How to Gain Control by Letting Go

If you are like many women today, there's a lot on your plate.

You work, care for family, run a household, cultivate relationships with friends and colleagues. But there's an underlying part that really drives you—the feeling that you must do it all, and do it perfectly.

After all, you prepared all your life for this role. You followed society's rules: You went to school to have a productive career, you put a lot of time and effort into your marriage and children, you give back to your community by volunteering, and you are there for friends when they need you. But that's not the whole story—you actually take responsibility for the well-being of those around you—your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends and neighbors, your pets. You do whatever it takes to make sure their lives are easier. You think that the world as you know it world stop spinning if you took your eye off, even for a second.

But in an effort to keep everyone and everything else going strong, have you given thought to what you may be losing? Yes, yourself.

How did women get to this state? "The feminist movement gave women the message that you can have it all," says LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D., author of the book, The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie™, "but the unspoken message that went along with that noble notion was that you should have it all." The difference is that women were given permission to want these things and go after them, but were not given the permission to not want it all. So many of us ended up on a roller coaster ride that we really didn't want to get on in the first place.

The women's movement opened up many doors for women. But many who benefitted from the hard fought freedoms thought that having it all and doing it all would come naturally. We believed the more we accomplished, the better off we'd be.

But something happened along the way. We started to get depressed when we were passed over for that promotion, or had colicky babies, or kids who had behavior issues. So we dug our heels in and worked harder, thinking that the more we could control, the better.

Gain Control

Instead of doing more, Dr. Wish advises that it's healthier to do less. In order to gain control and live happier and healthier lives, she says to examine your thoughts and beliefs.

  • The first step is to ask yourself three questions: Do I expect to have it all? What is my definition of having it all? And whose definition is it really? Mine, society's...where did this come from?
  • Your next step is to look at your behavior. Ask yourself, how anxious am I on a daily basis? Weekly basis? How exhausted am I? How much of my life is all work and no play? When was the last time I had a good belly laugh?

To correct this course, Dr. Wish says you need to rethink the concept of having it all and what it means to you. She offers a replacement thought: I might not be able to get everything I want in the exact script that I designed.

Say you've been on the VP track of your global firm for years. You've worked weekends to complete presentations, traveled to business meetings on a moment's notice, and sacrificed personal time to meet deadlines. In other words, you were the good corporate soldier expecting to be rewarded when the time came. However, for many women, life intervened in ways they couldn't have imagined such as a child's or their own illness. Women often respond to these life events by working harder than ever, a reaction which leads to the state many of us find ourselves in today: Burnout—not being able to do it all and feeling guilty because of it.

Instead of judging, berating, and condemning yourself, try being gentle and kind to yourself. Simply let go of that old notion of having it all, and see if you can begin again. It doesn't mean you have to give up your dreams.

Wish says to ask yourself what was it you wanted from that dream...status, responsibility, income, personal accomplishment? You could have all that—but perhaps on a smaller scale. If you always wanted to run a department, volunteer to be chair of a town committee or move to a smaller company where it isn't as competitive. Be a troubleshooter—see if there is a hole to fill in your current work situation and approach your boss about taking on that role. If you examine your core issues—what exactly you are looking for in life, it could give you permission to loosen up that life script.

If you lose the idea that you have to go through life with all burners going on all cylinders at the same time, at the same rate, you will gain something in return—and that is freedom and peace of mind.