Superwoman came in for a visit today. I am glad to say she is doing well but the strains of her job are starting to take their toll. Actually, I see a lot of superwomen type characters in the office on any given day. They are remarkable individuals and it is important that their story be told and understood.
Today’s superwoman is the CEO of a small family business. Her business is housed in a 3,000 square foot building, complete with loading dock, staging area, laundry facility, kitchen and dining area, personnel and guest quarters, recreation area, business office and library. Her job entails bookkeeping, shipping and ordering, delivery services, cleaning, and cooking for her clients. She manages a tight budget due to the recent economic downturn so she has to shop carefully, looking for sales and clipping coupons to make ends meet. Due to increased gas prices, she has to schedule her pick-ups and deliveries carefully.
Her clients can be very demanding. They include a 40 year old male, a 3 year old, a 6 year old, a 10 year old and a 12 year old. They expect that their schedules will be meticulously met. After all, the bus won’t wait. They expect their clothes will be washed, folded and stored appropriately. They also expect 3 meals and snacks to be served daily. They expect personal time and attention. After all, they have needs. Most days they are civil; however, with 5 clients, the odds are that 1 or 2 will be cantankerous at any given time. In the evening, after the business of the day is complete and the lights are out, she goes into her on call mode. Should any of her clients get thirsty or have an issue, she is expected to respond. The 40 year old can get feisty at night as well.
Her home business is called “The J’s Home.” Superwoman is a humble character. When asked what kind of job she has, she tells you she works part-time as an architect. Oh yes, she has a part time job!
Her husband worries about her. He thinks she is depressed. He says she is always tired. He can’t understand why. Since a superwoman doesn’t recognize her role as CEO of her home-based business as work, neither does her husband. He complains that, despite the fact they just got back from a family vacation, she is still tired. He wonders if she has a thyroid problem.
Superwoman has executive burnout. She has worked 24/7 for the last 12 years. She has no vacation time, no sick leave, and no workman’s comp time coming. Her family vacation was no vacation. The absence of the kid’s friends, toys and bedrooms meant she had to entertain them 24/7. Rather than managing her 3,000 square foot building, she had to function in 500 square feet of hotel rooms.
If she was the CEO of a Fortune 500 business, her board would send her to an executive retreat, perhaps Canyon Ranch, for 3 weeks. Instead, if she is lucky, she will get a night out a month. Please understand, superwoman does not complain. She says it’s the nature of the job. Yes, she finally admits it is a full time job. That admission is her savior.
The mother described above is not unique. I see many mothers every week with executive burnout. The first step to recovery is to get them to recognize that not even superwoman can work 24/7 forever. Recognizing that they are privileged to have one of the greatest jobs on earth but that it is a job is also important. Getting them to agree to a vacation schedule that doesn’t include their children and, at times, may not include their husband, is tough. It is, however, incredibly important.
In order for superwoman to be healthy and remain a superstar, she must take care of herself. Superwoman has to learn to be a little selfish. I have written about the virtues of selfishness elsewhere but want to reiterate that taking care of yourself provides you with the energy to care for others.
There is one more critical element needed to rescue superwoman from her despair. Superwoman’s husband needs to recognize the magnitude of her job and rescue her from those demanding little clients on a regular basis so that she can rest and care for herself. Despite the fact that he has a full time, outside job, he needs to assume the role of Co-CEO of the home and assume whatever task his partner delegates to him. Of course, that will never happen as long as mothers answer my question, “Do you work? with the answer, “No, I’m a stay at home mom.”