Not too long ago, a new client explained that she needed help in motivating her employees to achieve more. We chatted about various ways to accomplish her goal, but the homework I gave her had to do with herself, after it became apparent that she was a huge overachieve. I asked her to do only one thing that was just for herself alone, to do something to take care of her.

When she returned the following week, she admitted she had not done one thing for herself because she just couldn’t find the time in her busy day. So, we explored what her typical day looked like and how much time she devoted to certain tasks. When it came to the topic of her family, I asked if she still had children at home, to which she answered yes. Assuming that that the children were school aged, I inquired as to what they might do to offload some chores. To my astonishment, her “children” were two adults, ages 25 and 21 still living at home. The way she presented the kids was as if they were pre-teens still dependent on her for their every need because she mentioned that she does their laundry, cooking and cleaning. The reason for this, she stated, was that she feels it’s her job to take care of the family and make sure their needs are met and furthermore, she need to keep them safe and protect them. My response was that it’s true that parents are responsible for taking care of children, but my observation was that at ages 21 and 25, she was not responsible for the well-being and care and feeding of two additional adults in her family.

This situation is not atypical for many women between the ages of 48-60. They are from a generation of woman who was told they could “go out and earn the bacon and fry it up in a pan”. My client and I dug deeper into her various tasks and it was soon clear that she was taking on a role that would soon lead her down a self-destructive path. That old saying about the bacon is from the old “feminist superwoman” of the 1980s. But as many women found over the last 40 years, at some point, it just gets too hard.

As women, we ask ourselves why we are stressed, why we are tired, why we just can’t stop once we walk in the door at the end of a busy work day. I would argue that this “Superwoman” ideal is still alive and well and has many a woman’s mindset stuck in an era that no longer exists.

And even if we want to cling to that old image, could we not make it easier on ourselves? Could we not dig into the bottom of our cabinets and get out the old crock pot or even better, a pressure cooker? They’re electric now, so no need to fear the top blowing off to save our own tops from blowing!

My client and I chatted about the possibility of hiring a cleaning service. She rejected the idea based on her perception that the service would not clean as well as she could. She backed up her argument based on a story about how she cleans her refrigerator in between commercials when watching TV at the end of the day with her husband, just so she can get it all done. When I asked her how her husband felt about her abandoning him for cleaning, she told me he is not happy about it.

At the end of our session, I recommended for her homework, she investigate a cleaning service, and gave her a few names to contact. She reluctantly took the paper I wrote the names on and stuffed them in her purse.

When we have women who are so stressed out at work they seem like they are ready to blow any minute, or who begin to have constant physical and /or mental issues, maybe offering them a workshop on delegation techniques  as part of a training and development program could help avoid the inevitable frustration, fear of failure, and burnout many women will silently face.

Women are a big part of our workforce, an important and critical part, we can’t afford to allow women to fear adjusting priorities based on an outdated image. Superwoman be damned!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed by this 40 year old myth, let’s chat. Call me at 401-742-1965.



Mary T. O'Sullivan

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, Member, International Coaching Federation, Society of Human Resource Management. Candidate, Master’s Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In additional, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education, and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area.