I am a recovering Superwoman wannabee
People don't overclock well, says Phoummala Schmitt
Sysadmin blog Working moms such as me often fall into the trap of the Superwoman syndrome. The Superwoman syndrome describes the woman that tries to achieve it all: the pursuit of a successful career and a happy family life.
The Superwoman can tackle any challenge thrown at her; she is invincible. She can carry all three kids on her back while wearing high heels, racking a server, and performing an Exchange migration in the blink of an eye. If it's cold outside, she can even knit you a blanket while the upgrade is completing.
Women in tech have it especially rough because not only are we raising our children, we are challenged in an industry where the jobs are more competitive and demanding with long hours. It's a tough game of male egos mixed with discrimination, stereotypes, and fears. If you want to succeed in IT, you need to work hard and play hard.
People don't overclock well
Women need to let go of the myth that we need to do it all, and I am no exception. I put everybody and my career above my own needs. I felt I had to keep up with my peers at work and meet the expectations I put on myself as a mother.
My early days in tech were bumpy. I struggled with stereotyped perceptions of women in IT that I thought I had overcome, but in reality I still had not. I felt - and still continue to feel - not equal to my colleagues. I had to prove myself to them to gain acceptance. Was it my own insecurities or the unknowing actions of my male colleagues that gave me this fear?
To be honest, probably a mixture of both.
If there were a support group for Recovering Superwoman wannabes, my name would be on the top of that list. I am a systems engineer by day and crazed workaholic mom by night. I'm the mom on the bleachers glued to her iPhone responding to emails and fixing server issues while at the football game. I'll be damned if I miss a child's activities or a miss a heartbeat at the office. I rarely use vacation days; they're for the kids.
It's just a scratch
Taking a day off for herself is not something an aspiring Superwoman does. I even scheduled an Endometrial Biopsy as a long lunch, no big deal; I had delivered a 10lb baby naturally, so this would be a piece of cake.
That's what I thought until the biopsy turned out to be a little more involved than expected, with just a local anesthetic and some Ibuprofen. I wiped the tears from my eyes and returned to work. Ladies, don't try this.
Take the afternoon off and crawl into bed with a nice heating pad. My fear of looking weak consumed me to the point that I would endure pain so I would not be thought of any less. When you work with all men the last thing you want to do is mention you have woman issues.
Once that happens you've been thrown off the bus and the idea you are one of the guys is out the door. I didn't want to be thrown off the bus; I still hadn't attained Superwoman status, my goal of a being an equal, someone who isn't dismissed or passed over for the promotion, so I had to press forward.
It wasn't until several weeks later that I realized how bad I had become. I was having surgery under general anesthesia, and when I awoke all I can remember was telling the nurse I was in pain and asking my husband to get my iPhone. Yep, I wasn't even awake for 10 minutes, and I wanted to look at my emails.
Everybody knew I was going to be out of the office for several days so there was no reason for me to check my emails. My own insecurities made me think that by not being available I would be looked at as underperforming and not as an equal. My husband knew better. He kept me drugged up so I wouldn't check my emails and get all stressed out.
In a way it was the intervention I needed to realize that I had to stop trying to be something that wasn't real. It didn't feel good, it didn't feel right at the time, but I needed to be stopped before I got any worse.
Trying to be the amplifier that goes
all the way to 12 to 10
Women like me overcompensate for our fears by working harder, pushing more and more. Whether these fears are only perceived or have some truth to them, they are still valid for the women facing them. So valid that often times we take things too far and forget about work-life balance and ourselves. We become obsessed over our jobs, working long hours, always being available, making sure that nothing goes wrong, all of this to prevent the fears from happening.
After my surgery I came across Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. I realized that it's great that I am ambitious and want to achieve more with my career but that I also need to create balance.
Sandberg said it best: "Trying to do it all and expecting that it all can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointments. Perfection is the enemy". I was trying to be perfect in all aspects of my life; career, family and in the end it consumed me.
Reading her book opened my eyes to the fact many women have the same fears I did and set me at ease. I realized that it was OK for me to lean back and take some time for myself and family. Just because you want to achieve greatness doesn't mean you can't take a break.
This is easier said than done, but slowly I'm becoming a "Recovering Superwoman Wannabe". I'm not staying at the office until 8pm then pulling all nighters at home. Well, not every night. I still check my emails often (I think that's the nature of the beast of the industry I am in), but I do take more quality time for myself and family. The time spent with my family is focused on them instead of being half there and half doing work. Giving the kids my full attention is the way I can be a "super" mom to them.
As for my "fears", those are challenges that I am working on overcoming not only personally but also professionally. There are many books and seminars out there to champion women in the workplace and improve their communication skills, but the real issue isn't just about women. It's the workplace interactions between women and men. Men and women think differently because we are different, and when this happens, often there are misunderstandings and misconceptions.
In order for women to feel completely on an equal playing field, not only do we need to understand how to work with men, but men also need to understand the women they work with. This needs to be a two-way street, otherwise it will be a vicious cycle of he said / she said. I know I can't change the world but if I can influence change and make a difference that will suffice.
Superwoman is a fake, she doesn't exist. Trust me, I've tried to meet her, even tried to become her. As women working in tech, we have challenges and stereotypes to overcome, whether perceived or real. We try to do it all: raise the family and play the career game. The truth is Superwoman is a myth, she is not real, and you can't do it all perfectly. ®