Fourteen years of coaching professional women have taught me some of the most prevalent patterns of imbalance and the interventions that can restore a sense of well-being and sanity.
I don’t mean to sound facile about these solutions. The details are always unique to the individual and difficult for her to see from within the experience. Moving forward generally happens very slowly. I don’t believe in a happily-ever-after kind of unconscious happiness, but I passionately believe that some kinds of suffering can be alleviated.
Here are two patterns of imbalance — experienced as unhappiness — I’ve witnessed with my clients, my friends, and myself, and the course corrections that can make a difference.
1. Feeling out of control, overwhelmed, powerless. The solution for this generally involves:
· naming it as such, and thereby differentiating it from the feelings of despair, failure, and self-loathing that often accompany it
· taking back control, increment by increment, wherever possible, by renegotiating agreements, selectively jettisoning obligations, re-prioritizing, and whatever else it takes
As a result, the individual regains firmer ground and some level of control in her life, and feels back in her own power again.
2. Feeling drained, exhausted, depleted, even sick.
· Here too, the place to start is with awareness: name it for what it is, and separate it out from the sense of shame, emptiness, and failure that people often feel as a result of no longer having enthusiasm or passion FOR ANYTHING. The no-enthusiasm-for-anything syndrome often shows up in people who are very drained and exhausted.
· Generally what’s also called for is serious rest, recovery, and replenishment which often means cutting back somewhere in order to make room for this.
In my experience, once people GET that this is what’s going on, that it’s not about personal failure but rather about personal depletion, the reframe is very empowering and they quickly figure out what to do. They often need support thinking through the pragmatics of it and then implementing it. Cutting back is particularly difficult for women with a habitual pattern of pleasing others.
As the depletion and exhaustion are replaced with a sense of being nourished and re-charged, at least some of the unhappiness recedes, leaving a generally happier camper. And a more effective one.
Adequate self-care often results in greater effectiveness, across the board. This ripple-out effect often surprises the individual, who may feel “selfish” in administering the self care (often as a last resort). But it does make sense. Who’s likely to be the more effective manager, parent, or creative problem-solver: the person who’s exhausted, frazzled, and running on empty or the one whose batteries are charged and whose focus is unambivalent?
If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your work or your kids.