Thursday, July 11, 2013

As Cyndi Lauper sang, “Girls just wanna have fun.” But do we know how?

Ladies, let’s face it.  We are often frustrated by the things men “get away with” both in our personal and in our business lives.  We feel angry, disenfranchised, over-looked, or under-appreciated.  Especially if we compare our work to theirs, and feel that we are doing more.  But what is really happening?  Are men really “getting away with it”, or are we merely taking on huge, unnecessary, and possibly unwanted burdens in the name of getting things done?

The reality is that women like to get things done.  That isn’t to say that men don’t.  But we go about it in a very different way – we plan.  We make lists, organize and arrange our day to be sure that everything on our “to-do” list is completed.  When working or teaming with others (especially our spouse or other family members), we check-in to determine if things are going as planned – often ready to jump in (and take over) if they are not.  We plan everything we can - our time, our activities, and even our contingency plans for things that could go wrong.  But does any of this really bring us happiness?  Or does all of this thinking and planning just go hand in hand with stress, worrying, and feeling unfairly burdened? 

More importantly, why do so many women share in this experience and how did we get this way?  To understand it better, we need to look beyond our current situation and to our evolutionary beginnings in the hunter and gatherer societies.    

Men – as hunters – were programmed to focus on two particular tasks…hunting and procreation.  Their survival, and that of their gene pool, was largely based on their ability to find a mate, and to take care of and protect themselves.  Their relationship with other hunters was predominantly competitive as each was seeking the same limited resources.

Women were the gatherers in these prehistoric times.  Gatherers scavenged for easier to obtain foods like nuts and berries.  They had to maintain a broad focus and detailed memory of where to find these precious resources, season after season.  Gatherers also preserved a cooperative spirit with other gatherers as their survival and that of their progeny necessitated that they cared for each others offspring, shared food sources, and warned one another of animal predators. 

In this way, Gatherers had to multitask and socialize just to survive the day – just as Hunters had to maintain solitary focus and take care of themselves in order to do so.  Looking at it in modern times, things are much the same.  Women tend to jump in and help out – at times taking on the work of others.  We are quick to apologize as social relations are important.  And we enjoy a lot of communication.  Men on the other hand are highly competitive, not likely to worry about their social impact, and are content to simply take care of themselves – and procreate. 

So ladies, what can we do?

Since feeling over-burdened is, at least in part, something we bring on ourselves, than surely we can also make some changes.  Here are a few ideas:

1.      Decide when you’ve done enough.  Yes, even if things aren’t done, have a cut-off point, but recognize that this doesn’t mean anyone else will do the rest.  To determine your cut-off point, ask yourself in each situation, how important/valuable the outcome will be, and compare that to the value of taking care of yourself.
2.      Let others be responsible for themselves.  Don’t check in on the progress of others unless you genuinely need to know.  No more hovering over your children regarding homework, your spouse regarding household duties, or your co-workers concerning project updates.  Recognize that it is not your job to oversee the work of others.  Imagine what they might learn or achieve if you step back.
3.      Enjoy the moment.  Men are much better at this than women are. All our planning and scheduling leaves us living in the future.  Find ways to embrace the moment – even if everything on your to-do list is not done.  Reprioritize what matters most to you, and keep true to that list instead.
4.      Recognize your own core nature.  We evolved by taking care of others, so this isn’t something we’re likely to be able to release without experiencing some stress.  However, the above suggestions should help you to step back a bit more, letting others be in charge of their own destiny.  If you do, you just may reap the rewards of feeling a little happier, a bit more relaxed, and even experiencing a little bit of fun.

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