Hello everyone! How are you doing out there?
Quick Pestikas household update. I need more time off after the holidays. LOL. I’m sure you can relate. I’m not ready for everything to get into the swing of things again, between school drop-offs and pick-ups, my older daughter is in Poms and theatre, so I feel like my husband and I are taxi drivers all over town. And we’re not even a sports family like so many other families I know. Much respect for the traveling sports families. Much respect. Anyway, I am not ready for things to get to full speed this January.
Speaking about expectations, perfectionism, and parenting, I loved my conversation with Dr. Anne Welsh today. Dr. Anne not only is a trained psychologist and executive coach, but she is also a mom of 4. FOUR. I can barely keep it together with two kiddos, let alone four. Regardless, Dr. Anne shared great nuggets of wisdom during the show that I’m sure you will enjoy.
During my chat with Dr. Anne, we discussed:
- The difference between coaching and therapy
- Signs you may be struggling with perfectionism or a pattern that is no longer serving you.
- Why Dr. Anne created the Working Mothers Lifeline
- How we can let go of unrealistic perfections at work and home
- How companies can retain working parents
- And more
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE
Dr. Anne Welsh On Finding Peace And Freedom From Perfectionism
Everyone, how are you doing out there? Let’s start with a quick Pestikas household update. This is funny but I need more time off after the holidays. Yes, I’ve said it. I need more time off. I’m not ready. We’re already approaching mid-January as I’m recording this and I’m sure you can relate. I’m not ready for everything to get into the swing of things again between school drop-offs and pick-ups. My older daughter Charlotte is in Palms and theater. I feel like my husband and I are taxi drivers all over town. Do you feel me? I’m sure you do. We’re not even a sports family like many other families I know. I give so much respect to sports families.
If you are a working mom and you have kids, traveling sports, whether it’s hockey or whatever it is, much respect for you. I’m thinking of traveling hockey for some reason right now. My brain is stuck there. I am not ready for all the things to get into full speed this January. I have to be honest. That’s where I am. Speaking about our expectations, perfectionism, and parenting, I loved my conversation with Dr. Anne Welsh. Dr. Anne not only is a trained psychologist and an executive coach, but she is the mom of four kids. I can’t barely keep together with two kiddos, let alone four. Regardless, Dr. Anne shared great nuggets of wisdom during the show that I am sure you will enjoy whether you’re a parent, an auntie, or whatever your situation is.
During my chat with Dr. Anne, we discussed the difference between coaching and therapy because it can be confusing. I don’t know if we’ve ever talked about it so I wanted to cover that difference. The difference between coaching and therapy, signs you may be struggling with perfectionism or a pattern that is no longer serving you, professionally or personally, why Dr. Anne created the Working Mother’s Lifeline Program, how we can let go of unrealistic expectations at work and at home, how companies can retain working parents, whether it’s first-time working parents, second, third time, working parents in general, and much more. Here is more about Dr. Anne Welsh.
She is a distinguished psychologist and executive coach with a profound affinity for supporting women in leadership and aiding working parents across diverse career landscapes. Beginning her career odyssey at Harvard, Dr. Welsh has since pivoted dedicating her life to unraveling the interplay between career aspirations, personal fulfillment, and women’s mental health throughout the lifespan. Dr. Welsh’s career journey started with a direct line to medical school, but upon admission, she recognized that it was what others wanted for her rather than what she wanted for herself.
This shift was the beginning of a process of exploration and curiosity about how we think about careers. She took her next steps with a research career addressing these questions about career development. She’s also researching other transition points, including the transition to parenthood. Another pivot from academia to private practice has blossomed into a fulfilling mission of supporting women in their careers, in their parenting journeys, and in their pursuit of finding a life that fits them.
With a blend of research and lived experiences, her coaching philosophy accentuates the cultivation and leadership acumen, emotional intelligence, and harmonization of work and personal life realms. Dr. Welsh also articulates her belief in the ways in which our personal lives actually can be a catalyst rather than a barrier to our professional growth. She consults with corporations, providing actionable steps for organizations to foster a culture that values supports, and retains well-rounded individuals, thereby creating a conducive ecosystem for growth connectivity and shared values.
Dr. Welsh has a mission to help individuals create a career journey that feels fulfilling and impactful, and integrate it into a life of intention and presence. Before we get started, if you’re enjoying the show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you already left a rating and review, I thank you so much. As I say each week, your support of the show means the world to me, so thank you.
Also, I wanted to ask you. Do you want to get coached live on the podcast? I have never done this before, but I would love to offer it on the show, and bonus, it’s entirely free. As long as you’re willing to be a guest on the show, you’re willing to share your work issue or something that you might need coaching around, it would benefit other people and it would be great to share these real-life scenarios. If you’re interested in being a guest, please either send me a message on LinkedIn under my profile name Jennifer Pestikas, a DM on Instagram under Brave Women At Work, or email me at Hello@BraveWomenAtWork.com. Again, stay tuned for more real-life work scenarios in the future on the show. Without further ado, let’s welcome Dr. Anne to the show.
Dr. Anne, welcome to the show. How are you?
I’m great. How are you doing?
I am so great. Thank you so much for being here.
You’re welcome. I’m excited to speak with you.
I always start similarly because I love women’s stories. Why don’t you share a little bit about the work you do and how you’ve gotten where you are now?
Long story short, as a kid, I was dead set on being a doctor. My mom was a doctor and that’s probably a big part of where it came from. I was interested in science and I pursued that all the way to getting into medical school. I then took a little bit of a left turn and said, “This isn’t actually what I want. I want something different. I’m not quite sure what that is, but I know that this isn’t it.” I ended up pursuing psychology in the end. Initially, I thought I wanted to be an academic and I did research. My research looked at career development in lots of different groups. I also had a line of research looking at the transition to motherhood. At that time, I wasn’t a mom. It had no personal connection to me, but I liked the transition points.
I like looking at how people navigate new situations and thrive in them or struggle. These are the two lines of research that didn’t overlap at that time but that was in the background. As I went through grad school and was doing research and teaching, I started to fall in love with the clinical practice element of it. That’s why I started out doing clinical practice. I worked in university mental health for a while at Harvard. I loved that job. It was my dream job in a lot of ways but I had a couple of kids. I started to burn out and thought, “I can’t do the job that’s being asked of me here.” For anyone who doesn’t work in student mental health, it’s pretty intense. You’re expected to see a lot of students. You carry a huge caseload.
I know that I couldn’t do that the way that I wanted to and show up for my family at the end of the day the way I wanted to. I made another pivot and started my own practice. I did that for a while and I loved it. In that practice, I started more and more seeing moms and focusing on maternal mental health. That’s the bulk of my practice at this point. In addition to the ongoing stories and pivots, I also, at some point, started to realize that there were other ways that moms needed to be served. Not just therapy. I became an executive coach as well so that I could help women navigate the world of work and ideally make some impact on workplaces so that there are healthier places for women and mothers to be.
That’s how I landed where I am now where I saw the therapy practice, see patients, predominantly mothers, and do that maternal mental health work, but I also have an executive coaching practice. There, I support women, mothers, and non-mothers, in their leadership skills and navigating mental health at work. figuring out work-life integration in transitioning, managing care responsibilities, and all of that other stuff that goes into our work lives. I do both of those services and love them both. I think I will probably keep doing them both for the foreseeable future.
That’s amazing. We want to make sure that everyone knows that not that it matters. Now you are a mother and not a small family. How many children do you have? What stages and ages are they?
I have four kids at this point. That’s it. We’re very done. They are now almost eight. My youngest will tell you she’s seven and three-quarters and then my oldest is 14. Pretty much every two years. I have a big family. It’s very busy, but super rewarding too.
We’ve talked to a lot of coaches at the show but not someone that has done it. That’s why I was so attracted to the work you’re doing with a balance of someone who is doing it and has been studied in therapy and coaching. It’s an awesome combination of the services you’re offering. Can you explain the differences between coaching and therapy? I think people can get this confused.
They get confused because it is confusing. I say that the more I do it, the more the overlap becomes bigger in some ways. It is like a Venn diagram where the two circles overlap quite a bit in reality. There is a lot of stuff and get help from a coach or a therapist. People use the simple answer of sometimes therapy looks at the past, and coaching looks at the future. I don’t think that’s a great definition. The biggest thing is that therapy is designed for healing and perhaps a diagnosis. If you have a mental health diagnosis that you’re working with, you need to be with a therapist who has training in that diagnostic process and who can treat it.
There is a healing element. It is looking perhaps to fast ways of thinking, focusing on shifting and healing those and then moving forward. Whereas coaching is going to be more focused on what are your goals and how can I help you accomplish those. That doesn’t mean that coaching doesn’t look at the past but it means that the predominant lens is looking forward and to those goals. Again, I say people are confused because it is confusing. As someone who practices both, I see that there is a lot of overlap between the two.
I’m going to give a little wink and a smile to one of my clients. I’m not a therapist. I am an executive and leadership coach for women and that’s another commonality. She was like, “I got to talk to Dr. Anne.” She called me and this was tongue-in-cheek but she said, “You’re a career therapist.” I was like, “I’m not a therapist,” but she said, “You’re kind of.” I don’t want to make even more money, but I can see why it is a little confusing between coaching and therapy. Hopefully, your definition and interpretation help people understand it a little bit more.
I should say I know people who have both a coach and a therapist, and they’re doing very different things in those two settings. That can be great. If you have the time and the means to access these kinds of support, that can be wonderful.
I’m in that camp. I am pro-resources. I have my therapist. I have my coaches who help me and I think it’s good. If you have the resources or the need, then take advantage of those resources. Why not? It doesn’t make you any less at all. It helps you and be a better version of yourself. I did see some other commonalities in our work. One of the things that I talked about and you talk about is perfectionism. I wanted to get your interpretation of some of the symptoms you see with your clients who might be struggling with it and those old paradigms or patterns of living and working. It’s interesting, Dr. Anne. It works until it doesn’t work. I wanted to get your thoughts on what I consider in my world the big topic of perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a huge topic. On some level, it shows up even if it’s not called that with almost everybody I work with, especially because I work with a lot of high-achieving women. There are some pretty obvious symptoms that we all know like feeling stressed all the time, burnt out, overwhelmed, or anxious. Those are pretty common symptoms of perfectionism. I like to put other more subtle ones.
Things like feeling unfulfilled can be a sign of perfectionism, feeling checked out or not present, or sometimes that sense that nothing is enough, or even you can’t celebrate a win. I get an A-plus and my reaction to that is, “Okay, next thing,” as opposed to, “Great job, self. I worked hard for that.” Other things like feelings of chronic self-doubt, pressure, or the inability to relax. That’s another common one. “I can’t sit down and just be. I feel miserable if I have nothing to do or if I’m not working on something,” whether that be a home task or a work task.
I checked all those boxes. I’ve read all types of different things. I am trying to think of the books that I read. It’s The Perfectionist’s Guide To Losing Control by a different author. It’s talking about how perfectionism is part of who we are and it’s something that we need to learn to manage versus breaking free from. Where do you fall on that spectrum? Maybe you’re in the middle. Is it something that we can break free from or is it like, “No, you’re a perfectionist to the core from birth and you have to learn how to manage it?”
You can break free from it but it’s a process. This is the therapist me. The analogy is a little bit like alcoholism. Can you put it over there but it’s always there? It is something that might show up in some way, shape, or form. The process of getting away from it or breaking free from it is that it’s a process. It’s not something that happens overnight. We start that process by being curious about our stories. For example, where did you learn what it means to be a good mom, leader, or partner, and think about what are the expectations that you’re carrying with you?
Sometimes, people fight the label of perfectionism. They’ll say, “I don’t expect an A-plus all the time. I’m not a perfectionist. I expect myself to get constant A’s,” or “I’m not a perfectionist but I should be able to train for a marathon while caring for my aging parent and having a grueling work travel schedule. That should be fine for me,” or they get into black and white thinking. They don’t just label it as perfect. As a mom, for example, either I breastfeed or I’m a failure as a mother. We don’t always win.
It is in all of these ways that we hold unrealistic standards about ourselves. It’s black-and-white ideas about success. Once we can label all that, then that’s when we dig into where did that come from and do you truly believe it in your core? Is this part of your values? That’s the piece that I think we don’t always access when we’re trying to battle perfectionism. We can put this as external stuff, noise, or stories, but then we sometimes have to do most harder work of, “What do I think? What do I value? What do I want?” Especially as women, we do not get asked that question. We do not ask ourselves that question.
It’s hard to think about what is it that’s important to me. How do I want to navigate leadership? How do I want to work on that integration? It takes a lot of practice. Sometimes, the process is an iterative one too. I use myself for example. I thought I battled all my demons about perfectionism when it came to academic and research life and then I had kids. It showed back up again because I hadn’t dealt with that set of expectations and those stories. I cared so much about the outcome and I had to rework the process again as a mom to say, “There’s no such thing as a perfect mom. Maybe some of my standards are a little unrealistic. What is actually important to me here?” Go through it a bit again.
I’m at the line of motherhood. Why do you think this is so? I’m going to be mixing clinical stuff with perfectionism. It is a little of a complex question. When I had my first daughter, I knew that I had postpartum anxiety and some depression happening. It also triggered my perfectionism. It was something that I was not prepared for. I went to all the free baby classes, Lamaze, and how to give birth, but everything after birth, I was not prepared for. Why do you think motherhood does that to us? If we’ve had that perfectionism that we think we’ve dealt with, it comes roaring back. Why do you think that happens?
There’s a lot of things contributing. It’s really high. Try to think of something you care more about than your ability as a mom. You think that’s one thing and that we care about the outcome so much that we want to believe we are in total control. If we do it perfectly, our kids will be okay. It’s nice how little influence we have over our kids’ life experiences. There’s that. I also think there’s a pretty toxic narrative culturally around what mothering is. Motherhood is supposed to be about self-sacrifice and done X way. I point out that there are about 5,000 books out there about how to be a good parent or how to be the right kind of parent. If there was one right way to parent, they would only need to be one book.
The reality is there are 3,000 different ways to be a good parent and to show up for your kid. However, because there are so many different ways and it’s something that’s new to us when we’re doing it for the first time, it’s easy to get lost in the noise of all the different ways, which must mean that I’m doing it wrong. If there’s another way to do it that someone else is advocating for, then it’s hard for me to stand in my integrity and say, “This is how I’m doing it. I feel good about it.”There are numerous ways to be a good parent and show up for your kid. Unfortunately, it is easy to get lost in the noise and think you are doing it wrong. Click To Tweet
There’s our own stuff for bringing into it. There certainly is the mental health component as you mentioned. Postpartum anxiety is a thing. It’s underdiagnosed and that can definitely be part of that perfectionism, and there are these cultural factors. It’s essentially telling moms are doing a bad job all the time and it’s hard to turn away from that feedback.
You had said something critical. It is understanding what we value and what’s important to us. As you said, it’s the missing piece. It’s the values, work, and understanding what’s important. We have a lens to go, “I know this is coming up and what do I believe?” In my case, I’m being vulnerable. I didn’t have that foundation of values and what I believe so I was going up to everyone else’s table and being like, “What do you think?” I’m completely judging myself and tearing myself down to pieces over it.
That’s partly the newness too. When you become a mother for the first time, you’ve clearly never done it before. Even if we go into it thinking, “I want to be this kind of mom,” we don’t necessarily have control over what kind of kid we get. Our own expectations for what this is going to look like may not play out that way, so it’s that much harder to know what I want or what I value and what’s going to work for this particular kid.
You have four kids so you’d have to share but I have two girls. They are night and day of one another. Everyone told me, “When you have your second kids, this child is going to be nothing. This boy or girl is going to be nothing like your first child,” and that was an understatement. They could be no more different if I even tried. I don’t know if your kids have similarities but my children are complete opposites.
They were all different. My first has a challenging temperament. It was colicky and all sorts of things. It ended up with some chronic health issues. That was part of it for me, but that is the blessing of having multiple kids. I did start to realize it’s not that I’m screwing this up all the time. Kids are different and parenting them in pretty similar ways, they have different responses to that and different journeys that they’re going to take in the world because of their different temperaments and experiences.
That’s good feedback too. On my side, I’m vilifying perfectionism but I wanted to ask you this. Do you think that if we do have some boundaries and we know we are perfectionists, can it be a good thing within those limits?
We have to tease apart perfectionism from valuing achievement, excellence, or having high expectations. We’ll lump those altogether. If I’m not a perfectionist, I’m going to not care how things come out or that perfectionism is the only way to get excellence. Those two things are not synonymous. That’s caveat number one, but the other piece I would say is perfectionism can lead to “beneficial” outcomes. At work, there was an HBR study that pointed that out. People who are perfectionists at work tend to be more motivated on the job. They tend to work longer hours and be more engaged at work, but that is not sustainable. People who are perfectionists are also much more likely to have higher levels of burnout, stress, workaholism, anxiety, and depression.Perfectionist people tend to work longer hours, but this is not sustainable. They are only putting themselves at more risk of burnout, stress, workaholism, anxiety, and depression. Click To Tweet
Essentially, the way I put it is you can try to sprint a marathon, but you’re not going to finish. You can’t sustain perfectionism and those things in any healthy way. It can feel like a benefit and even some people say, “My perfectionism or my anxiety is what motivates me to get things done.” That can feel that way but you can still hold on to some degree of motivation with an increased tolerance for the gray area and resting even if you’re to-do list isn’t done, or acknowledging that 80% is good enough in a lot of cases, and the last 20% is diminishing returns.
If you can access that, then that standard of excellence becomes a sustainable one. The other piece that comes up with perfectionism that is risky is the fear of failure. If you’re a perfectionist, you don’t fail as much, but you also don’t learn as much. You don’t take risks. If you don’t fail, you can’t learn. Mistakes are the way that we learn a lot of the time. It can keep you at a lower level in the end because of that.
It’s because you’re playing it safe rather than being, “I’m going to take this risk.” In framing it, it’s like, “I might fail but I also may learn in the process.”
I’m such a perfectionist that the shame of failing means I avoid a task, then I’m limiting myself.
You definitely are speaking to me there in a couple of things that I’m working through personally. Thank you for that. That often happens in my show. That will give me some wisdom that I need to hear. Part of this is selfish for me. Thank you, Dr. Anne.
You’re so welcome. These are the only things. For half of this system, I had to learn it myself too. Part of the air that we breathe as high-achieving women is navigating perfectionism and toning it down.
When we have these, for me, it comes out. It’s something that I manage. Maybe it’s because I haven’t gone through the whole process but I have found that it’s lifelong for me. If a woman is like, “I’m going along fine in new motherhood,” there are other inflection points. Let’s say you’re in a very new phase of your career or you’re in a new job. All of that will flare my perfectionism. Any tips you would have for a woman who says, “I thought I had it. My perfectionism is flaring. What do I do now?” Any tips on what you would say when they’re in that moment and what they need to do next? They have that “control this, control that” in the body, and re-center that to be the best version of themselves moving forward.
I would say the first thought is to validate that that’s going to happen and then it’s okay. It’s not something shameful. It doesn’t mean now you’re doing a bad job at managing your perfectionism or your failure at not being a perfectionist. I think I used way too many negatives. To essentially say, of course, it flared up. You’re in a new situation and this was what you spent 30, 40, or 50 years of your life doing. Now we’re trying to do it differently. One of the analogies I use when we’re trying to make any behavioral change is sweating. I’m in Boston and we’re coming up on snow season. It’s fitting here. If you go sledding on the same route over and over again, there’ll be a divot in the snow and your sleds will go down the same path.
Our brains love consistency. The more we do a certain behavior or even think a certain set of thoughts, the more neurons wire together, and then the more they fire together. It becomes this very consistent pattern. If you want to sled down a different path, you have to pick up the sled, walk over, and mush it down in the snow. It feels intentional. If you get anywhere near that old path, your sled is going to turn right back into it and go down that old path. When we do a new thing, essentially, there’s so much new information.
It’s like, “I forgot to move my sled over because all of a sudden, I’m in a new situation. I’m going to go back down that old hill.” The thing is you catch yourself to say, “Here I am at the bottom of the hill. I know what this is.” That’s that perfectionist trap in the snow. Now I got to pick up my sled and move it over and it doesn’t mean I screwed up. It didn’t mean I did anything wrong. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad leader. It doesn’t mean I didn’t deserve this promotion or whatever the new thing is. It means I have to redo this again. Every time you redo it, it’s a little less effortful. It’s just enough.
That’s a beautiful metaphor. You’re in Boston and I’m in Chicago. We’re all going to get the snow soon. As we’re recording this, I have to tell you Dr. Anne, it is going to be 63 here. Talk about global warming is a whole other podcast. How is it in Boston now from a weather perspective?
It’s cold. We’re high of 41. It’s seasonally appropriate for November.
You’re all right. I’m at 61 Chicago. It’s mid-November as we’re recording this. This is crazy. That’s a beautiful metaphor for the idea of like you have to pick up and start again. It’s not an error. It’s just that it was the path of least resistance and you’re your brain went there.
That’s what our brains do. It’s taking in so much information every minute that it has to work that way. It has to streamline and act in routine ways and predictable ways for us to function. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s not even that your brain is doing anything wrong. It’s hard to change. It’s doable but it’s hard.
That’s helpful. I want to pivot and talk about your newer program. It’s called Working Mother’s Lifeline. I love the name. I wanted to ask you if this is the program that you wish you would have had. Is that why you created it?
Yes on some levels. I created it in part because I do a lot of one-on-one work. My therapy is obviously individual working moms. Executive coaching is working typically with individuals. Sometimes, I’ll do teams, workshops, and stuff but the vast majority of it is one-on-one. One of the things that I’ve been seeing over the past couple of years is it’s twofold. Many women come into my office with similar complaints and think that they’re the only ones who are feeling that way. They’re feeling overwhelmed or they feel like they’re failing at work and at home and they can’t do any of it. They feel like they can’t figure out how to be the mom they want to be and at work in the way they want to show up, or they feel isolated.
I’m hearing all of the same stuff over and over again and they all think, “I’m the only one that’s struggling with this. I must be a screw-up and everybody else has it figured out.” That part of it is so painful to feel like everyone else has this figured out and there’s something wrong with me. I can tell them it’s not you. One of the things I see all the time is it’s hard because it’s hard. It’s not because you’re doing it wrong. The wheel started turning in the sense that I wondered how much magic could happen if I could get these women all in the same room. That’s where this was born. It is a group coaching program with some individual one-on-one support as part of it. You get one-on-one coaching with me as a part of it but there’s also a component where we can sit together, not feel alone, and validate how hard this is.
As humans, in particular, as mothers, we need that connection and that community. That was the novel part of it to me. In terms of my offering, I was trying to bring together working mothers and it doesn’t have to be full-time. It can be that you’re working full-time, part-time, a few hours, or 60 hours a week. It can be that your kids are little, teenagers, or anywhere in between. The idea is that, as moms, were all working moms. In particular, we are all struggling in some way with figuring out, how we want these parts of ourselves to integrate and how we do that in a way that fits ourselves and our own values.
It sounds like you’re going to go through those building blocks or tools that we’ve been talking about such as values, perfectionism, and things like that in the Working Mother’s Lifeline Program.
Everyone gets an initial coaching session with me where we can set some goals and talk about some background information for you and get started right away individually. The group program will be group coaching calls where we work through those steps. It starts with that process of labeling some of the stories that we tell ourselves and then challenging them, doing some of that values work, practicing asking for what you want, or even asking yourself what you want before you ask other people for it, setting boundaries, and then practicing all of the skills that go with doing things in a new way, whether that is asking for and receiving support.
That receiving part is very hard for many of us, or setting limits of what you are willing to do and not willing to do, saying no to things when you simply don’t have the bandwidth, saying yes to things that are for you, for self-care, and navigating relationships all throughout this as well.
A couple of questions in there. Have you guys already started the program or is it going to be starting early in 2024 as we’re recording this?
The first cohort is launching in January 2024. Basically, I’m going to spend a lot of time talking to people who are interested and get a cohort of women that fit and will gel together. Once that starts, I’ll start interviewing for another one. My idea is to have groups of women. Essentially, as soon as one fails, I’ll start another one and try to find groups that I think would gel. I’m not saying there’s only one group this year and this is your last chance. My idea is that I can continue to offer this so that anybody who wants to be a part of it can join at a time when they are ready. It’ll be ongoing enrollment but these are small closed groups of about ten people who will work together for six months.
That’s awesome. If you’re tuning into this in February or December of ‘24, you’re not too late. That’s why I wanted to ask.
You can never be too late.
That’s great. You had mentioned the idea of thriving in motherhood and careers at the same time. I have read so much about this. There it’s a real polarizing topic. I have friends who are stay-at-home moms. I have friends who are working moms. I have friends that don’t even have kids at all and everyone has got their place. In terms of mothers and careers, I’ve always struggled with this. Can we have it all and can we thrive in both roles? It is challenging. I was wondering what your thought is on that.
The very short answer is that you can but you have to do it your way. That’s the tricky part because it comes shedding all of those expectations about what having it all looks like for other people. It’s about changing your expectations. It’s not necessarily lowering them. It’s not saying, “I’m going to lower my expectations.” That may be the case in some ways but it’s also changing them so that you know what you value and what needs to rise to the top priorities. I’m not going to say there’s one way to do this. I’d be wrong. I’m not one of those people who will say, “Follow my program and you’ll succeed. You can have it all and you’ll be happy.” No because that’s not about any of this works.
We’re all individual people. I do think that if you can start to name what you value, you name your strengths and then prioritize based on that. You can get rid of the stuff that isn’t that important and you can focus on the stuff that is. Again, that’s going to be different. For me, I have four kids and we live in 1,600 square feet. It’s a tight fit. There’s stuff everywhere. That’s going to be my house while my children are living at home and I’ve learned to say, “That’s fine.” I like it to be a little nicer and a little more organized. I have dreams of a big mud room where everything is put away. I don’t even have a mud room. These are just dreams. I’ve let that go. I’ve put that ball down. I know I can pick it up at a time when my kids are older but I’m not going to worry about it right now.
That may not fit for someone else. Someone else may say, “A clean and organized house is what I need to function, be healthy, and be happy. It stresses me out to see things all over the place.” Okay, so they’re going to put that one on their priority list. That’s going to be one they focus on but they put down something else that I’m holding. We’re all going to pick and choose which balls we’re going to be juggling.
What are our glass balls and what are the rubber ones? The glass ones we can keep juggling to those but we can’t label them as all glass, and the glass ones are the important ones because if we drop a glass one, it cracks. We can still glue it back together but it cracks. The rubber ones, we can let them drop and put them down for a while. They’ll roll away and be totally fine. We can go get them later if we have the bandwidth to add another one.
That’s another good metaphor. I’m thinking about what are my glass ones and what are my rubber ones. I’m also wondering because I’ve shared this many times. In 2019, I completely burned out as you talked about. These are very simplistic terms but maybe I was juggling too many glass balls or I became the glass ball and cracked. I don’t know but I think that there’s something to be said for that analogy.
That’s exactly it. When we label everything as glass and we don’t stop to think that this is important, we’re more likely to drop them all. One of those glass balls has to be your own mental health. That has to be something you’re thinking for all of this, so then when you drop them all, you drop that one too, and that’s what burnout looks like.
I’ve never heard of that before thinking that we always talk about self-care and all that stuff. In self-care, it is a cliché like, “Get a pedicure. Go get a facial and a massage. Go hang out with a friend,” but what you said reigns supreme. Maybe I took it for granted. I didn’t realize that my mental health was a glass ball. I needed to cover it and hold it dear.
I agree with you. Self-care has gotten to the point of eating chocolate and getting a facial. Sometimes, healthcare is going to the dentist. Self-care is going to therapy. It’s something that you don’t want to do. If I don’t go to the dentist on a regular basis, I probably end up with a cavity and some pretty massive dental work that’s going to take me out. If I don’t stop, rest, fuel, and take care of myself, I will not make it long-term. My body is going to force that on me in one way, shape, or form.If you don’t stop, rest, fuel, and take care of yourself, you will not make it long-term. Click To Tweet
It’s a question for everybody. I give homework. It’s something to think about like journaling, talking with your therapists, or talking with a friend. It’s like, “What are your glass balls and what are the rubber ones? If you’re holding too many glass balls, what can become rubber?” As you said, Dr. Anne, ultimately, you decide what is what.
We have to be realistic about what are those glass ones. It’s easy to feel like, “I’ll put my self-care, mental health, my kids, my spouse, and my job in there. Nutrition should be on there and exercise.” Right now, our list is getting way too long. What’s truly glass and some of those things are not quite as important. Maybe you can put them down temporarily. That’s the other piece to recognize. When we’re talking about the glass balls, these are the ones that you can’t ever put down or you have to give to someone else. Child care is a good one. Making sure my kids are taken care of is a glass ball but I can hand that one off to someone else like a babysitter, a nanny, my spouse, or whoever else is in my caretaking village. It’s someone that I trust to hold that.
Even those can be handed off temporarily. Sometimes, we’re putting them down for a week, a day, or a night even. If I say, “Overall, cooking healthy dinners is important to me for my family, but I have a beast of a week at work. I am going to do take-out for five nights in a row and then we’re going to eat cereal for dinner. We’ll then get back on track.” That’s okay. I’ve put it down temporarily. It doesn’t mean now that we never cook dinner and eat as a family. It means for this period or this quick season when things are intense, I can let that one go to make room for the more intense period at work. Things then shift and I pick it back up again. Those seasons can be short or they can be a couple of months. They’re going to wax and wane over the long term.
That is so good. Out of all of this that we’ve been discussing, this is a good question of summary. Let’s say it’s a working mom. Maybe she’s like, “I wanted to get these concepts. I want to get to a better place.” What advice would you share with that working mom?
First of all, I’ll say, “You’re doing an awesome job.” Probably nobody else is telling you that. The fact that you’re even having these thoughts of, “I want to be a good mom. I want to show up at work,” means you’re doing a great job. That’s number one. Can you celebrate some of those small wins for yourself? I made myself a dentist appointment, good job. Round of applause because that takes time and effort. The other thing I’d say to them is balance as a state or some magical spot you’re going to reach is a false ideal. Balance in reality isn’t about being rigid and finding some magical point where you never move again. Balance is constant movement.
If you have ever taken a yoga class and you do any balancing poses, you know that you’re wiggling the whole time you’re in balance. It might be perceptible to others but your muscles are all moving around as you adjust. You’re pivoting to one side and then to the other the entire time you’re in that pose. I tell people that’s what balance looks like in our lives too. It’s moving in and out and back and forth over those seasons. Give yourself permission to have things look one way one week and look differently another week. It’s that flexibility that’s going to give you a more sustainable version of balance over time
I like that. I had a foot injury and I had to go to physical therapy. The physical therapist was torturing me. I’m not great with balance. She’s like, “It’s something you have to work on.” I was doing it from day to day or from session a session. There were times when my balance was good and then there were times when I was tapping my toe down every few seconds. She’s like, “It’s going to depend on how much water and how much sleep you have. It does vary.” You have to show yourself compassion. It’s like, “I’m a rock star today. I’m semi rock star. I’m doing the best that I can.” It’s all part of the dance and the journey.
Within that, remember that oftentimes 80% is completely good enough. I said that earlier. Sometimes that last 20% is diminishing returns and if you can get a job to 80%, even that deserves that pat on the back and that round of applause. Sometimes, don’t let perfect be the enemy of done, and then move on.
I wish I would have learned this one a long time ago. Sometimes, B work can be even better than A work because if you’ve decimated yourself with A work, you could have had some energy left in the tank with B work. Maybe that would have been a little bit better. I wanted to ask you for the advice. If we could touch on quickly employers. Employers are looking to retain. They don’t have to be new moms but any moms or any parents. What advice would you give to someone who might be a business owner or has decision-making power within a company? What advice would you give to them to retain parents and moms specifically?
The big picture one is to value them and recognize that working parents bring a lot to the table. In fact, one of the things that I talk with companies about a lot is that parenting teaches leadership lessons. Your brain, when you become a parent, whether you’re the birthing parent or not, changes and gets primed for learning. If employers know that and recognize that there are developments in the four P’s of Parental Leadership Lessons, you grow in people skills and things like empathy. It’s those coaching and leadership skills we talk about. You grow in processing skills. Things decisiveness and prioritization. As a parent, you have to process a lot of information quickly and then act on it. That’s the skillset that’s valuable at work.
You grow in productivity skills. Things like not wasting an ounce of time because you don’t have a choice. You grow in perspective-taking and planning skills. Things like anticipating needs and prioritizing. Essentially, you are doing project management to get your kids out of the door in the morning. There are all these skills that you’re growing in or working parents are growing in because they are parents. They bring those to the table at work, especially if you, as the employer, are able to see that and name it with them and for them. That’s the big-picture perspective I like to give employers in terms of real on-the-ground tangible stuff. Number one is flexibility. Across the board, that’s the very first one I always recommend.
You’re working parents want to get the job done so let them do it in a way that works for them and their families. My sense across the board is that if they have to leave for that daycare pick-up and something is not done, they’re going to sign back on to their computer and get it done. If you can give them the benefit of the doubt and offer flexibility so they can work from home as much as possible or certainly around childcare snafus and kids illnesses, that’s going to come back to you in spades. The other big piece I suggest is to offer parental leave for both parents, not just moms so that dads will fall, which helps women’s involvement at work. It’s a good parental leave policy.If employers can give working parents the flexibility to work from home as much as possible, it will come back to them in spades. Click To Tweet
I make the recommendation that you offer parental leave coaching, which is executive coaching that supports working parents while they prepare for leave, while they’re on leave, and as they transition back into work. That coaching sends the message that we value you. We want you here. We want to be cognizant of how you re-onboard and what that process is like for you. It makes the working parent feel that much more supported in what is usually a pretty challenging time in their life. This is a service that I provide. I recommend it to any employer that wants to support their working parents, especially their new working parents.
Everybody, news flash. If you’re not a parent, this isn’t to be facetious or sarcastic, but some people or employers think that maternity and paternity leave is like a vacation. You come back and you ease back in. I do think that you’re right. It’s a huge transition in someone’s life in any parent, male or female. They need support. This doesn’t have to be a mom. Let’s say all women. What are 1 to 2 ways that women can be braver at work now?
One of the articles I was reading was about the 30 different things that women reported being dinged for at work. In the end, it came down to being a woman. I say that to put out there that women are going to be discriminated against for being women, even if they follow all the rules of what a leader or an employee is supposed to do. Even if you read all the books, you’re still going to have some people who say you’re doing it wrong because you’re a woman. You are carrying a heavier load than your male counterparts. Knowing that, know that there is no perfect here. There’s no way to perfectly do your job. You’re going to do it wrong in someone’s eyes.
That gives you a little bit of freedom to find a way to do it the way that fits for you. What fits for you? Within the frame of your job, of course. You can’t show up in street clothes if you’re working as a physician and have to be wearing scrubs. I’m talking about behaviors. Testing out behaviors that feel good to you that work for you at work. The bravery comes from saying, “This is me and I bring something to the table as me. If I’m an introvert, I can still show up in a way that values relationships and connections at work. If I tend to be someone that likes to think by talking and think out loud, that’s also something that I can bring to the table at work and be a way that contributes significantly.” I think that would be my, “Be brave by being yourself and let yourself show up a little bit at work.”
As a secondary piece, I understand that as a woman, there are going to be judgments around, “You’re doing it wrong. I wouldn’t do it this way.” You know that going in. The game is rigged. It’s not your favorite. Necessarily, not to be negative. You aren’t beating yourself up for how it’s played.
Again, it said in that saying I was mentioning before. It’s hard because it’s hard, not because you’re doing it wrong. You are not wrong when you sense that you have a different set of expectations on you as a woman than your male counterparts.
It’s very valuable. Thank you for that. Where can women find your program, Working Mother’s Online, and connect with you online and your work? Where can they find you?
They can check out my website, which is DrAnneWelsh.com. I’ve got information on there about one-on-one coaching, therapy, and the group coaching program. I’m also on LinkedIn at Dr. Anne Welsh. I’m on Instagram. It’s @Dr.Welsh.Coaching. I post on there about all sorts of things like working parenting, mental health at work, leadership skills, and women in leadership roles. You can check that out for a whole bunch of different stuff over time and DM me there if you’re interested in any of those services as well.
Dr. Anne, thank you so much. This is an interesting conversation on perfectionism, changing the story we tell ourselves about our expectations, our values, and what’s important to us. Thank you again for being here.
Thanks again so much for having me. I had a lot of fun.
That does it for my discussion with Dr. Anne. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. Here are some questions to consider until next time. How does perfectionism show up in your life? How can you be kinder to yourself when perfectionism rears its head? How can you adjust your expectations for your personal and professional circumstances? By managing our perfectionism and our personal expectations.
I believe that we can experience more peace in our lives. Whether you’re a working mom or not, I am confident that we can all benefit from more peace at work and at home. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts or any other podcast platform you enjoy. Until next time, show up manage your perfectionism, and be brave.
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About Dr. Anne Welsh
Dr. Anne Welsh is a distinguished psychologist & executive coach with a profound affinity for supporting women in leadership, and aiding working parents across diverse career landscapes. Beginning her academic odyssey at Harvard, Dr. Welsh has since pivoted, dedicating her life to unraveling the interplay between career aspirations, personal fulfillment, and women’s mental health throughout the lifespan.
Dr. Welsh’s career journey started with a direct line to medical school, but upon admission she recognized that it was what others wanted for her, rather than what she wanted for herself. This shift was the beginning of a process of exploration and curiosity about how we think about career. She took her next steps with a research career addressing these questions about career development, while also researching other transition points, including the transition to parenthood. Another pivot from academia to private practice has blossomed into a fulfilling mission of supporting women in their careers, in their parenting journeys, and in their pursuit of finding a life that fits for them. With a blend of research and lived experiences, her coaching philosophy accentuates the cultivation of leadership acumen, emotional intelligence, and the harmonization of work and personal life realms.
In a world where the tugs between professional growth and home life are ever-present, Dr. Welsh sheds light on the quintessential tools that ease work-life integration, and the strategies to mitigate burnout. She speaks to the topics of battling imposter syndrome and perfectionism, two formidable foes in the quest for authentic leadership and self-assurance, especially for women navigating the male-dominated fields of STEM, healthcare, and law.
Dr. Welsh also articulates her belief in the ways in which our personal lives can actually be a catalyst, rather than a barrier to our professional growth. She consults with corporations, providing actionable steps for organizations to foster a culture that values, supports, and retains well rounded individuals, thereby creating a conducive ecosystem for growth, connectivity, and shared values.
Dr. Welsh has a mission to help individuals create a career journey that feels fulfilling, impactful, and integrated into a life of intention and presence.