I’ve found myself getting into bed much earlier than I used to — typically right after my kids (who are 7 and 9 years old) go to sleep and sometimes even before. I used to have what I called boundless energy, stomping around New York City in heels from meeting to meeting, to after-work drinks, to dinner, somehow fitting it all in. I carried a heavy bag packed with all of my essentials for the gym, work, or a quick glass of wine with a friend — and that spontaneity fueled me. Yet, that energy seems to have been left in pre-COVID land, and all I’ve really had the energy for after my long from-home workday is over is intense binge-watching, whether it be from my bed or from a bubble bath.
Recently I was on my monthly call with my WIE Suite (executive women’s community) and we did our usual round table of check-ins and talked about how we could help each other. Embarrassingly, instead of talking about my latest work accomplishment or how I was building my community, I found myself talking about the guilt I had about feeling less productive than I used to be pre-COVID. Everyone in the group assured me that it was okay to recharge sometimes. While I agree, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was an unhealthy trend. I’ve read countless articles from women who feel they have lost their voice and spirit to all that they’ve had to shoulder. To find out how much, my agency Berlin Cameron partnered with Kantar, Luminary and Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play to release an international study that found women feel more stressed and isolated, compared to men. In fact, 66% of women have felt burnt out in the past seven days.
I wanted to do something about it and was inspired by my friend and author Eve Rodsky, who talks about the exhaustion gap that we are all facing right now. In her book, Find Your Unicorn Space, she discusses why women may feel they’ve lost their drive and how to get it back. I took it to heart and started working on ways I could find my own inspiration again. Here are a few ways that have worked for me:
Find something you enjoy (that isn’t tied to money or responsibility!) Like so many other women, having free time often translates to adding another productive chore to the day. The truth is, there will always be a junk drawer to organize or an errand to run. Yet, filling all of our free time with another domestic task won’t leave time for true joy. When that junk drawer is clean, you might have a fleeting sense of satisfaction from being productive, but is that feeling really enjoyment? Starting to think about what truly makes you feel good, which shouldn’t be tied to money or responsibility, is an opportunity to get back in touch with your needs. For me, it’s spending time with people and friends. For someone else, it might be reading a novel or painting. Don’t judge yourself for what it is – it’s easy to want these activities to be perceived a certain way by the outside world, but it needs to be something you are doing only for you.
Leave the word ‘hobby’ in the past. When I talked to my husband about my lack of energy and inspiration, he offered the advice that I should try a hobby. To me, a hobby felt like another item to tack onto my already busy day. The word implies a certain frequency needed and places expectation on the activity. Other terms like ‘side hustle’ or ‘passion project’ emphasize a need to make money from it, which also adds pressure. As Eve puts it, we need to carve out a “unicorn space.” The beautiful thing about this language is that there’s no right way to do it. Maybe it’s even something different everyday. Whatever you call it and however you do it, just make sure you’re not putting any expectations on it.
Don’t feed into the guilt. All of us experience shame and guilt. As a working mom, I’m either feeling guilty for not showing up enough for my family or in my career, and it often feels like I’m in a perpetual guilt seesaw. While it’s natural to feel guilt, it’s important to take a look at where it’s coming from and acknowledge you’re doing the best you can. Eve is really big on giving ourselves permission to step away from our roles as caretakers, partners, and professionals — and setting boundaries around decision-making. By taking ownership of your decisions, how you’re spending your time and focusing on what’s in front of you, you can show up better in all areas and leave the guilt behind. It’s about reframing those moments and making sure we’re doing something for ourselves, not just meeting other people’s expectations of ourselves.
Ditch your old ideas around fun. For some, fun is seen as frivolous and without meaning. Yet, having fun without a greater goal in mind actually promotes better mental health. We spend so much of our lives at work or handling personal responsibilities, that it only makes sense to balance all of that with a little bit of fun. You can call this meaningless, but in my mind, it feeds your creativity and makes you show up better in other aspects of your life.
By putting the focus back on what really fuels me and makes me feel good, I’ve been able to lift myself from a fog. I’ve learned that my unicorn space is best shared with other people — it’s where I feel my most creative and alive. And I truly love the idea of having people around to hold me accountable: It may be about my competitive nature or it may be that I’d rather do something in the company of others, but sharing my unicorn space makes me feel much more whole. For example, my friend and I are taking up tennis at a local club to encourage each other to get back in the game.
I still want to share my unicorn space with others: Reach out if you want a virtual or in-person walking buddy or if you want someone to share your latest recipes and restaurants with, or if you just want to connect. Building community and networking across passions fuels my creativity, so much so that I’m even launching an accountability program in my networking group Connect4Women. Since 2019 I’ve made a commitment to connecting women and that’s led to over 5,000 connections over the last few years. This Women’s History month, I hope to connect people to find more jobs, more friendships and more opportunities. I hope you will join me this #womenshistorymonth by making 40 connections for women. You can make the pledge with the hashtag #connect4women
At the end of the day, we’re so much better when we cheer each other on.