Five Things I Learned from The Orange Line – and Every Other Mom Can, Too

Recently I read The Orange Line, co-authored by Jodi Ecker Detjen (who guest blogged for us here), Michelle A. Waters, and Kelly Watson, a book for women who work – very much geared toward moms who work. That would be moms like me, and if that also describes you I highly recommend you read it, no matter where you are in your professional or personal journey.

the orange line - working mom booksThe book addresses some of the self-limiting behavior that’s pretty unique to women and really screws up our best intentions to achieve a real, workable balance between what we do and want personally and what do and want professionally. Opting out is the answer for some, but sometimes it’s less of an answer than a last resort for working moms who just aren’t making it work.

This is a book about how to “create a robust, whole life that integrates work, family, and self.” It’s full of more than just stories – it’s also full of strategies and solutions. Here are five concepts that stood out as I read:

We’re All Susceptible to the ‘Feminine Filter’

Obviously this book is geared toward an audience who wants to or has to work, but I feel like one of the most important takeaways was that women – and especially moms – are hoodwinked into looking at life through a Feminine Filter. Most of us feel an immense amount of pressure to succeed at:

  • Looking good
  • Being nice
  • Doing it all

And that’s on top of everything else we have to do, like teaching our kids manners and meeting deadlines. The filter can manifest in all sorts of ways… like saying yes to everything, and I mean everything, we’re asked to do as moms and professionals and friends and people. Especially when the task at hand seems, as defined by popular culture, more suited to women. One anecdote that really resonated with me was:

As Olive, a 48-year-old IT Director, noted when she was asked by a roomful of male colleagues to order lunch for a meeting, “The uterus is not a food-finding device.”

Working moms, have you ever noticed it’s almost always a woman who’s tidying up the break room, clearing papers off the reception chairs, ordering lunch or cutting the birthday cake? We’re so nice we never ask for that promotion, instead we just hope it will come our way once someone notices how we’re doing it all. At home, we think that no one can do it as good as we can it doesn’t even make sense to ask for help. And the whole time, we’re either killing ourselves to be beautiful or getting depressed because society is telling us we’re not beautiful enough.

Women (and Moms) Don’t Have to Be the Default

Yes, pay disparities between women and men mean that it makes more sense for women to prioritize family life over work. And there’s the fact that it’s us ladies who have the babies. But I think a lot of moms – before they are ever moms – just assume they’re going to drop out of the work force or scale back or have to sacrifice a great career for something less cool but more flexible without ever really thinking about why. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing inherently wrong with those choices when they are actually choices and not just doing what’s expected of us. And then there’s the housework. Stats say that even as women are earning more, they’re still doing the majority of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare. I know it’s true in my house. It doesn’t have to be that way, though!

Treating Yourself Like a Priority is OK

Career moms are constantly depicted as being in a tug of war between work and family, but isn’t someone missing in that equation? Like, um, the mom? One message I found particularly uplifting was that changing how I think about “balance” can have a big impact not only on my happiness, but also my satisfaction when it comes to home AND work.

Choice is great, but why is the conversation always about making the tough choices… and not the women making the choices. Treat yourself like a priority and you’ll find yourself delegating some of those tasks you were doing by default, saying no more often, and thinking strategically about your life. The book isn’t advocating being selfish in a mean way – just saying that including yourself in the equation instead of being a martyr at home and in the office is a good thing. It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in, either.

Guilt Is Holding You Back

It doesn’t matter what you want to accomplish as a mom, guilt is probably holding you back because it’s not letting you go whole hog. If it’s building a career, the thought of spending some time every day away from your kids can be soul crushing. If it’s becoming a SAHM mom, the thought of eventually having to re-enter the workforce way behind peers may be terrifying. If it’s starting your own business so you don’t have to make either of those choices, well, that can feel selfish and then you’re guilty about that. Reframing works great here, too.

Instead of saying, “I can’t be a surgeon because the hours are too demanding for someone who wants kids,” you can say, “I’m going to study to be a surgeon and while I’m at school I’m going to investigate all sorts of ways to practice a surgical career on my terms.”

It’s Not Impossible to Have It All if You Embrace Imperfection

Sometimes life is messy. Sometimes living a good life means doing the best with what you’ve got. And sometimes it’s great even when it veers off in an unexpected direction. We can’t do it all – that’s a recipe for burnout in every sphere. But we also can’t undermine our own efforts by doing less than we know we’re capable of because we’re too afraid to do anything that might not be 100% perfect. Or burn out chasing perfection.

So get messy and forge your own path. It’s not going to be perfect, but it’ll be yours and you’ll be calling the shots. Maybe your house is messier than you might like… because you’re spending your time doing other more important things. Maybe you have to do some extra self-promotion to convince your boss that you can be an asset AND leave the office every day at five on the dot.

For me, the best part of the book can be summed up in this excerpt:

Living The Orange Line is about being strategic about life. It’s not about winning; it’s about living a whole life… But to do that, you have to train. Just like when you train for a marathon, you have to build up your skill set.

The Orange Line isn’t another glum look at why women are not succeeding or how it’s impossible to have it all. And thank goodness for that, because I am just about sick to death of those. Unlike way too many other books for moms and women, it’s a book full of tips (e.g, how to build a support system and embrace imperfection), tricks (e.g., creation your own one-of-a-kind way of working and mothering), and strategies for living a better life when you want to explore all your options as a person, mom, spouse, and professional – and kick ass in the process.

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