? How many hours have you lost with your partner? How many times have you fuelled yourself with food you know to be bad for you, just because you don’t have the time or energy to do anything else? How many times have you broken your resolution to take better care of yourself?
But if we carry on doing this, we will be wrecked – emotionally and physically, not to mention lost and lonely in our relationships. And what too of our joy, our sense of purpose?
That seminar yesterday, is my little lighthouse, beaming warning words brightly on the dangerous territory into which I have been sailing. And if you are with me, I hope by sharing them, they are a lifeline for you too.
They are a reminder that it’s up to us to steer our own course. For me, this means:
- Remembering my own priorities – not someone else’s. This means remembering that the “just wait whilst I send this email”, the “just another twenty minutes”, the “just one more late night”, all add up to hours, days, weeks and those are hours, days and weeks of neglecting the things I hold most dear and are not without consequences.
- Remembering who is watching – I will find a different way in this corporate world, to show up and to do the job with grace and with ease
- Being brave – brave enough to say no; brave enough to call out inappropriate behaviour and unacceptable demands. Not to be bound by fears about what this might mean for my own path and my own career but caring more about the way forward and about the conversations for change. Recognising too that this courage is part of my value and part of my legacy and being intentional about how I create that.
- Practicing what I preach – self-care is not a luxury, it is a necessity. I am my own biggest asset and my firm’s assets are its people. I, my family and my place of work need me to take care of myself.
- Protecting my own boundaries – it’s not work that keeps me tied to my desk or getting stuff done – it’s the choices and the commitments I make. I need to be mindful that I do have a choice and I am the master of my ship!
And this is my invitation to you today. Check your course – are you on track or have you drifted? Be honest about where you are and ask what you can do today and over the coming weeks to keep you pointing in the right direction and aligned to those things that matter most.
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