It’s a man's world out there!
Women can spend a lot of time comparing themselves to the life path that men take. But let’s face it, very few women actually have a comparable journey. So why do we continue to compare ourselves to men in this way?
And I have to tell you that while I am reflecting on this, there is a song on repeat in my head “Man I Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain (listen to it now). LOL!
So what am I talking about? Well, let’s start with what the journey looks like for men versus women. The career of men is commonly a linear trajectory - they work in a role, get a promotion, work in that role, get another promotion and so on. The journey of a man looks rather simple, natural and linear. In most cases, the next step is obvious, clear and over time it will happen.
The Path of Men
The journey of a woman tends to be more of a… well… a rather messy and squiggly line. For many reasons, our path has multiple stops and starts, sideways moves, backtracks, start overs and reinventions. Now don’t get me wrong, I want to assure you right now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a squiggly line. Too often we make ourselves feel “bad” about our life and our career, simply because the path we are on looks different. Often the path for women is not pretty to look at. It’s not simple. It’s not a tidy straight line. In most cases, the next step is not clear, and because of this we need to spend time reflecting and defining for ourselves what that next step might be.
The Path of Women
The path for women is messy and squiggly. For this reason, I think it’s time we stopped making ourselves feel bad about it and started to celebrate how squiggly we actually are.
For starters, your journey is unique to you, your experiences won’t look the same as anyone else’s. Your squiggle does not look the same as your sisters or your friends. So celebrate your unique path, and stop comparing yourself to others.
By virtue of comparison, we are creating unnecessary pressure and negative thoughts start to creep in because that’s what comparison does. That’s why we tell our kids not to do it. Instead we encourage them to do their best, to stay true to themselves, so as women we need to start taking our own advice. Stop comparing our journey and the path we’ve taken to those around us - male or female.
There are so many reasons why our path is messy and squiggly, and each of those loops represents another milestone in our lives. For example, consider the interruptions to the journey that having a family can impose. Whether you’re a career woman or not, stopping and starting paid work, or even study, to have children creates moments of change on our path.
Then there are moments where we start something, only to discover that for whatever reason that something isn’t right for us. For example, when I was a teenager/young adult I was adamant that I wanted to be a neuropsychologist, I wanted to work in rehabilitation from brain injury and this is what I studied at university. But life had a different path for me, I simply wasn’t good enough to get into the post graduate studies I needed to pursue this career. And so began the first squiggle in my line.
Another reason our lines are a little messy and squiggly is that women carry a load that can distract them. Men can achieve their career “success” without carrying the same mental load that women do. With the “lean in” movement we have been told that we can take our seat at the table, but in reality that seat isn’t as simple to sit on as a man’s. Men can turn up for a meeting and literally sit at the table and not have anything else on their mind except the agenda being discussed. Women will sit at the same table and while participating in the meeting, they are also planning their grocery shop, dinner, wondering if the soccer uniform is clean for the game tonight, when they might catch up with those friends and so on. The mental load that women carry, every moment of every day, is very different to men. This affects how we progress through life, it’s not simple so it makes our line a bit more squiggly.
Also, women are more inclined to seek fulfilment from what they do. If we are on a career path, we get to a moment when we wonder if this is really it? Is this all there is? Isn’t there more I ought to be doing? And so we are willing to take a moment to rethink and reassess the path we’re on and maybe take a sideways step or even an backwards step to have greater fulfilment in what we’re doing.
With squiggly paths, we need to stop expecting the same outcomes as men, we need to rethink our journey and what we want and expect for ourselves. I had one young mum ask me recently “how can women achieve career success?” My initial response was to ask her, what does success look like for her? She was an architect in a firm, and naturally she was thinking about making partner level in the firm she worked. I pointed out, this may be the path her male colleagues were on, but having just had her first baby was this the path she really wanted for herself? I asked her, what if success is becoming the ‘go to’ on eco design, or winning awards for social designs, or even being the point person on large urban projects.
There are different ways to define success. Becoming the top most senior manager isn’t always going to be the right definition. We need to stop expecting the same outcomes that men achieve. We need to accept and even more, be proud of our own journeys and our own outcomes. They're squiggly and different, but they can be just as rewarding.
What does your path look like? Maybe your journey isn’t a full time career, maybe your journey will always be a juggle of family, volunteering, and paid work. What’s really important is that you find joy and fulfilment in your journey. Showing up for yourself and your family in the way you want.
I invite you to think of your own path, what does it look like and ask yourself what success looks like for you?
Do you want to explore your squiggly line? I invite you to consider working with me. Book a free discussion with me to find out more about my programs >>https://calendly.com/theleaptolead/coaching<