There is a new generation of women in the workplace. They grew up in the self-help era with more confidence than the women who came before them. In fact, the majority of the women at work today represent the first generation of women who were told they could accomplish anything they put their mind to.
Additionally, with the passing of Title IX in the United States in the 1970's, sports programs for girls flourished and women have now outnumbered men in college degrees. These trends can be found around the world wherever women have a chance to go to school and be active in sports. As a result, there are an increasing number of women who believe they are strong in their bodies as well as their minds. Plus, the increase in college degrees gives women more ways to be self-sufficient.
The magazine stands and self-help books do not reflect this emerging identity of women. These are not a sect of women who act like men. Today's smart, strong women have the drive like men but still have the sensitivity of women. Instead of playing it safe, they crave frequent new challenges to conquer. They love being busy and hate feeling bored. They want to be valued, respected and recognized and will work hard to deserve it. They struggle when they feel pigeon-holed, underutilized, micro-managed, slowed down, and ignored.
These women don't need to be taught assertiveness skills. They ask for what they want. Then as soon as they feel that they are being treated unfairly or with disrespect, they begin to look for another job or start planning to own their own businesses.
Many strong, smart women look at their jobs as training for when they can break out and be an entrepreneur. They don't make plans to climb one corporate ladder. Statistics that bemoan the lack of women in the boardroom do not take into account that many women are choosing another path.
The question of being a corporate executive or not is not the biggest issue on their minds. More than titles and money, they want motion and meaning. However, this desire fuels a restlessness as they constantly need to find "something more" in their lives.
Therefore, the downside is not that these women are giving up their femininity. Instead, they are giving up their peace of mind.
It is wonderful that girls are now brought up believing in their greatness. But having the goal of "being great" is as hard to define as it is to achieve. There is always "the next great thing" to master, which leaves them feeling exhausted and incomplete. I have come to call this phenomenon the "Burden of Greatness."
If you recognize the Burden in yourself, it is likely your gifts of intelligence, resourcefulness, courage and determination have also been a burden. Some days you wonder if it is all worth it. You hunger for a day of rest and long for a chance to pamper your body. You laugh when someone suggests you need life balance. The best you can do is balance your energy as you go about your busy day. You can still love your friends, your partner and your children, but you know there will always be an internal struggle about how you show your love.
There is both a light and a dark side to this emerging identity of women. It's time the books recognize this phenomenon and help these women meet their challenges while getting what they desire.