Lean in. Chill out. Level up. Calm down. Upward trajectory. Downward dog. Get focused. Have it all.
There’s never been a better time to be a working woman. There may still be barriers to break and issues to overcome, but we’ve come a long way baby. And yet, a crucial thing that effects and impacts all women is something little understood and even less discussed. So let’s bring it out in the open.
I spend a lot of time talking to young women looking to break into the industry, and they all want to know what they need to do to make it “as a woman” in their career. When it comes to career advice, I find myself stumped. As a woman, the ways to progress in strategy today are really no different to those of a man. Nor should they be. But there are other areas — areas I’m still figuring out myself — which have far more bearing on a woman’s ability to work consistently and to the best of her ability. And, in these areas, I find the information, conversation and support seriously lacking.
Without sounding like a mustachio-d gym mistress obligated to impart The Facts of Life to a group of awkward teenagers, I‘m talking here about women’s health. The latest Call Your Girlfriend podcast touched on it briefly. The two hosts, both in their early 30’s like me, were discussing their limited understanding of how their bodies work at a deep level. Not the 70’s feminist stuff of hand-mirrors and ‘self-exploration’, but the fundamentally biological aspects of living in a female body. As they said in disbelief, “It’s very strange, at this age, to feel like there’s still so much I don’t know about this important part of my health!”.
Unlike men, who operate on a 24 hr cycle meaning they largely feel the same day-to-day, women operate on a ~28 day cycle. As such, no day or week is the same within that cycle. It’s not an excuse, it doesn’t make us weak, but does make us different and it’s insane, especially in 2017, to pretend that it doesn’t have some impact on our working lives.
Serious anxiety issues and not-so-serious yet ongoing health problems over the past two years have led me to piece together an increasingly clear picture of myself. It’s a picture that no doctor, website or conversation with friends had provided before and yet it’s one that seems so universally relevant and applicable. Especially when you take that understanding into a work context. How we feel day-to-day, week-to-week has a huge effect on our ability to think creatively, behave professionally and take confident steps forward. As the podcast hosts also exclaimed, “There’s so much you don’t know about your own body. How terrifying is that!?”. Ladies, it’s fucking horrifying.
In our enlightened, technology-enabled, free-to-be-you-and-me times, it’s shocking that women’s health remains so under wraps.
Most days I feel capable, confident and ready to take on the world. I get things done, deliver work on time and keep the show on the road. Some days, however, my brain is mush, I’ll cry at anything and — at its worst — have dark, angry, anxious thoughts that inevitably lead to misunderstandings and disagreements. For most of my working life I took each case at face value: I will never crack this project! Today is the worst! That person has stolen my idea! By seeing each case as unique I continually undermined my self-belief and confidence and put professional relationships under duress, all of which only served to further increase my anxiety and hold me back.
In more recent years, I’ve spent time working on my anxiety and done everything I could to look after my body and mind so as to stay on top of my game professionally. But it really wasn’t until about about 18 months ago, when I got Clue app, that I finally tapped into a root cause that no one, including myself, had thought to consider.
Clue, at its most basic, is a period tracker. But you can collect a range of information about your mood, energy-levels and physical symptoms which, over time revealed fascinating patterns and insights. Clue has enabled me not just to plot times when I may feel more sensitive, out of it, or downright furious, but to plan for those times too. Today, I signal potential tough days to myself on my calendar and try to work important meetings and deliverables around them. Or, when that’s not possible, at least acknowledge that certain thoughts and feelings might be biological and not circumstantial.
This new approach makes my work and professional life feel less tumultuous, and enables me to take a long view on how things are progressing and changing.
Pattern recognition through Clue has also lead me to develop my own program of fitness and medication that leans into the shifts. Here, another app, ClassPass, comes into its own. Rather than consistently doing one form of exercise, ClassPass means I can do chilled out yoga on down days, amped up spin classes on my good days, and some form of boxing on the days when I simply want to watch the world burn