You’ve probably seen the headline already. Marie Kondo, creator of the KonMari method of organizing, has given up on being so tidy, now that she has 3 children.
The reaction has been mixed. Some people are breathing a sigh of relief. It’s nice to see that even someone with high standards for tidiness has to make tradeoffs when kids are involved.
On the other hand, those who struggled to live up to the KonMari level of tidiness may be feeling a bit frustrated. It may seem unfair that she’s allowed to give up, after you’ve tried so hard to be so tidy.
I had a similar reaction a few years ago. A few years into my consulting career, I decided I wanted to work part-time, so I would have the time and space I needed to focus on having a baby – which was really important to me. Unfortunately, when I asked the managing partner about reducing my hours, she said I could work part-time, but that would mean stepping off of the partner track. “Being partner takes everything you’ve got,” she said, “So how do we account for part-time of everything you’ve got?”
A few years ago, I learned that that same partner was now working part-time, as she’s stepping down toward retirement. I’ll admit, my gut reaction was that same eyeroll that many have had to Marie Kondo. When I dig a little deeper, though, I don’t begrudge her that choice. I think it makes perfect sense for someone to ease into retirement by working part-time for a while.
The lesson here is this: No matter where you are in your career or in your life, you cannot let your choices be dictated by anyone else’s standards.
Whether that’s how many hours you should be working, or how tidy your home should be, or how fast you should move up the corporate ladder, or what kind of job you should hold – the choices are yours to make. There is no point in trying to live up to other people’s expectations. They aren’t living in your circumstances. They’re living in their own circumstances. And chances are – as with Kondo, and with my managing partner – those standards will change when their circumstances do.
When you try to live up to other people’s standards, you end up on a constant hamster wheel, trying to please everyone around you – even if what they’re asking of you doesn’t fit for you.
I think one of the biggest power moves you can make in your career is to create your own definition of success.
That’s what I chose to do when I left that consulting firm all those years ago. I started my own business and took on contract work for other firms. I got to do work I absolutely loved – helping teams work together more effectively and leading them through change.
And I did it on my terms. Specifically, I had two standards that I was very clear about: I work part-time, and I don’t travel.
These were definitely counter-cultural in consulting. Most consultants regularly worked 50-60 hours per week and traveled constantly. For me to put a stake in the ground about this was unusual, and a bit risky. But I made it work. I had a strong incentive to do so – my son was young at the time, and I didn’t want to miss anything in his early years.
What I learned from putting this stake in the ground was that living up to my own standards was entirely up to me.
I couldn’t rely on project leaders, or clients, or colleagues to uphold them. They would routinely ask for meetings late in the day or early in the morning. They weren’t being malicious. It just wasn’t their responsibility to keep track of my working hours. That was on me. I had to be the one to set the boundaries. I had to be the one to make the tradeoffs.
That’s the thing about setting boundaries. You can’t expect other people to remember and work around your requirements. They’re too busy thinking about their own. It’s up to you to remember why it matters to you, and to hold the line, and to make trade-offs, and get creative about solutions.
There was one project that required some extra creativity on my part. The team was planning a major retreat overseas, and I was the obvious person to facilitate it. I had a choice to make – do I maintain my standard of “no travel” or do I find a different way to solve the problem? I chose to get creative. Instead of facilitating it myself, I found a colleague who was happy to travel and brought her into the project. It meant fewer billable hours for me, both for the retreat and the follow up. But it was absolutely worth it to me. And because I had built up very strong working relationships and a good reputation on the project, there was other work for me to do, even though I didn’t go on that particular trip.
Here are the key ingredients that contributed to my success in that situation, and that I help my clients with every day:
- Define success for yourself. Know your standards.
- Know how to set boundaries in a way that maintains your reputation and relationships.
- Get creative to solve the challenges that come up.
If this sounds like a recipe you would like to learn, my team and I would love to help.
You can book a call with us at zmcoach.com/apply.
You’ll get on the phone with us for about 45 minutes, and we’ll talk with you about where you are now in your career, and how you are looking to redefine success on your own terms. If we can help you do that, we’ll share what that could look like. And if we’re not the right fit, we’ll let you know that too. Either way, you’ll walk away with more clarity about where you want to go next in your career, and what it will take to get there. We look forward to talking with you.
Here’s a video if you prefer to watch and listen to me talk about this topic: