I don't want to be a Superwoman!

I don't want to be a Superwoman!

‘You’re like superwoman!’

‘I don’t know how you do it all!’

‘Where do you find the time?’

‘You’ve just got it all!’

I’ve heard these phrases a lot. They started when I was 29, when I was thrown into taking on a Head of School role and I gave it a go. It wasn’t easy back then but I had wonderful people around me including a small but perfectly formed team of teachers at work. I managed the juggle of being a Head, a friend and wife well. We were an improving school and worked towards an Outstanding Ofsted together over three years, it was tough but purposeful work, we worked hard but played hard too! I even had time to bake cakes for events and weddings on the side!

For a long time the comments above, and others like it, felt positive, I enjoyed them. I think I did feel a bit like a superwoman! 

But then came a time when I didn't. When it felt like I was living a lie, fooling people that I had it all sorted. I was ‘swanning it’ big time. You know, being a swan, where you look like everything is fine on the surface but underneath your legs are going like crazy! 

For a while I just went with it and nodded and said ‘thanks’ or ‘oh you know, I just like being busy!’ And then I made a big decision, to leave my job as Headteacher. It took me 6 months to make the decision and even longer to make peace with the decision, but what it enabled me to do was to say ‘I’m not superwoman’, ‘I don’t do it all’ and ‘trying to find time and have it all has come at a cost.’ I finally was honest with people. I told them that I went home and cried, that I worked until midnight four days a week, that I was miserable and that appearances can be deceiving. And do you know what? No-one unfriended me for saying those things, no-one showed me less respect or kindness at work because of my vulnerability. In fact, quite the opposite! People were more open with me, they asked how I was more, they offered to share the workload. By being honest I finally felt like I wasn’t a fraud anymore. Several people told me they had no idea, that I had hidden it so well, and for that I felt guilty. Who was I to lie to them about how hard it was, to pretend that it was all fine and for them to think they had to be that too?

It’s funny how we know that things change and people change, but that we hold onto parts of us that no longer serve us, because it’s hard to change. I had been so used to being that ‘superwoman’ of my 30’s and I didn’t stop for long enough to feel the shift. I didn’t know that not being ‘superwoman’ would be ok. But it turns out it is ok, it’s more than ok... it’s freeing and wonderful!

I see so many leaders hiding their vulnerabilities, putting up a barrier to how they feel, the pressures they face and the impact it has on them. There’s a definite culture out there in Leadership that leaders must be thick skinned, tough and spinning all the plates effortlessly. I think that the more open we can be as leaders, the more helpful it is for our teams. People need human leaders, those who are real and honest, we can aspire to that far more easily than to ‘superwoman’! 

I am currently in an Acting Headteacher role, just until Christmas. I'm working with some wonderful people again, but it has confirmed to me that I do not want this as a long term job the moment. I'm happy saying it now, I don't want to be a Headteacher! I don't feel guilty now, or like a failure. I feel like I can finally be honest, and although I'm completely exhausted again, I know that stepping into January supporting school leaders with supervision, coaching and consultancy will enable me to become a new version of me. Not super, just happy!

~ Emma ~

P.S I'd love to know if you have experienced this 'superwoman' culture too. What have you been described as, and how did it make you feel? Have you shunned the superwoman act and taken a different turn? Send me an email, I'd love to connect.