Ask All4Women is a feature where we partner with an expert to answer your burning questions about different topics. For the next few weeks, career coach and personal growth expert, Lori Milner is answering our readers’ questions about personal growth and how to take action on things that matter.

The reader question: How do I climb the corporate ladder while juggling being a mom and wife and how do I get ahead if men are all in the high positions?

Lori’s answer: Thank you for this question – I am sure every mother is veraciously nodding their heads along with you. My kids are now six and four – here is what I know has helped me find peace with this question.

Balance is a myth

The starting point is to let go of this myth of balance. It creates this false picture that our lives are a perfect pie chart and we get to every element in equilibrium daily. I have replaced the word balance for harmony. Ask yourself what harmony looks like to you because it’s different for everyone.

Laura Vanderkam is a time management expert and advises we plan our weeks before we are in them; a Friday afternoon is always a great time to do this. Then plan your week according to three categories – career, relationships, self. This reminds us we need to be in the calendar as much as all our other priorities. We generally feel out of balance when we don’t appear to make self-care a priority and take time daily to look after ourselves.

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Perfection doesn’t exist

We plan our days and have an expectation of how our day ‘should’ be. We map out our diaries with the day’s intended action plan and then the reality is that it is almost never like that. Life happens – someone gets sick, there’s an urgent client request and by the time we need to fetch our kids from school, we feel like we achieved zero. When these days happen, remind yourself that that’s life. You can’t control everything. In fact, you can’t control anything!

So have a plan, but be open to accepting it when the day unfolds in its own way. If you get a flat tyre, accept it. If someone needs to stay home because they are ill, then make the most of the morning and ask yourself ‘How can I now appreciate this as a gift’? I learned that advice from Personal Development guru, Tony Robbins.

It allows you to reframe the situation and accept it for what it is. When we persist against how it ‘should’ be in our minds, we will never be able to see past it. For example, if you can’t get to that proposal because your child is ill, then appreciate the quality time and make peace with the fact that you just won’t get to it in your allocated time slot.

Set a quitting time

Boundary setting shouldn’t just happen at work; you need to set personal boundaries for yourself too. Decide on a quitting time and then give yourself permission to switch off for the day. If you are ‘always on’, you will start to feel mental exhaustion no matter how much sleep you are getting.

As working moms, we face the ‘always on’ challenge. There is a constant niggling at the back of our minds that we need to keep checking in on our email and messages because what if we miss that ‘once in a lifetime’ crucial opportunity or client request.

Now, this is naturally going to keep us on alert all the time and as a result, this becomes a breeding ground for stress. Besides not being present with our loved ones, we rob ourselves of our personal time as our mind is still sitting in the meeting earlier that day or the pitch next week. Set the time that works for you and stick to it.

Be present

When it is time to switch roles from businesswoman to mom, remind yourself to be present with your loved ones. Often we have the intention of spending quality time with our kids in the afternoons or after work, but the reality is that our mind is still in the pitch that morning or in Woolworths wondering what to make for dinner tomorrow or just thinking about work commitments. Never mind not just being present mentally, but often we try to sneak in some extra emails, finish the last quotation – you can fill in the blank. And believe me – kids will call you on it quick!

For me, the best solution is to leave my phone and laptop in a separate room. Nothing is so urgent that you need to keep it on you and if it is, you’ll get a phone call. The same goes for dinner time – create a tech-free environment and replace screens with real connecting conversations. The also same goes for your work time – when you are focusing on your work commitments, ditch the parenting guilt. Focus, be present and give it everything.

Focus on milestones and not goals

I had a recent epiphany. I watched an interview with Tony Robbins and he said achievement without fulfilment is not success. Think about it – why do so many people achieve huge accolades, goals and feel depressed afterwards?

For myself, I have some big goals I want to achieve. I acknowledge the time horizons will be further down the road because of my choice to reduce daily hours while my kids are still small. But when I see I’m so far from the goal, I tend to get despondent. I made a choice to reframe my focus from goals to milestones.

Think about babies, we measure their developmental progress against the milestones of crawling, rolling, walking, etc. We don’t judge them because at eight months, they aren’t walking yet. We take joy in the progress along the way – the smile, giggle and laugh. So why can’t you be the same with yourself? Instead of judging yourself against this huge goal you haven’t YET achieved, why not acknowledge your daily process and along the way, you will hit those key milestones.

Maybe it’s measured on the number of clients, certifications, finance or whatever you decide is your milestone. Not only will it keep you motivated, but it will go a long way to keep your resilience, confidence and self-worth climbing with you. I’m not saying don’t have goals – I am saying be aware of measuring your self-worth only on the huge achievement as opposed to the incremental steps that will get you there.

Do more than you are being paid for and ask for more responsibility

In order to fast track your trajectory up the corporate ladder, you need to focus on being a go-giver. Ask yourself, what extra value can you add? How can you exceed your customers’ expectations by going that extra mile?

I would also sit down with your boss and ask him or her what it will take for you to be promoted and move to the next level? Ask for constructive feedback – this is the greatest gift of self-growth. The trick is not to take it personally, but rather think about how you can work on those possible blind spots and turn them into strengths.

Build mentor and sponsor relationships

If you have a very male-dominated company where you say they hold all the top positions, then I would do everything you can to form strong sponsor and mentor relationships. A mentor is someone who offers guidance and advice, but a sponsor can really open up doors for you.

Don’t put yourself down because you are a woman: walk into the building as an equal. Invite one of the Directors or the CEO for coffee and ask him how he has navigated this industry and if he has any advice or guidance for you. Come prepared with questions and always ensure you keep to the allocated time of the meeting. When you can build up these relationships, it will go a long way to your career growth.

We know there is no parenting manual or a manual for life for that matter! All we can do is take each day as it comes, be open to what life presents to us and above all, be kind to ourselves.

Lori Milner is a facilitator, mentor, entrepreneur and author, known for her insightful approach to balancing being a modern woman with a fulfilling job and leading a full life outside of the office. Lori started her consultancy, Beyond the Dress, to empower women with the tools and skills they need to fulfil their potential in both their careers and their own lives.

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