Creative Director, Michelle Kreuiter has been battling the superwoman ideal for most of her career. Here, she tells us how striving for ‘superwoman’ left her burnt-out and how she managed to shift her mindset away from trying to please everyone…
I’ve had something on my mind a lot lately – Superwoman Syndrome. It’s a range
of physical, psychological and interpersonal stress symptoms experienced by women who try to perform perfectly in multiple, often conflicting roles. She tries to do it all, be it all, and have it all. And often in the process, she stretches herself too thin.
I’m sure you know a superwoman – perhaps you see one in the mirror. She’s the one striving to be the brilliant business exec, the best wife, the mom who never misses a cricket match, the endlessly understanding friend, the most charming host…
… and I guarantee you, she’s utterly exhausted.
She’s probably become so used to being tired, that being tired has become her new normal.
It certainly became mine.
Both my kids were born prematurely, (largely due to stress). It’s still something I’ve never really dealt with – mainly because I haven’t had the time to deal with it. My daughter was born at 29 weeks and spent 2 months in the neonatal ICU, my son was born at 34 weeks and spend 3 weeks in NICU.
During my first pregnancy, I was invited to judge a prestigious awards show. The timing would have been perfect had she been born full term, but I landed up judging the awards for weeks, on my laptop, pumping breastmilk in the NICU of the hospital. I decided to do it because it was good for my career, I pumped through the night because it was good for my baby – and as a result, I was exhausted because I was doing both. I was doing nothing for myself.
As my daughter got healthier, I didn’t. As the years went by, my IBS got worse. My migraines became intolerable and all I did was put it down to being busy and my thyroid “probably acting up again”.
One day we were going out and I asked my daughter to fetch her things. She came running into the room carrying her toy laptop and said, “look mommy… I’m just like you!” It was an eye-opening moment for me because I realised that was exactly how she sees me. Someone who is attached to a laptop. I want her to grow up, looking up to “power woman”, but I also want her to have a mother who is present. It’s difficult to find balance, I get that. But if I’m sitting next to my kids working on my laptop… am I really sitting with them?
No one can be everything, all the time. It’s hard enough being good at everything, never mind being perfect at everything.
As women, we put ourselves under way too much pressure.
When we’re not performing “perfectly”, we start questioning ourselves, losing confidence in our own abilities, often undermining our efforts to be good at what we do. It’s a lose-lose situation.
American journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman compared men and women at work and found that a shortage of confidence is more likely to be an obstacle than a shortage of competence.
And when it comes to work-related confidence, they found that men are far ahead.
Writing about the confidence gap, they said: “A Hewlett-Packard review of personnel records found that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. At HP, and in study after study, the data confirm what we instinctively know. Under-qualified and underprepared men don’t think twice… overqualified and over prepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.”
We chase perfection. But perfection doesn’t exist, which means we’re chasing the impossible.
It’s time we accept that being good, is good enough because trying to be super-anything makes it really difficult to be good at anything.
It’s time to take off the cape and say no – no to the things we don’t have the time to do or the things we just don’t want to do. Because the more we do on our own, the more people expect us to do on our own.
It’s time we learn that asking for help is a sign of strength.
Time that we start setting goals that are actually attainable.
Time to realise that dreams should be achievable.
And that there are only 24 hours in a day.
It’s time that we make time… and take time.
And finally see perfection as the same fictional character we read about in comic books.
It’s time, to kill superwoman.