As of the time of the recording of this podcast in March of 2021, more and more changes are being made that are affecting accountants in unprecedented ways. Between more rounds of PPP loans, the American Rescue Plan of 2021, and the IRS extension of the 2021 deadline, there’s just a lot of changes and information being thrown at us all at once.
As a working mom, you’ve also probably got a lot of other things in your personal life that are requiring extra attention like the health, safety and well-being of you and your family as well as your children’s educational needs and much more. What was once a struggle to achieve some semblance of balance, might feel like a complete impossibility with everything you have on your plate.
Even if you are listening to this at some future moment, I’m going to bet that you’re also probably trying to do quite a juggling act in all the various areas of your life. If you’re like most of the accountant moms I speak to and coach, you might feel like a clown in the circus juggling balls, plates and sometimes large objects, trying to make sure nothing falls and breaks, secretly wishing for some form of applause at the end of the day.
The interesting thing is that somewhere along the evolution of women in the workplace there was this underlying assumption that if you wanted to work outside the home, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that your responsibilities at home are going to be less. You might have the desire for a career or the economic need for a job, but be prepared to keep doing almost everything you would do if you were a stay at home mom, and much more.
If you have a supportive partner or other forms of help, that’s great, but it doesn’t change the fact that the brains of most working moms are still programmed to believe that they can and should “do it all”. I’ve often joked with colleagues that it’s as if being both an accountant and a mom should come with a warning label that says “Good luck! You’re going to need it”.
Author Gary Keller, in the book “The One Thing”, shares that in today’s world, many working moms feel the pain of taking it all on themselves, and from that pain, multitasking then becomes a habit. They think that simultaneously brushing their teeth, while wiping down the bathroom sink, putting away the laundry, and picking up a dirty sock is the only way to get everything done.
With so many things that you are responsible for as a working mom, it’s no wonder that, despite your best efforts, there are times when you feel like you just can’t keep up. If you feel frustrated, overwhelmed or on the verge of burnout, then this episode is for you.
This week I’m going to discuss the reality of “doing it all” and what to do when you just can’t seem to keep up.
The reality of “doing it all”
I have been a coach for almost a decade and I can tell you from coaching accountant moms and from my own experience being a CPA and a mom for over 30 years, that we all have a very warped sense of what we’re responsible for both professionally and personally. Not only that, but we beat ourselves up mercilessly for not being a better accountant, spouse, mother, friend, daughter, etc.
Unfortunately, there’s a reason that we more often talk about mom guilt than dad guilt. The reason is because as moms, we hold ourselves to incredibly high standards and then judge ourselves against our made up standards. Not only that, we believe society’s messages about the role of mothers as well.
If that wasn’t enough pressure, we then add on the belief that other working moms are definitely doing better than us. We tend to have this belief that other working moms are definitely able to do it all, but we’re failing because we just can’t keep up.
This is not only related to keeping up with things at home, but the expectations are even more pressure-filled at work where it seems like everyone appears to be able to get things done without losing their minds in the process. Well, I have a secret to tell you – if you were privy to my clients and their accountant mom brains like I am, you’d see that they feel like a hot mess just as much as you do.
Every working mom I work with vacillates between feeling like they’re managing it all, to feeling like there’s nothing they’re doing that’s right. Depending on the time of year, the pressures at work, and whatever is going on at home, these highly intelligent, highly capable women often want to curl up under the covers and not come out; you just can’t tell from looking at them.
For years, people would say to me “I don’t know how you do it all” and I would smile at what I believed was a compliment; but the reality was that I wasn’t doing it all, it just looked that way. I had an accounting career, two children involved in various activities, one of my children had some special needs, I was living with a husband that was dealing with an addiction, I had a house to manage, and much, much more; the only thing I was really managing was getting up every morning and getting out of bed.
Unfortunately what happens for a lot of us working moms is that we compare ourselves to someone else we see or know, or we imagine some level of perfection that is completely unrealistic, yet to our high achieving accountant brains, it seems totally doable. Because the profession of accounting is a breeding ground for perfectionism, our education, training and socialization has brought us to this place where we believe we need to do it all, and when we can’t, there must be something wrong with us.
That’s why it is so incredibly important to understand your unique accountant's brain better so that you can tell the truths from the lies, and you can take your power back. If no one has ever told you this before, your accountant mom brain lies to you ALL the time; you just haven’t been aware of it because you’ve never been taught to question it.
You know all those “shoulds” that you have swimming around in your mind? They’re mostly lies that your brain picked up along your life’s journey, like weeds disguised as flowers along the side of the road. You’ve just been innocently believing a bunch of lies and the most important thing to know is, it’s not your fault.
The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with you if you feel like you just can’t keep up because you just haven’t been shown how to separate the flowers from the weeds.
What to do when you just can’t keep up
On September 6, 1991, Coca-Cola’s former CEO, Brian Dyson gave the 172nd commencement of the Georgia Tech Institute. This speech has become one of the most viral speeches on the web, in part due to his reference to the 5 balls of life:
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends and spirit. And you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
Each of us that has listened to his speech, or other variations of it, was given the opportunity to recognize and address the imbalance in our own lives. We are able to ask ourselves whether we’re too focused on work at the expense of the people and other things in our lives. Were our priorities out of whack? How our choices affect ourselves and those around us?
Inspired by that speech, Gary Keller in the book “The One Thing”, also talks about how we all have balls that we’re juggling which represent many different things in our lives; some of these balls are rubber, bouncing if dropped, and some are glass, breaking if dropped. Unfortunately, we have all these competing priorities, requests and things we want to do, but we never take the time to ask whether this thing is a rubber ball that will bounce back if it’s not done, or it’s a glass ball that truly might shatter if it’s dropped.
As a working mom, you probably struggle with having balance, knowing what to prioritize, and knowing which of the balls that you’re juggling are rubber and which are glass. But the interesting thing is that while you may have 5 or more areas of your life like that you’d like to balance, you also have many, many balls in each of those areas.
For example, the area of family or home doesn’t just represent one ball, it has a ball for each person and each activity; there are separate balls for the health of each of your family members which might include doctor, dentist, orthodontist, etc. You’ve also got separate balls for the time you spend with each person in your family which might include reading to your younger kids at night, date night with your spouse, walks with your dog, etc.
While the 5 balls that Brian Dyson referenced in his viral speech were work, family, health, friends and spirit, those areas aren’t necessarily your areas and, when considered, should be uniquely personal to you. Maybe your areas are work, family, fitness, self-care and personal growth, or maybe they’re career, family, health, travel, and education; the options are limitless.
The point is that it’s important to first get clear about what you’re juggling and then what you can do when you have too much to juggle and you just can’t keep up. I always try to stress to my clients that they can do ANYTHING they want, they just can’t do EVERYTHING without addressing which balls are rubber and which balls are glass, as well as having a vision and a plan.
To make it easier for you to get clear about how to choose which of your balls can be rubber, which means they aren’t necessary right now and can be dropped, versus which ones are glass and take precedence, I’m going to share the filter that I often use in a few of the areas of my life:
- Home – the filter is health and safety versus nice to have; the way this shows up is letting the rubber ball drop on vacuuming all the time or wiping the bathroom mirror as soon as it’s smudged; on the other hand making sure we have hand sanitizer and enough masks would be a glass ball I wouldn’t want to drop because of the priority of our safety.
- Family – the filter is quality versus quantity; that might look like letting the rubber ball drop on sending cards for every occasion to every person in the family; on the other hand spending an hour or two every few weeks watching “This Is Us” with my young adult daughter would be a glass ball I would prioritize no matter how busy I am, even during tax season.
- Work – the filter is impact versus perception; that might look like letting the rubber ball of spending too much time trying to make the tax workpapers perfect so that my boss will hopefully notice and praise me; on the other hand spending time making sure I have all the data necessary to complete a tax project in a timely fashion would be a glass ball that would have a more important impact on my work.
As you can see from these few examples, it’s helpful to have an overall measure in each area in order to decide which balls are rubber versus glass. It’s also important to acknowledge that, although it may be challenging, you’re not supposed to keep so many balls in the air because even having too many glass balls means that unfortunately one may drop and shatter.
When you have too many glass balls, you might notice a feeling of resentment or burnout starting to become your daily norm. When this happens, consider that maybe some of those glass balls can actually be rubber for now, giving you time to really focus on what’s truly important.
I suggest you take a minute to really get clear about what you do during those times when you have too much going on and you’re juggling more than you can handle. Do you soldier on, hustling to get everything done? Do you act like a martyr, assuming you’re the only one that can do things? Do you think that saying no or asking for help is a sign of weakness? These are all important questions to ask and notice about yourself.
An interesting thing to note is that as accountants, we can often get distracted with so many different things at work, and so many shiny objects that are trying to, and often succeed in, diverting our attention away from what we really want at the end of the day. If this sounds like you, start noticing how the qualities that make you a good accountant, might also be making you completely overwhelmed as well.
Just remember, you’re not supposed to do everything, even if you’re capable. Begin to trust that some things can wait, some things can be removed, some things can be dropped and some things can be delegated; make more things rubber and be selective about which ones are glass.
Believe me, your children will appreciate a mom who doesn’t get burned out trying to be the superhero. At the end of the day, what they really want is a mom that juggles less and loves more.
- The interesting thing is that somewhere along the evolution of women in the workplace there was this underlying assumption that if you wanted to work outside the home, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that your responsibilities at home are going to be less.
- With so many things that you are responsible for as a working mom, it’s no wonder that, despite your best efforts, there are times when you feel like you just can’t keep up.
- Unfortunately, there’s a reason that we more often talk about mom guilt than dad guilt, and it’s because as moms, we hold ourselves to incredibly high standards and then judge ourselves against our made up standards, in addition to society’s messages and what we believe other working moms are doing better than us.
- I always try to stress to my clients that they can do ANYTHING they want, they just can’t do EVERYTHING without addressing which balls are rubber and which balls are glass, as well as having a vision and a plan.
- Begin to trust that some things can wait, some things can be removed, some things can be dropped and some things can be delegated.