Day 14: Killing Me Softly

Authors Note:  This is the 14th entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

Okay – let’s have a contest.  Let’s see who is the busiest of us all.  Let’s see who can “win” at this “extra-effort” game.  Don’t know what that is?  Let me help.

Consider this post first:

19. Not taking advantage of your vacation days. More Americans than ever are forgoing their (already meager) paid vacation days — despite the fact that we know that people who take time off are more likely to be healthy, happy and productive workers. We swear, no one will die if you turn off your cell phone and head to the mountains for a long weekend.

I think you see where I’m about to go.

Why on earth do we get into these spaces where we think if we work longer, harder and more intensely, we’ll be happier and healthier?  Why do we sit around and, in one breath, complain about how exhausted we are, and in the next breath brag about how we put in a string of 15 hour days and were “so productive”.  Why is it – when EVERY SINGLE STUDY done on multitasking shows that it is not effective – do we continue to say we can relax on a beach and write a policy manual all at the same time with maximum efficiency?

Why do we continue to lie to ourselves?

Perhaps it’s the impostor syndrome rearing it’s ugly head, and convincing us that we have to work harder or we’ll be found out as a fraud.  Perhaps it’s a “keeping up with the Jones’” situation in which we believe that, if we don’t work as long or as hard as others, we’ll get left behind.  Or maybe it’s a misguiding belief that if we work super-hard and put in extra-long hours, someone will come (as Sheryl Sandburg says) and “put a crown on our head”, “call us a good girl”, and give us that promotion we’ve been wanting for so long.

Well – and pardon my colorful Texas language – but that’s bullshit.

Look, I’m no stranger to endangering my own health by not taking time for me.  About five years ago, I suffered a series of anxiety attacks over several weeks time.  I had no idea what it was, so when I finally found myself in an emergency room and the doctor asked me, “Do you want a Valium?” it was both terrifying and shocking.  And it was a wake-up call. 

While frightening, this experience made me realize that I needed to fix things and fix them fast.  I had to take time and assess my own wellbeing, and when I did, I quickly realized that burning the candle at both ends was absolutely NOTHING to be proud of.  I held two, full-time job titles, was teaching a masters-level course, and continued to take on additional community and work projects.  I finally realized that I had put everything else ahead of my own health – and I was slowly killing myself – quite literally.

I started by letting things go, eliminating multitasking as much as my activator-brain would let me (it’s gotten better as time has moved on) and made a commitment to put my health first.  I quite literally had to in order to save my own life.  It was one of the hardest, yet most beneficial things I have every done for myself – and for those around me.

I implore you to not let your own health and wellbeing falter.  Start small.  Take a vacation day.  Take one a month if you can.  Plan for a long time away from the office – an actual WEEK or even TWO WEEKS away (I know – don’t pass out – it’s okay).  Trust me – after you get over the sheer panic of turning off your cell phone and divesting from social media (that one’s tough, for sure), you will find that you are able to finally relax.  Once you relax, you can finally begin to reconnect with what is vital and important to you.  True vacations – and I mean real ones, not simply being out of the office at a conference – are good for your soul and your health.


HELP! I need somebody….

(cross posted to

Asking for help has never been my strong suit.  EVER. In fact, I have a history of doing everything in my power to avoid it.  I will haul my own luggage through an airport and through a hotel lobby even when help is offered.  I will balance multiple shoulder bags and boxes down a flight of stairs even when a colleague (who is carrying nothing) volunteers to take something out of my hands.  I will multitask on projects to the point of exhaustion, even when others are there to take some of the load.  I take on far more responsibility than any sane person should ever consider doing – both at work, at home and in other arenas.

Women in general have a horrible habit of not asking for what we need.  There are reems of research on this phenomenon – in sociology, career advancement literature, negotiation literature, family/work life balance issues, promotion and tenure practices – the list goes on and on and on.  We are conditioned at a young age to not speak up for ourselves and to “make peace”; which often means putting other’s needs ahead of our own.  We stop self-advocating.  We stop even being able to identify our own needs.  The result is that we continue to take on more at work in exchange for more stress instead of more salary or time off.  We continue to do the lions share of domestic chores in the household, even when we’re working one or two jobs at a time.  We continue to be the primary caregivers to our children or aging parents, even when we are completely exhausted and we have a partner who could help.  We continue to carry the load alone, and we rarely ask for help.

This past week, after several more rounds of “No, I’ve got this” or “I can do that – no problem!”, I finally took a moment to think about this habit.  I asked myself, “Why do I do this?  Why do I feel the need to carry all of this weight on my shoulders, all the time?”  I didn’t immediately come to an answer, but I knew it couldn’t continue.  My health, my sanity and my well-being were at stake.

I was forced upon reflection to come to two conclusions.  I don’t ask for help because I am afraid – afraid of many things.  First, I’m afraid of appearing weak – as if I cannot do something and, therefore, would be perceived as “less than” in some ways.  My inner feminist doesn’t do well with this. I am woman, dammit, hear me roar AND watch me carry all this crap around ALL THE TIME.  Now that I type this out – it doesn’t seem so fierce.

Second, I’m afraid of letting people in.  I have built this amazingly strong wall around me – to protect no doubt the fear, anxiety and doubt I have in my own abilities – and I do not want to have any cracks in that wall.  If I let someone else see all of this “stuff” – I lose.  If I let someone in – ostensibly to help – I can get hurt – and I lose.  It’s happened before, so why should I let it happen again?  If I ask for help – I will ultimately lose.  Now that I type this out – it seems pretty ridiculous.

So I took a chance.  Last week, I sent an email to a core group of women that I trust. I told them all about the rapid changes and additional stressors that were happening on my campus – but this time, I didn’t try to push it off as ‘I can handle this!” or “Really, it’s no big deal”.  Rather my approach was along the lines of, “This is happening to me, right now, and it’s hard.  It’s really hard, and I need support.”  I will admit, I was scared.  I was worried that these women would, somewhere in the recesses of their minds, think of me as less than, as weak, as not a real woman in some way. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The support came flying at me in all directions – DMs on twitter, public tweets about offering up support and positive energy, phone calls, emails – you name it, it came.  I even got a card in the mail this week (thanks, Laurie!)  Not one time did someone say that I was being weak.  Never did anyone push back and offer to solve my issues.  Not once did someone say “How dare you dump all your stuff on me!”  No – the gift I received from my personal moment of bravery was 100% genuine support, empathy, caring and affirmation from so many people. I was not only surprised, I was humbled.

The truth is – asking for help is not weak – it’s courageous.  We’ve seen some of the stories from other women recently about their triumphs over fear, weakness, uncertainty and doubt by simply reaching out to others.  Asking for help is one of the bravest things anyone can do, and it connects you to others in a tangible, supportive and amazing way.  The result is – you become stronger when you ask for help.  Your network is so much stronger than your individual resolve. 

When is the last time you asked for help?