Everyone used to call me superwoman. My friends, work colleagues; even people I’d just met. I think it was meant as a compliment.
A year and a half ago I moved to South Africa from Thailand where I had been working at the United Nations, to take up a position leading the largest global programme to prevent violence against women and girls in low and middle income countries. I was thirty-five. In tow were my 4-month-old twins who I was still breastfeeding, my two-and-a-half-year-old toddler, and my husband, musician-photographer-bread-baker-now-full-time-dad extraordinaire. I had a PhD; had recently launched my first academic book; was writing a novel in my spare time; kept up a sporadic yoga and meditation practice; still looked passable in a bikini (apart from a slightly deformed post-twin-pregnancy belly button); and was, at least on the surface, happy.
In truth I was f**king exhausted and desperately missing my children who I barely saw. I rarely spoke more than a few functional words to my husband and had started having nightmares during those rare moments of actual sleep. After an insane series of work trips that took me from Johannesburg to Istanbul to Washington DC to New York, back to DC, back to South Africa, then to Sydney, Canberra and finally to my home town of Melbourne, all within three weeks, I collapsed. In my doctor’s office to treat a chronic sinus infection I’d picked up during New York’s Snowmageddon, I broke down. I was broken.
I had lost myself somewhere along my overly ambitious path. As I strived to have it all, do it all, and look perfect while doing it, I had forgotten to ask myself if this was what I truly wanted. I ignored the neon flashing warning signs that my life was out of control because I felt immobilised by responsibility – I had to support my family, people were depending on me, everyone would be so disappointed if I didn’t keep up this charade. Or so the crazy little voice in my head told me. Thankfully, my body and mind called an urgent ‘time out’.
Following my burnout, emotional breakdown, or what ever you want to call it, my husband and I seriously reassessed our lives. And, after some intense (thankfully government funded) therapy I made the difficult decision to resign from my job. We rented out our house, sold our car, packed up our lives (again), said goodbye to our friends in South Africa and moved back to Melbourne.
So here I am. Starting a new life; a slower life. Working part time, setting up my own company, pursuing creative writing, pushing my kids on swings, sipping ridiculously expensive but wonderful coffee, meeting friends for long Sunday brunches, and loving it!
When I share my story with other women they seem relieved. “It’s good to know that you’re only human,” they say. I think my breakdown shattered an important myth for them as much as it did for me – there is no superwoman. She is a spandex-wearing fictional character! So today I stand tall, with hands on hips, underwear on the inside, head raised to the beautiful sky, and proudly say that, “I am not superwoman.” Don’t get me wrong, I am powerful. I am the hero of my own story. But I cannot be everything to everyone. And I’ll tell you a little secret, you are not meant to be superwoman, or superman, either. You are meant to be the messy, imperfect, wonderful you.
Now, I know that being your true self is not always easy. It requires figuring out what’s important to you, staying present even when the shit misses the potty, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, making hard choices. And the kids’ toys will still be there to pick up thirty times a day, and emails will keep filling your inbox, and the news will still be depressing, and some days you will feel like you’ve been crushed to death by a hoard of toddlers at Scienceworks, or frozen solid by the arctic chill at a Melbourne playground, and barely survived the brutal battle against bedtime. But, unlike being superwoman, being you, the one and only you, and pursuing your deep, dark, scary dreams is possible. In fact, it is the whole point of this crazy life.
This blog explores my muddled human adventures of trying to be a mindful mother, still working to (hopefully) make the world a better place, and pursuing my creative desires. But this time as myself; not as a fictional character.
I’d love to hear about your own challenges with the superwoman myth, your own secret desires and what you’re doing to live an authentic life.