The Work-Life Collapse Attack Meltdown! & How to Handle It

There’s a thinking pattern that I’ve been seeing in the women I work with.

We all know about the comparison gremlins (she bought a house, I’m still renting, wow that woman owns her own company and she’s only 22? and ohmigosh what about all those babies–or grandbabies–on facebook?) Sometimes, when I see women struggle with the gulf between where they are and where they want to be, they do what I’ve come to call the work-life collapse attack meltdown.

Yes, it’s a colorful phrase, but it try it, say it, if feels about right for what it describes.

The work-life collapse attack meltdown is when all the yardsticks come out at the same time–and them proceed to beat your self-esteem into non-existence. It’s when the fact that you haven’t yet put a down payment on a home, or authored a paper, or had your first kid, or saved the right percentage for retirement, or run your first marathon, or been recognized in your industry, or gotten that big promotion, or bought a vacation home, or bought matching Tupperware, or paid off your college loans ALL coalesces at the same moment in a dreaded cloud of FAILURE FAILURE FAILURE!!!!!!!!!

The problem with the work-life collapse attack meltdown is that it’s incredibly demoralizing. It focuses on the time you’ve lost instead of what you have ahead. Julia Child didn’t even get into cooking until she was 40 years old. Too late is someone else’s definition that only you get to decide to whether to buy into. And when you focus on too late, you you also collapse a bunch of things that may have nothing to do with each other into a giant pot of shame. Folks who have slowly climbed out of debt, or folks who have written novels a page at a time know that slow and steady commitment adds up over time into real movement towards big goals.

The second problem with the work-life collapse attack meltdown is that it may not actually reflect your values. Maybe you don’t actually want to have kids, you just want a loving and committed family and set of friends. Maybe you don’t want to start a company, you just want your work to have a sense of independence and to have colleagues you respect and feel energized by. Maybe you do want these things, but the fact that the work-life collapse attack meltdown often uses the yardsticks of social expectations means that if you’re not careful, it will rob you of the power to choose your true desires.

So get over it, right? Don’t do it. End of story? Nope. The funny thing that I’ve found about this work-life overlap is that while it’s not helpful in one thinking pattern direction (the negative one) it can bear surprising fruit in the other direction (the positive one.) I’ve seen people work on their tendency towards perfectionism in their creative life find a new sense of joy and presence in their social life. I’ve seen people who worked on confidence and decision making to better excel at work describe more positive outcomes in negotiations with their partners. While the all-or-nothing thinking of the the work-life collapse attack meltdown is not helpful, an investment in building your strengths will often spill over the boundaries and fill up your whole life, if you let it.

So celebrate where you are and look forward not behind. Don’t give others control over your yardsticks and invest in yourself.

Enjoy the weekend–

photo: Adapted from Vinoth Chandar