Superwoman Is the Worst Role Model for Working Moms
I wanted to be Superwoman for as long as I can remember. Do it all. Have it all. Be it all.
If you’re like me, you probably looked up to some version of this character growing up—and most of us still do as grown-ass women. (Don’t believe me? Take a look around the next costume party you go to.) I get it, Superwoman, after all, is pretty and pretty tough at the same time. Like, how does she maintain that bouncy blowout and look so smoking hot while also saving the world every day?!
But, for the longest time I never really stopped to think about why I aspired to be the embodiment of Superwoman. Have you? Or do you, a powerful, human woman, just idolize her because . . . you always have? Let’s think about it for a second.
The Superwoman origin story goes, more or less, like this: Superman started saving the world. Then he saved Superwoman. And, then, Superwoman went on to save the world, multiple
times—all while strutting in sassy red boots and remaining perfectly coiffed. So, it’s basically a tale of a woman who was saved by a dude and then went right into saving everyone else. Never complaining. Never missing a beat. Is that truly who you want to be, what you want to strive for?
I don’t. Her narrative is all about saving everyone else; in essence, dropping anything and even putting her own well-being in danger at the slightest suggestion that she is needed. Sure, she performs incredible feats, but who she is and how she feels is largely a mystery. In real life that plays out like this: Being all things to all people means you are nothing to yourself. And therein lies the real danger.
What I want to be is a Super Woman, not Superwoman.What I want to be is a Super Woman, not Superwoman. Click To Tweet
That space in between is important. That space allows me to define, on my own terms, what being “super” means for me and my goals without the pressure and limitations that come with the make-believe one-word version.
I’m betting your idolization of Superwoman is shifting as well, even if you’re not fully aware of it yet. I can tell because the number-one question I get asked online or at the events is “Nicole, how can I stay happy and balanced and on top of my shit all the time like you?”
Well, I’ve never lied to my readers before, and I’m not going to do it now. I get that I might look or seem that way from my bio: I was the youngest anchor ever at CNN and hosted my own global show on CNBC in my mid-twenties. I found my niche after that delivering smart, no-nonsense advice about money and business to young women. I wrote two bestselling books on how to be a Rich Bitch and a Boss Bitch—someone who is in control of her financial life and her career future. All of this is true. But this is also true: I haven’t always been balanced. I haven’t been on top of my shit all the time. And, despite the success I’ve had, I haven’t been consistently happy.
So while you know my bio, you probably don’t know the whole story behind it. I had a broken and traumatic upbringing, one I hid from by working and then working some more. I reached the top of what I thought would be a long climb to success earlier than I’d ever imagined, becoming a network news anchor at just twenty-one. The more I achieved, the harder I worked. I thought that if I only worked harder, I would be even more successful—and then I would be happy. I told myself, “When I get to this network, I’ll be happy.” Then, I would get there and say, “Well, when I get this position, I’ll be happy.” But, breaking news: I wasn’t. There was always another benchmark for success, always more to achieve, and always more realness to hide from.
Until very recently, if you had asked me to make a list of all the things I valued, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to put myself on it. The list was long with everything I’d always wanted: a super job, a super man, and an overall super life. But I wasn’t devoting any time or effort into becoming a super woman first.
Until—also very recently—I had a breakdown. A complete and total mental, physical, and emotional breakdown. The developmental trauma I ignored or numbed with work for so many years finally kicked my ass. And only then did I have no choice but to make myself a priority. Of course, I had experienced setbacks before, but my burnout and subsequent breakdown was the first and only time in my life that I fell down such a deep, dark hole that no one else could get me out of it. No one could swoop in to rescue me. I had to rescue myself.
That’s when I realized: I’m not Superwoman—and I don’t want to be. What I wanted to be was a Super Woman, a woman who, when she needed a hero, became one. My climb from rock bottom was a long one. If you’re starting at a higher place than me, well, I’m not mad at ya. But you still have to climb to get to the top. There’s no secret elevator. There’s no quick fix. In fact, there is no external solution to an internal problem.
If you think you’re okay just muscling through your problems as they arise or maybe even think you’ve “found” balance, keep thinking. Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create, actively participate in, and practice all the time. And “not drowning” is not the same as “swimming.” The space between “hanging in there” and being truly happy is where the real work is. My space was a pretty big one. But, if I could close that gap, then anyone can, including you.Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create. Click To Tweet
A version of this article was originally published on Working Mother.