Ada Calhoun’s book, Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, has gotten a lot of attention in the past few weeks. The book highlights the many pressures Gen X women face, from aging parents to record debt to C-suite expectations, resulting in what is all of our truth: a lack of sleep.
Like the women in Calhoun’s book, I have my fair share of sleepless nights. And as an Asian-American, female CEO in advertising–an industry with a history of gender bias and some very real barriers to the C-suite–the peer group to exchange best practices about the working mom’s life is small. However, I have developed a few strategies to share with younger women in the workforce who want to run a company and raise a family. It just might help them find ways to minimize the stresses inherent to the working mom’s life, and maybe even help them get a little more sleep.
Live by your own North Star
Your North Star is the most important thing to define and use as the guiding force to make decisions. Ask yourself:
- What matters the most on a daily basis?
- What leverage model can you use to juggle your priorities?
- What are your nonnegotiables, and what are your guardrails?
My North Star includes commitments like never missing a school performance or game and never traveling for more than two nights even though that means I take crazy flights. I am physically and literally present where I need to be–whether it’s honor roll assembly or at a client meeting–and I feel good about the decision I’ve made to be there. My North Star has evolved as my kids have gotten older and I’ve taken on more career responsibility, but the core parts of it remain the same.
I spent the early years of my career demonstrating hard work and my ability to meet my commitments so that my professional reputation was built on being able to deliver. And the same goes for showing up for my family when I say I will. As a mother and an executive, my goal is to keep my commitments. There will be exceptions to the rule, but those are rare.
Focus on being accomplished, not having it all
Early on, I learned that being great at work and at home requires managing my priorities and calendar on a daily basis. I am obsessed with my calendar, and prioritization starts every Sunday morning when we review our family calendar against work meetings/trips, my husband’s schedule, and our kids’ priorities. If I have a big new business pitch on the horizon, that’s my priority. If my son or daughter has a music performance, that’s my priority. If I’ve worked late one night, I leave early the next day. By constantly assessing my priorities, I feel like my time and attention are spent where it’s most important, and everyone around me is clear about it. My ambitions, stresses, and priorities are situational, but my North Star guides my choices, so I don’t have to lose sleep over them.
Don’t feel guilty about making yourself a priority
Everyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with sleep. I love sleeping, and I will trade almost anything to get more of it. Getting at least seven hours of sleep (nine is preferred) means I don’t watch very much TV and I decline a lot of events because I have learned that when I am well-rested, I am happier, healthier, and accomplish a lot more during the day. A lot of women make themselves their last priority, which shouldn’t be the case.
Step away from comparisons
Refuse to join the conversation about other women’s personal and professional benchmarks like stay-at-home vs. working mom, VP this or that. Being obsessed with what other women are doing is a death trap that is easily avoidable because you should only compare yourself to your own expectations. Removing yourself from a conversation not worth your energy is a power move toward self-preservation. There’s no need to defend your choices and, of course, don’t judge someone else’s.
It’s very easy to get lost in all the noise. Be secure in your priorities in life and in work, and block out the misconceptions about where each woman should be in her life. By keeping an eye on your own North Star, you’ll find more internal peace, and hopefully, a lot more sleep.
Cathy Butler is the CEO of Organic.