There is no going around it. Last year’s research by the University of Georgia (2017) showed that both men and women [in the US] experience similar amounts of work-life stress, but men hide their concerns because ‘it does not seem masculine’.
I showed the findings of the research to one of my clients, Fred. Fred is originally from Germany and works as a Director of international sales at a big multinational. He travels a lot. He is married to Rhea and they have three wonderful children. Fred is tired. He is so tired that he is afraid to go home, because he feels he can’t be tired there. “But God knows, I need to go home and chill the f*** out for a while”.
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The study I presented to Fred showed that the majority of working fathers are struggling with stress, but also that the expectations society has of male behavior, create an immense taboo for men to share their feelings. Gender stereotypes of masculinity are preventing men from seeking the help they need when things become too much. And when I say too much, I mean way too much. Because of taboo, men seek help only then, when they have passed many other inner warnings and are at the verge of burn-out. They just keep going until there is no more ‘going’ to be done.
It took Fred a while before he was able to open up on the subject. In our initial meetings he told me a lot about his work, his satisfaction about where he has reached in his life professionally, his occasional difficulties with being a supportive and authentic leader, and his fears about not being home enough with his family. All very legitimate feelings. But maybe it is exactly where the problem is. To what extent do men really feel that they can be successful professionals, husbands and fathers, while at the same time feeling tired, stressed or energetically drained? The Superman image of the happy, hardworking father coming home to spend time with his family is ingrained in society’s mind.
But reality can’t be further from the truth, explains lead researcher Professor Kristen Shockley: “I do think it is harming men, who are silently struggling and are experiencing the same amount of work-family conflict, but no one is acknowledging it”.
I asked Fred what it is he needs at this moment. “I really don’t know”, he said. “I think there are too many things to be done, too many expectations, and I simply don’t have the time and energy to do them all. So maybe that is what I need, haha, more time”. We laughed about the paradox in his own words, but we both knew that was exactly what he needed. Time to unwind, time to absorb, time to himself to engage in activities that do not carry expectations, time to relax with his wife and children away from daily routines.
For Fred it is the first time that he is seriously addressing his work-life balance and the stress he is experiencing. He knows that if he keeps going like this, he is heading towards a burnout fast. Slowly he is creating a vision for himself and his family that resonates with a happy and fulfilling life.
If you recognize yourself in the story of Fred, there are a few simple things that you can start looking at to create a more self-respecting balance in life:
Respecting your own Work-Life Boundaries
The professional responsibility many men feel, often spills over into everything they do: always having to be ready to solve a problem, address an issue, review a potential deal. Ask yourself the question what would really happen if you are not available for a certain amount of hours: will business really crumble? It won’t. Think about what healthy work-life boundaries would look like for you and make it clear to colleagues when you are and are not available. Whatever it is you do in your personal time, it is the time when you can actually bring balance into your life. What do your boundaries look like right now? How would you want them to look?
If resources allow, outsource those things that consume too much time in your private life. Things that need to be fixed, errands that need to be ran, or precooked meals that can be delivered at your doorstep. The enormous amount of expectations you feel on your shoulders could be significantly reduced by just outsources even one or two things. Creating time is not only done by prioritizing, but also by letting go what can be let go of!
Activity away from Devices
If your phone, tablet or computer tend to absorb your personal time, plan time away from them by engaging in physical activity. An extra workout, a hike, or playing ball with the guys. A yoga class or meditation… yes Superman can do that too. An active life doesn’t only contribute to a healthy physical body but releases stress and provides you with feel-good hormones. Can you let go?
Shedding the Work Mindset
What helps you create a comfort zone for yourself? Change your work clothes into something more comfortable? Having a walk, read during commuting time or going to the gym before going home? Or maybe listen to music? By separating your mind from work-thoughts, that’s exactly what will happen: your brain will let go of work thoughts and focus on something else. This creates space in your mind, relaxes your feelings and releases stress. Doing things just for the pleasure of it, is really needed, not just a luxury.
Create an Outlet for Emotions
No, you don’t have so sit down and ‘talk about it’, if that is not your thing. But do explore where you can find emotional release of frustration, stress, anger, etc. Maybe sports does the job for you or journaling about what you feel and think. Allow yourself the feelings you have, knowing that ignoring them is not solving any of it. Maybe there is a friend you could have a talk with or just swimming a few lapses might do just fine. But FIND OUT what helps you release those emotions and go for it!
If you are looking for some more thoughts on the subject or support in getting things going, feel free to contact Minou Hexspoor – The Nomad Coach firstname.lastname@example.org
 The names and places in this post are fictive, to protect the identity of the client.