No, women can’t have it all – Women’s Month

Christelle Colman of Europ Assistance discusses the working mother and how to set prioritiesAs we celebrate Women’s Month, Christelle Colman, Chief Executive Officer of Europ Assistance South Africa says women “can’t have it all.”

This is not a pity-party, but rather a reality check for women. As we celebrate Women’s Month, I have begun to think about the challenges of being a female leader. The reality is that if a woman wants the career (where she travels the world) and she wants to have the family (in my case a blended one), but at the same time she also wants to be physically active and spend time with her extended family while also being in a healthy, happy relationship with their partner, it is obvious that something will have to give.

It is impossible to have it all, and if some woman is claiming she is that person, she is probably lying to herself and the rest of the world.

I often look with longing at the mothers who are dropping their children off at school on their way to gym, while I am saying goodbye to my children in a complete fluster, knowing that I will most probably only see my offspring again at the weekend. While I do not want to be a stay at home mom, I sometimes wish I had bits and pieces of their lives.

This is where it gets serious – I have decided to admit the one thing that I never thought I’d say out loud: I am not the resident parent. I work in Johannesburg and I live in Cape Town. I am the mother who works in a city two hours’ flight away from where my children live and go to school. I say this often and almost every time I see the wince of pain, dare I say pity, in the other person’s eyes.

The reality is I had to make this choice in order to pursue my dreams and career goals. My children’s father offers amazing support and everyone is really happy with the arrangement. This weird balancing act seems to do exactly that – balance.

I would like to share the something with other women in business. These guidelines have proved to make a massive difference in my life and I hope that it can make a positive contribution to other women’s life;

  1. Build a brand

    Use the wealth of social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn to build a strong, professional personal brand and stay connected with the rest of the world. This could prove to be the key differentiator between you and your dream job.

  1. Join a club

    Make time and effort to join a female networking club, such as Voices. Here you will find likeminded women to network with, who will also understand your unique challenges as a woman in business and they will provide support through testing times.

  1. Find your style

    Being a working mother means that we have no time. If you are clear on your personal fashion style and you keep it simple, your life will be so much easier. Dressing in the morning and packing for business trips become a breeze. My advice is first and foremost to stick with a colour theme such as black, white and cream with a splash of red on the lips (advice taken from Coco Chanel).

  1. Be prepared

    Keep certified original copies of your ID, passport and an updated jewelry valuation certificate saved in the cloud and a safe place like a deposit box at the bank or in a safe at home. You will be able to get your life back on track in no time if your handbag is stolen.

  1. Health is wealth

    It does not matter how busy you are – there is always time to exercise. When your children are young, find a trainer and go to gym at 5am. That means you will never have an excuse not to go and your exercise regime will the done by the time your family wakes up. You have to be unapologetic about this alone time because your health is your wealth.

The point of my story? In order to have a generous heart, you have to be selfish about your own happiness. You simply have to be authentic, because that gives you the opportunity to lead by example. Having made the tough decisions I have (to not have it all) I can teach my children that pursuing your dreams comes with loads of sacrifice. I can teach them by my own example, that rags to riches stories are not fairytales and do come true, that girls can be strong leaders without losing their gentleness and that the more you give the more you get.

I may not have it all, but I live a charmed life and I would not change a single thing.



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