• Sarah E. Brown

Why Women Don’t Know What They Want in a Job or Career

This week I attended the Millennial Summit in Wilmington, DE. This event drew over 700 millennials to the Chase Center on the Riverfront. What a treat to see that many young professionals eager to learn new things and meet new people to advance their careers!

I had the pleasure of working one day in the Coaches Corner, a place where summit participants could get some “speed coaching,” 30 minutes of advice or coaching on their career challenges. I met and coached 9 individuals, 3 men and 6 women.

There was a stark difference in what the men and what the women wanted from the session. All three of the men sat down and told me exactly what they wanted, and then asked questions about how best to go about getting it.

Only 2 of the 6 women had any idea what they really wanted career-wise. Most of the women were stretched thin by competing family responsibilities. They were tired. Tired of juggling all the balls. Tired of long days. Tired of trying to meet the needs of people at home AND people at work. How could they think about career aspirations when they were overwhelmed with taking care of so many others?

You may recall that this is why I got into my work in the first place. When I was still working at Accenture, I kept noticing mid-career professional women who were obviously in the wrong roles. They were miserable. But when I would ask them what they wanted in a job, they could not answer the question.

I thought at the time that this problem was limited to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, but here I was with a group of millennial women, and they had the same challenge.

Why is this? I think many women have become so conditioned to think about others first that they forget or do not allow enough time to think about their own needs or dreams. It is not that helping others is bad. That is good. But when it is done to the exclusion of our own needs and dreams, it becomes harmful. It will burn us out. It will ultimately make it very difficult to serve others we care about because there will be nothing left to give.

That is what many of the women I coached yesterday were experiencing— the beginnings of burnout. They did not have the energy they wanted to fully discover and follow their own dreams. They were also losing energy they needed to even continue taking care of everyone they were currently serving.

What is the solution? I think it is 2-fold:

1. Women need to carve out some time every day for Self Care. One of the speakers at this summit was Linda Arrey Nkwenti (www.lindaarrey.com). She is an author and a sought-after speaker. She runs a non-profit, and she is on active duty as a Captain in the US Air Force. She also has a husband and 2 small children. Linda was asked how she balances work and family and she said that she has a general template that she plans each day around, starting with 2-hours of self-care and 9-hours of sleep. For the remaining 13 hours, she allocates 5 hours to her family and 8 hours to work. As she noted, that is not exactly what happens everyday. But if she finds herself working 10 hours a day, she is aware that she is taking away an hour from other areas such as family and self-care and makes that conscious decision to balance it going forward.

2. Women need to practice being aware of their preferences. A simple way to practice this is to become aware of each time you are asked a preference and reply, “I don’t care” or “whatever is fine” or “you decide.” We can practice being aware of what we really want by noting how often we do this and then thinking, “If I did care, what might I choose in this situation?”

So I challenge you all to run a 30-day experiment. Catch yourself saying, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” when asked a preference, and just for fun, try to state a preference instead. See how you feel in a month. I bet you will feel a lot more powerful. You might even be happier. Regardless, you will be working on the mental muscles needed for figuring out what you really want career-wise. Then when you can get some time all to yourself, you can ask those important questions: What do I want? What would I love?