We all have heard it when we talk to our girlfriends. Somehow, in mid-conversation, the cursed word slips out: “I feel like I am not good enough.”

While in the gym, we are fretting about work. While working, we are thinking about how we missed the last bake sale at the kids’ school. We have become our own taskmasters who drive ourselves relentlessly toward an ideal of perfection.

The big question remains: Can women really “have it all?” I tend to categorize myself in the “something’s got to give” camp—multi-tasking and juggling can take us just so far.

As a matter of fact, recent studies have shown that our IQ drops by ten points when we do two tasks at the same time. So, I am calculating that by noon each day, the IQ of women all around the globe has dropped exponentially!

It seems like we are feeling more exhausted and guilty than ever before because we are constantly reaching for the unreachable. And research seems to back this idea. Studies show that women today are less happy relative to where they were forty years ago and relative to men.

So, where do we go from here? The answer may be in the way we are defining a fulfilling life or “having it all.”

I struck up this very conversation with Galit Dayan. She happens to be a mother of three and the wife of the Israel Consul General in Los Angeles and has earned her Ph.D. in Egyptology and is now fully entrenched in a different career path—an organizational development consultant. For Dayan, “having it all” has a different connotation altogether.

When she went to Georgetown University to get her degree as a consultant, one professor made quite an impression on her. “If you want to be a consultant, the work first starts with yourself,” he announced on the first day of class.

This meant that she, along with all the students, had to do some deep work to hone their ideas of success and how they were going to work toward it. Dayan now believes that “having it all has to do more with redefining success, reflecting on how our goals in life motivate and drive us and how we choose to release ourselves from limiting mindsets.” I, for one, wholeheartedly agree.

We all have a running story of how we define ourselves. Sadly, we seldom take on the challenge of creating a new story that is empowering and positive. For many of us, we may first think about these ideas in our forties. Having facilitated a number of women’s groups myself, I see what many of us women are tackling on a daily basis. We may want to bring a new level of enthusiasm into our life or start a new career but don’t know where to even begin.

Finding the answers to the following five questions will help direct your attention toward a more empowering and positive way of approaching growth and change in your life:

1. Are you keyed in to where your passion lies?

In working with so many women over the years, Dayan notes that a common hurdle for many is retrieving their dreams and passion for life. Surely, as kids we all had some ideas what our adult self would be doing somewhere down the road. More likely than not, it was a life that was closely connected to our interests and passions. But as we grow older, those dreams fade, and we make a detour—we chose a job that seems more realistic and that fits the bill. Years of twisting into shapes that will fit the spaces readily available to us can take us away from whom we yearn to be. Then, at mid-life, we try to discover what our life’s work may be. Finding a forum where you can explore those options is a good way of bringing renewed energy into your life.

2. Can you pinpoint limiting ideas you have about yourself that keep you in a cycle of guilt or inaction?

Some common areas of concern for women are:
– What does being a good mother mean to you?
How confident are you about your capabilities?
– How do you integrate your strengths into your life?

The happiest and most successful people have tailored a life that concentrates on their strengths rather than what is normative. Their primary identity comes from their positive characteristics rather than concentrating on what is missing in their life. How much of your life and work is built around your strengths? After all, at the end of the day, we all want to feel good about what we are doing and feel appreciated for it. If there is something to be done to correct an issue, how do you go about making it right?

3. What is the underlying motivation behind your goals and dreams?

Could it be found in other activities? Dayan gave me a good personal example. When she was younger, she wanted to be a doctor or an actress. A set of circumstances took her away from that goal, and she went on to earn her Ph.D. in Egyptology. She feels that now her current profession as an organizational development consultant fits more within the bounds of her childhood dreams. “I always wanted to help people, and now I do that on a daily basis in this career. I also do public speaking, which feeds into my interest in interacting with a wider audience.” The big pay off to Dayan, and to many others who embark on a different career path, is the realization that the skills developed in a previous job also indirectly transfer to their next career. With some fine-tuning, we too can see if there is buried treasure in a second career path that nurtures our primary passion.

4. Do you put yourself in the right environment to receive the right kind of support for your growth?

A gardening analogy is most appropriate for this question. Some flowers and plants thrive in temperate zones and others in different conditions. We, too, need to be in tune with our own nature and know under which conditions we do our best. In what life situations do you thrive personally? Who are the people who energize you? Do you actively put yourself in situations where you are building your skills and experiencing the growth you want? For example, a person who wants to become a writer should consider taking writing classes, go to readings, and be in places that stimulate that type of creativity in her.

5. Are you actively refining and “weeding out” activities that no longer serve you or hold your interest?

One of the misconceptions about identity formation is that once we become adults, we should be set on the kind of work we like to do and how we want to experience life around us. There is nothing further from the truth. We are constantly changing, and in different phases of our life, our priorities change as well. So what may have invigorated us a decade ago may no longer resonate with who we are presently. Nevertheless, we often feel we are losing a part of ourselves when we let go of those ingrained activities. There is comfort in knowing that it is appropriate at times to move on and step into a new challenge.

We all fall into the trap that we can achieve happiness with a set formula. But that magic formula is idiosyncratic and lies deep within our own blueprint of ourselves. This is precisely the reason for us to contemplate these questions—for each woman is unique and each defines success and happiness on her own terms.

There were so many points that resonated with me when I was talking with Dayan.

But, the one that made the biggest impression on me, and served as an empowering tool for her as well, was the following statement: our work always starts with ourselves!

Angella Nazarian is a bestselling author and noted speaker. Both of her books Life as a Visitor and the newly released Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World have become bestsellers for the publisher and have garnered glowing reviews from Arianna Huffington, Tina Brown, Martha Stewart, and Diane von Furstenberg. To learn more about Angella, visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


*Photo Credit: Send me adrift. via Compfight cc