When you’re used to living life in “Superwoman” mode, it can be hard to stop – even when you know it’s time you learned to create success without burnout. And frankly, it’s frustrating!
Logically, we know that rushing through life, running on fumes, barely making time to deal with our basic bodily functions (gone all day without a wee again?) isn’t good for us. It leads to exhaustion, burnout, and the appearance of the parts of us we’d like to pretend don’t exist.
(The bitch who snaps at her partner when they gently ask us why we’ve taken on yet another project. The martyr who agreed to the extra work while feeling put upon and secretly resentful.)
On the other hand, we’re often able to achieve so much when we push ourselves that it can be really challenging to let go of that way of working!
Why do we stay in “Superwoman"?
Let’s start by thinking about those reasons we often find not to step back from Superwoman.
Take a moment to jot down some reasons, big or small, that stop you from moving to a saner pace.
- Everyone’s relying on me – I can’t leave them in the lurch
- People will think I don’t take my work seriously if I block out time for a long lunch
- Slowing down’s for people who lack ambition and drive
- The only way to get anywhere in life is through hard work and sacrifice
- I’ll rest as soon as we’re out of this busy period
These might feel familiar. Or perhaps you have some of your own to add in. What might strike you when you’re looking over your list is that these are actually rooted in quite logical goals.
You want to be effective; you want to help and support those around you; you want to express yourself, make a difference, and achieve your potential.
These are great motivations! But Superwoman mode – pushing yourself, never stopping, and only focusing on maximising your productivity in every second – really isn’t the most effective way to go about reaching those goals.
Which leads me to an unexpected role model for female leaders I recently came across, and the lesson they have for us all about how to achieve success without burnout.
A different style of leadership
Let me describe this leader’s day to you:
They wake at 7:30, enjoying a leisurely few hours to themselves to eat breakfast and read the news. They work from bed until mid-morning, take a walk, and then join family and friends for a multi-course lunch.
In the afternoon they enjoy creative relaxation: painting, reading, listening to music, or perhaps a period of quiet reflection in nature. Around 3pm they return to bed for a long nap. Dinner is another leisurely affair, after which they stay and talk with friends for a few hours.
Then, around midnight, they return to their study when they connect to their “night owl” energy. They might work until 2am – or at busy times 3 or 4 – to write and work.
Now, how does that sound? Be honest – are you finding yourself inwardly judging the person I’m describing?
“She sounds like she doesn’t take her work that seriously” you might be thinking. Or “It’s alright for some – clearly this is a person who’s happy to be a lady of leisure, and doesn’t have much ambition in her life.”
If either of those thoughts have crossed your mind, you might be surprised to know that I’m not talking about a woman at all. In fact, this is the reported daily schedule of none other than Sir Winston Churchill.
Churchill is one of the most well known leaders and statesmen, best known as the prime minister who led Britain during World War Two. He was also a prolific writer. And yet, when we compare his leisurely daily schedule to many of our own, there are some fundamental differences at play.
Let's look at three of the most striking:
1. Rest comes first and foremost
When you might stay up until 2am working, it's understandable that getting enough sleep requires an afternoon nap.
But there are other moments of rest in Churchill's schedule too; like working from bed in the morning, or taking time for reflection and meditation in the afternoon. Rest isn’t something that gets squeezed in after the work is done.
With that long, late session ahead of him he’s evidently confident that devoting his day to leisure and replenishment will pay off. And Churchill’s quoted as sharing this message of prioritising replenishment with others, too:
"We were not made by Nature to work, or even to play, from eight o’clock in the morning till midnight. We throw a strain upon our system which is unfair and improvident." – Winston Churchill
2. Soft play is a priority
Notice that afternoon of reading, painting, or spending time in nature? It’s what we know at One of many as "soft play". Time spent doing things you love to do, not because they’re something you’re paid or rewarded for but simply because they fill your soul.
Many of us really struggle to make time that’s just for us. But Churchill’s a great example of a leader who knew that his “hobbies” helped free his mind and allowed him to access the prolific fluency with which he dictated his books, articles and leadership decisions.
What do you regularly make time for to bring you delight, distraction and enjoyment – just for you?
3. Understand your cycles – and work with them
You might look at that morning in bed, or the restful afternoon, and assume that this is a person who doesn’t get much done. But when we consider that Churchill sometimes worked until 3 or 4 in the morning, it becomes clear that this is someone deeply in tune with their natural rhythms.
You might not be someone who could write thousands of words until the small hours of the morning, especially after a long dinner. But there will be times of the day when you’re naturally in flow, and really able to hit your stride. How confident do you feel to put things on hold when you’re not at your best, so that you’re raring to go when it’s time to get going?
Soft power in action
The quintessential image of Churchill is the “British Bulldog” – a portly, dogged statesman with cigar clamped between his teeth. He's often seen as the epitome of masculinity – the great leader who steered his country to victory in a world war.
And yet these characteristics demonstrate a far more feminine model of leadership. Not female, note. Men can access this “soft power” too, just as women can be guided by a more linear, masculine way of working.
What’s fascinating to note is just how effective, impactful and successful Churchill was able to be with this style of leadership. If you’ve worried that doing things a different way might reduce your impact or curtail your chances of leaving a meaningful legacy, perhaps this might help you think again.
A note on privilege
Winston Churchill was an aristocrat, born into the elite governing class. He enjoyed immense inherited wealth, and lived on a country estate well served by dedicated staff. Although he had 5 children, I doubt that he was the one arranging doctor’s appointments, chasing missing shoes, or soothing chicken pox. And his desire to serve his country was aided by his world class education, stellar network and unshakeable self confidence.
As a white, upper class man it’s important not to overlook the systemic support Churchill enjoyed from birth. But it’s also true that, compared to millions of people in the world, most of us enjoy lives of great privilege too. If you’ve had access to food and clean water; been educated, and have the freedom to earn money and make decisions about your own life, you’re also enjoying great fortune.
How are you choosing to use it?
Soft power – where to start
If you like the thought of doing thing a different way, but aren’t sure where you’d start, why not have a look at Taking Charge?
It’s a free online workshop that will help you discover why Superwoman isn’t working for so many of us, and how you can start to do things differently.
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