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It’s so refreshing to see the definition of success in life expanded beyond money and power to include other dimensions such as health, wellness and spirit. This brings meaning into the conversation and allows us to integrate purpose with power and material rewards.
And at first, it may seem like finally we are setting a standard where women have a competitive advantage. But let’s look more closely: How many women do you know at the top of the success ladder that have achieved this integration of money, power, health, wellness and spirit? Most still see this conversation as an either/or — you can have the third metric, but only at the expense of the first two. So, women tend to grasp for the one that comes more naturally: #3.
But, if women give up seeking power and money to pursue loftier goals, they find the cycle of disenfranchisement continues. They don’t rise to power automatically (less than 20% of CEOs and national political representatives are women), they don’t accumulate wealth automatically (women’s pay is still only 77% of men’s) and decision-making continues to be unbalanced. So, what would it really take for us to live an integrated life, where we can have success across all the metrics?
In our interviews of 118 college-educated women, we found most women held themselves back with a self-limiting belief system. At the core, they believed their careers didn’t matter as much as everything and everybody else. They didn’t feel entitled to have a life purpose or to pursue their own interests without feeling guilty. Their worst nightmare was to be called “selfish.” Their definition of success was how well they adhered to their image of an “ideal woman.” Their real goal was to “be nice,””look good” and “do it all.”
This self-limiting belief system, which we call “The Feminine Filter,” manifested in three ways:
1. It stopped the women from investing/developing their career, at least for limited periods of time, which slowed their overall career trajectory, costing them wealth and power.
2. It taxed their creative energy, health and spirit because they felt guilty if they expected their husband to help with the kids or didn’t work through lunch.
3. It perpetuated the current system because instead of changing the metrics by which effective work is measured, women were enabling and adapting themselves to the existing system.
But here’s the good news: This doesn’t have to be the case. By identifying the assumptions women make about what “ideal” looks like, then reframing these assumptions, women can remove the filter and make decisions more clearly and consciously. Once seen for the unreasonable expectatio it is, it can easily be dropped — freeing women to make decisions based on what they want.
For example, one assumption is that I need to perfect in appearance and behavior at all times. Women spent too much time perfecting a presentation or tidying the house instead of networking or enjoying a quiet moment. And they didn’t feel good about themselves, doubting their choices. We need to reframe this assumption. “Doing my best” and “good enough” are perfectly acceptable mantras. As one woman explained, “If you are concerned about cleaning the corner with a toothbrush, you’re missing what’s going on in the center of the room.” Another counsels women early in their career to allow mistakes, because it indicates they are pushing hard and taking risks. By letting go of the rule that to be an “ideal woman,” women have to be perfect, they can then figure out their own ideal — something that works for them and is not externally defined. It takes the pressure off and encourages women to be themselves.
Women can help change how success is measured. And, they don’t have to wait for it to be done; they can do it themselves. By eliminating the “Feminine Filter,” women can live an integrated life and achieve their métier, including wealth, power, and purpose.