As I travel around the country giving speeches in corporate, academic or conference settings and I spend time speaking to women, in particular, one on one, I am forming a conclusion that the two biggest impediments to women in maximizing their success are FEAR and FATIGUE.

Generally after I have given a speech on some aspect of Carla’s Pearls and Expect To Win and after the general Q&A session with the broader group, I have an opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with some of the women participants.  Many times I am approached by  women, who after logging 10-15 years in a career or at a company, after attaining a level of hard earned seniority, are faced with a big career opportunity but  who are not  motivated to go after the big promotion or the position of leadership,  and I ask the question “Why?”. I hear over and over again, “I am tired.” As I kept hearing it from women particularly between the ages of late thirties and mid fifties  years old,  I had to stop and ponder. During the conversation with them, in my mind, I would think, “you have worked so hard for this, for this very moment in time, when you have the prerequisite experience, you have the level of knowledge that creates specific eligibility, you are right THERE and you are tired?  How could you NOT go for it now?” “Isn’t there a reserve somewhere inside your tank, that you can draw upon to make it over this last hurdle, this last part of the journey, where you can reap the benefits of having worked so hard, having fought the good fight, navigated the VERY choppy political waters? Can’t you pull it together to push one last time?”

As I reflected on my own experience, pondered over these conversations, and directly asked some of the women that I encountered the foregoing questions, I began to understand the issue. The senior women professionals who are in their early to mid forties, in corporate jobs across all industries, are in many cases, the first woman to hold their current position, they may have been the first woman to hold each of the positions that they held before arriving in their current position. There were no direct role models (this is particularly true for women of color) that they could access to directly and personally understand the business model for success in the environment or in a specific role. Many of these women were pioneers, trailblazers, “the first” and in many cases, these women had to “figure it out” by careful strategizing and in some cases, by trial, error and recovery. They had to first learn to understand the political landscape and then develop a strategy to navigate it. I am not saying that none of them had mentors or sponsors along the way to help, for many did, but even the act of finding a mentor or a sponsor 15-20 years ago was a new concept, and was an obstacle to be overcome, an objective to achieve. For many women, the stress of being the first (in their family, in their community, in the department, at the company), being the only (in the company, in the industry, in North America, at the decision making table, on the board), took an incredible amount of exertion. Coupled with subjective and politically oriented environments, the journey to the top took a lot of work, day in and day out, year in and year out. Add achieving personal objectives, like finding a significant other, starting a family, caring for a family, managing aging parents, the senior woman had a journey, where there probably haven’t been very many respites along the way and then suddenly she is THERE, and she is tired. Fatigue has become a constant friend over the years and now it’s a dominant voice, and consciously she says, “I am tired. No more.”

I think that the conversation in her head goes, “ I have made it through many firsts, I have accomplished a lot, I don’t owe any one anything, and I don’t have to apologize for making the decision to go no further. This has been tough, I have gone through a lot, been there and done that. It’s time.” In my mind this conversation would be ok, IF, she were truly done, if she had no more value add to offer in her current seat, in a more senior seat, in her company, or at a competitor. But 9 out of 10 times, this is not the case. She does have more to offer, greater value to add, but she thinks that she is too tired to push on further because she perceives that she will have to continue to exert the same level of bionic energy that it took to get her to this moment. Fatigue clouds our judgment and distorts our future vision. Somehow the thought of continuing to move upward, to have a greater level of authority and impact, is coupled with a perception that it will involve more physical and mental exertion and we can only see the exertion, not the higher level of return associated with going for it, nor can we even imagine that perhaps the level of required energy is very different and perhaps even less.

Ok, so you are there, what do you do about it?

Before making the decision to NOT go for it, step back and evaluate whether you really don’t want that more senior seat after all you have worked for and that you really have nothing else to offer, OR is it that you need a respite, a time to renew, reconfigure, and regenerate, or maybe just some sleep. If you identify that it is the latter that is influencing your decision, then commit yourself to creating some “break time” for yourself. If you have the financial luxury and the political capital at work, ask for a sabbatical. Increasingly cutting edge companies are realizing that the senior executives need time and white space to renew and to create new ideas, products and processes and are allowing them a two week, 3 month, or 6 month break away from their current seats.  You cannot be afraid to ask for it, if you even have a clue that on the other side of the experience, you will be fresh, more productive and more value add to the organization.  If a sabbatical is a non-starter, then start a plan that will allow you collectively a day a week for you to rest, reflect on where you are and really evaluate what the next step could mean for you if you didn’t have to worry about exhaustion and continued fatigue. You can plan a morning and an afternoon somewhere over the course of a 7 day period where you use this time for more sleep, a time away from immediate tasks, or time to create. Be religious about putting this time on your calendar, treat it like an emergency. If an emergency arose, you wouldn’t be able to get something done on your “to do” list, right? Well, this is an emergency! If you are about to let a great opportunity pass you by or not maximize your success in your seat, because you are tired, THIS is an emergency that must be tended to. You have worked too hard, for too long, broken too much glass and forged many new paths…you can’t let this prize elude you. You can also create discipline around your vacation time. Most senior people in most industries get at least 4 weeks vacation. Plan 1 week per quarter to replenish, rest and renew. If you have kids, and you want to spend every vacation with them, then make sure that you plan at least two hours/day for yourself.

Fatigue is a sneaky companion and a major deterrent to having the “go for it” attitude every day. As I said earlier, it clouds your judgment, helps you to create obstacles where there are none, encourages you to see the downside first and sometimes only the downside, discourages you from dwelling in the possibility and also opens the door to fear.

In next week’s blog we will discuss the impediment of FEAR and its impact on maximizing your success.