Life with a toddler is tricky: it ranges between very messy and utterly chaotic. And, if you are one of those who likes control, it can turn into a real struggle!
My first year as a Mom somehow resembles my first time in a Supervising role. I was working as a Senior Project Manager at the time, and our Project Management Office Head took a 9-month maternity leave. I was asked to fill-in. Being the most Senior professional in our 4-person team, it made sense to Management that I should be the one to step-in. I had no prior experience managing people, but neither did the others. I was a perfectionist and a workaholic so, in their eyes, I would do just fine.
I was flattered by their proposition, but at the same time I was petrified. I hadn’t been anyone’s direct reporting line before and, although the team was efficient, flexible, and we knew each other well, I soon lost my sleep over their professional development. And their leave planning. And the assigned work. And all those pending tasks! As a way to handle my looming stress, I did what I knew best at the time. What I thought would be an effective and safe way of running the office: Micromanage the sh*t out of everyone and everything!
Needless to say, I didn’t make any new friends that year. I almost lost some of the ones I already had too, bitching about deliverables and putting in (very) long hours to cover for everyone, while enrolled in a part-time MBA! Six months in, I ended up collapsing with burnout (which wasn’t a medical condition up until this year!) and found myself requesting for a transfer the month before our legitimate Head returned from her maternity leave.
That dreadful professional experience taught me a couple of things that shaped and shifted my entire perspective on Work, Management and Leadership:
- One, that Micromanagement should be banned. By law.
- Two, that people who practice it cannot realize the damage they are doing to their team and themselves until it backfires. And when it does, it’s too late to fix anything.
- Three, that it’s exhausting for all involved. You, your team, your collaborators, everyone! It’s a waste of talent, time and potential. Any way you look at it, it’s a mistake. One I swore to myself never to repeat. And then…I got pregnant!
Oh the horrors of the hormonal dance during pregnancy and postpartum! Those foggy days packed with uncertainty and insecurity are, undoubtedly, Karma’s way of putting your determination to the test, while actively trying to throw you off! I was one big mess. All those things I knew and, more so, all the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know, became huge stressors to both my body and mind. My brain protested, seeking ways to control as much of the experience as I could, as a survival mechanism to pull it through.
I started using a Baby Tracking App for breastfeeding, diapers and sleep durations from the first week of baby J’s life. Once I got sane enough to be able to handle and interpret data, my hubby got me a fitness tracker to shift my focus towards my own well-being: calorie intake, sleep and stress levels were reported to me on a daily basis. That’s when I realized that I was slowly (and surely) turning paranoid, devoid of sleep and food, while fretting over every baby-detail on the map. I used those insights to cut myself some slack, and start delegating baby-responsibilities to anyone interested, while trying to get myself some much-needed rest.
By the time my son was four months old, the scenery had greatly improved. Jason was sleeping for 8 hours straight, and I was getting some precious shut-eye. Every time my stress levels were below average, my fitness tracker awarded me with a badge. And had I managed to get a decent meal on a given day, I was digitally endorsed. Sleep, stress-levels and a balanced diet were no less than my very own Balanced Scorecard made of three Key Performance Indicators! In six months time, I would come to lose 22 out of the 27kg I gained during pregnancy, and rebuild most of my mental strength. I would start a blog. Learn to ask for help and build a support network. Pretty neat, huh? But flip the coin, and you have the dark side of the moon on your plate!
I was feeling safe and comfortable in a daily routine so rigid, even the Army would envy. I would plan our days around my son’s four (and then three, and then two…) naps. I would manically note down everything just to be on the safe side. From nap times to recipe ingredients, I would spend a big part of my day logging information. Not all were useful or meaningful, but I kept them, just in case. All that time and energy spent in logging left me exhausted at the end of the day. And then it hit me. I’m Micromanaging. All. Over. Again!
Despite my horrid past experience and oath never to go down the Micromanagement road again, there I was: in it to win it! How could I forget what had happened the last time I practiced that? I didn’t want to face burnout again! And I surely didn’t want to suffocate myself or my family while capturing and planning for every star in the sky. But old habits die hard, Momma. Thank god I’m no old dog: I can still grow to learn some new tricks!
It’s not easy to let go of a practice you know so well and embrace the great unknown of trial and error. Even HR guru Josh Bersin, whom I interviewed for this month’s How He Does It column, admitted that one of the biggest challenges he faced during his kids’ upbringing was distancing himself from Micromanagement techniques. At least I’m not alone in struggling with it!
Flexibility and improvisation were never my strongest points, but I’m now actively working to improve them. My son is 12 months, and I still use the Baby Tracking App, the same way I log my meals on my Nutrition tool. I still plan our daily chores around my baby’s single nap, but I stopped the incessant note-taking. Here’s what I do instead:
- I don’t fret about my fitness tracker’s stress levels (or hunt badges for that matter). I do practice mindfulness, though. I do a quick check-in with myself and my feelings a couple of times during the day, and make sure to take a pauses when I need them. At the end of each day, I do a round of happy thoughts: Gratitude for what came to be. Needless to say, I sleep better and much sounder!
- I make healthy food choices that work for my body, and don’t worry about quantity. Consuming quality foods are my main fuel, therefore my top priority. Abstaining from sugar and processed foods has unlocked an unbeatable clarity of mind and focus. My energy levels are back! Those 5kg to go will slowly shred. All in good time!
- I dedicate 10 minutes each morning in taking care of my physique. Abdominal separation (diastasis recti) is no sight for sore eyes, and I belong to the 60% of women who get to develop it after childbirth. Gentle exercises are helping my body heal, and transform what looked like a wrinkled empty pouch into something that looks like my old belly!
- I try to limit instructing and bring about coaching as much as possible. Instead of always showing my kid what he can or cannot do, I give him space. I let him explore. I let him know I am there to catch him should he fall, but I won’t be limiting his options based of my own fears and insecurities. I see his tantrums as requests for help rather than meaningless protests. I see schedule hiccups as new experiences.
- I embrace my vulnerability. I’m a human person, not a robot! The dark thoughts and bad days are all part of the equation. Instead of drowning in it all, I take whatever comes. I don’t fake it till I make it. I openly share what’s cooking in my overthinking head. I discuss my mood swings. I communicate my discomfort. It’s not easy: it’s damn hard and complicated. I struggle no less than any other woman in a similar position. I allow myself to feel weaker or beat some days. I don’t punish myself anymore if I happen to miss a day of exercise, or decide to have that burger. I show myself compassion, I ask for help, and I’m hanging in there.
That said, I feel I’m slowly transforming into a new version of me. One that needed to replace some of that IQ with EQ. Who knows: maybe I will even get to become a better People Manager as well! Like this idea Belarusian-American entrepreneur, author, speaker and internet personality Gary Vaynerchuk posted on LinkedIn the other day:
When you go from being someone who executes tasks to someone who’s managing a team, you go from trading mostly on IQ to trading mostly on EQ.
The Micromanager in me is slowly -but surely- giving way to a more compassionate human-being. One better able to support herself while supporting others. One who stopped sipping from an empty cup. One who ditched the bloody notebook, and managed not to lose any friends this year. Hopefully, I will return to work inspired enough to help my new team get engaged as well!
I Got This! I have Motherhood to thank for. And so do you!