Stress & Work: Learning to Trust Myself As a Woman

by Victoria Lister, Brisbane, Australia

Lately, as I’ve been reflecting on my motives for choosing the roles I’ve had throughout my working life, I’ve realised these had little to do with the real me, and everything to do with mind-created ideals and beliefs. I’ve also examined my propensity to choose industries and jobs that have been challenging to the point of debilitation, with no consideration for myself… again the result of the ideals and beliefs I held.

But the revelations haven’t stopped there: in the course of my explorations, I’ve come to see there is a third, equally important element to consider in the work equation: how I’ve gone about the business of work itself.

The answer is, I’ve been great at ‘doing’ work in terms of results, but not in terms of being me in it. I‘ve had a tendency to go into a lot of busy-ness, often bringing an incredible, internal intensity to the way I’ve worked, going into overwhelm and nervous system energy when the need to do so did not actually exist. It’s as if I’ve perpetually been in ‘fight or flight’ mode – which means I’ve probably lived in an almost constant state of stress for much of my life. And having had little conscious awareness of this tendency, it’s meant I’ve needed to become unwell before I stopped.

What created this ‘stress’? Again, I come back to the fact that I often chose roles that weren’t natural to me and shoe-horned myself into them. I can however, nominate a few roles where everything was easy. But these were roles I’d leave after a while, simply because they were not ‘sophisticated’ or ‘challenging’ enough – somehow I imagined myself as needing something more. And if I’m honest, ‘something more’ really meant somewhere where I could satisfy myself I was doing something important, exciting or interesting.

In other words, I’ve totally identified with the work I’ve done and the excitement it can bring, wanting it to say something about me, both for my own satisfaction and that of others… more erroneous ideals and beliefs. It was this, I feel, that created the stress that accompanied everything I did… a constant striving towards an idealised state.

I’ve also realised I left me as a woman totally out of the equation – even now, I’m not yet fully sure how to be a woman and work. Unfortunately, on some level I’d taken on many ill-beliefs about women at work – that we’re a pale imitation of men, we’re not cut out to do the important work, we’re too emotional, and so on. In taking these on board, I left the woman behind and subscribed (appropriately) ‘boots and all’ to the hard, driven, excessive male energy that permeates so much of the working world. Identifying with that energy, I ran myself in it. But, as I’m not actually a man, this was quite a difficult and unnatural way to live (another significant stressor), and it ended up running me.

And going a little deeper… Have you ever come across the awful belief that women who are pregnant and working are next to useless, in another world, often forgetting things? This was one I was both aware of, and feared ­­­– and equated with the women I grew up with who had given up work for family or had never had a ‘career’.

Now, as I don’t have children, on the literal level it was never an issue. But as I’ve begun to acknowledge and connect with my femaleness over the last few years – that deeply soulful, still, nurturing space that exists within women and men both – I can feel how the gorgeousness of this place is probably akin to some of what is felt during pregnancy (and I’ve heard some women say as much). As with pregnancy, it is certainly a place in which there is potential for a far greater connection with our bodies, if not our souls.

However, as much as I love that beautiful, tender place of femaleness, I’ve had a fear that if I stay deeply connected to it, I will be less on top of things or lose the plot… in other words, I’ve taken on the belief that work and deep femaleness are mutually exclusive.

“But what if I forget something?” I can hear my mind protesting. So what if I do? Will the world fall over? Probably not. Am I being too hard on myself? Probably – that would fit my pattern! And beyond those notions, I can feel that if I were deeply connected to my femaleness and learnt to be OK with that, my body will provide me with all the cues it needs ­– and everything I need to do or ‘be across’ will be taken care of. In other words, I’ve yet to learn (as was put to me recently) to trust in stillness.

Is it that hard though? Just this morning I was watching a lovely woman, a member of the public, on a reality TV show. She looked, and felt, very natural, womanly and engaging. Admittedly, she wasn’t at work but I could imagine her easily bringing that same loveliness with her to work. I noticed her generous, womanly bust and wished for a few moments that I had such a bosom! Then I realised I could and did ­– in the sense that it would be entirely possible to embody the feeling of this gorgeous womanliness, and take it with me wherever I go, including the office.

With that possibility, and an intent to not shun the possibility that in stillness lies all, I can perhaps begin to re-build my ‘womanly work body’…and maybe even create a womanly body of work. Now that makes me smile!

Further Related Reading:
Celebrity Chef or Self-Loving Chef: Where is the Love in the Work that We Do?
From Ideals and Beliefs to Making Loving Work Choices

429 thoughts on “Stress & Work: Learning to Trust Myself As a Woman

  1. I used to work focusing on the outcome that was required first, even if it meant I needed to work long hours to achieve it, and often all day working through lunch without taking a break too, now I work from knowing myself first, staying connected to my body as much as I am able and let it lead the way, I have found that my output is far greater and I focus on the task in hand not the end result, and often when I need to speak with someone to move the project forward, they call me and I don’t need to be chasing after a response, as they are already connected.

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