I remember when I was growing up, my dad would read the local newspaper in the morning with his cup of tea, and a plate of runny eggs and toast. In the evenings, he came home by 6pm and would watch the CBS evening news and help us with our math homework. On some nights when he had dinner meetings, he would come home with leftovers for the next day. But then he started traveling more globally as we grew up, and he would only be back home in a handful of days.
And when my dad was home, he was completely disconnected. There was no way for work to get in touch with him. Apart from the occasional moments when the landline would ring with his boss on the other end.
As an immigrant, my father struggled to build a great life for my mom, my brother and I. And yet at the same time, he had one enormous luxury I am not sure I will ever truly have. The luxury of disconnecting from work when at home.
Because once my first shift ends, my second shift begins. I happily threw work life balance out the window, and readily accepted work life integration. Believing this was the more modern, progressive solution. Except that work continues to slowly seep into my home life, long after Ihave shut off my laptop.
"I hate to bother you so let me just text you. Or do you want to FaceTime? How about Blue Jeans or Zoom or Skype? Just make sure you select both audio and video."
"I can call you if that's easier- is that your work cell or personal cell? And then I'll email you to recap what we discussed."
And as I try to sneak in the video chat, text, or call, or that one last email… one more, and then one more… my husband is screaming, we are out of wipes! And where is my son's gym shirt? Still in the washer. (Why does the school only provide one for the whole year?) My daughter has a meltdown because she can't find the rock she picked on her way from school. My son somehow finds the Ipad and is watching Captain Underpants… again…as I hear farting sounds mixed with laughter, all while I also try to examine if this bread is really expired? I think I can still use this for school lunches.
Then it starts all over again, with the 5am wake up from my daughter who has made it into our bed and kicks me in the face. I am exhausted just from typing it all for you to read. But when did being exhausted become a badge of honor?
Because if you are not exhausted then you really aren't working hard. And somehow "working smart" and "not working hard" sound like you have gamed the system and taken short cuts to climb that corporate ladder. Surviving not thriving is my way of signaling that I am 'Super Woman'. I am pushing through it all, and I am too cool, too busy, to do yoga or meditate or take a lunch break. Or do a walking meeting. And no, I don't own a fit bit.
And when someone says "I am thriving, not surviving" my brain short circuits for a second. There are people who are thriving? While living in a dual career household with children?
And so on this World Mental Health Day, I am on my own journey to disconnect. I am trying hard. I am trying hard to recharge my brain. I am trying hard to just have moments of just being. And doing nothing.
I don't pick up my phone anymore at 3am to start reading, responding to emails, or watching Netflix. I don't book myself in meetings solid from morning, noon and night. I don't apologize for watching '90 Day Fiance', 'The Other Way', 'Married at First Sight' or other reality shows hidden on my DVR. I don't skip lunch anymore. I don't drag myself into work or log on when I am sick- I take a sick day. Technically you are not supposed to work when you are sick, I think.
I still say yes to being available during my second shift. I still check my phone too often- mostly for my work email. I still worry about not responding to people fast enough- and what they might think of me. I still email on the weekends- I try hard not to on Sunday nights. I still think about that email I forgot to send in the shower. I still dislike yoga. And I fall asleep when I meditate. Sometimes my mind is too full of "to-Do" lists to practice "mindfulness."
But I am still on my journey to disconnect. It's a work in progress, that's why it's called a 'journey'.
So as you think of your own mental health journey, please don't treat yourself like an Uber app. Please don't treat others like an Uber app. Stop acting like you are an Uber app. Because guess what? You are not.
Our obsession with being always on, always available, always responsive has consequences. If my Uber App crashes, I just turn my phone off and then back on and Voila! My Uber app is back up and running. Magically reset. Ready to connect me with 8 nearby drivers, ready to take me anywhere I need to go, any time, day or night.
But when I crash. When WE crash. It's usually not as easy as hitting that one reset button.
I am still chasing that luxury of disconnection. Maybe I should start by adding a plate of runny eggs and toast to my morning routine or at the very least a cup of tea. Hmm. Do we even have a local newspaper? Maybe Apple News will suffice.
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Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."