I started thinking about this topic after reading an excellent article by my friend and colleague Kate Murphy. In Self Care: Hard to Make the Time, So Worth the Effort, she discusses how important it is to take care of yourself, and the many ways we push ourselves when we shouldn't. As she and I discussed this, we both realized that this subject is pretty common conversation fodder for women and we are very mindful of how hard it is to avoid feeling overstretched. In fact, I was just talking with a friend this morning about her attempts to juggle the many demands she feels from her church, her kids, her home. It's hard to do it all because everything requires actual time, and time is finite.
However, I think we should also acknowledge that as hard it is for women to avoid the pressure to be superwoman, it's just as hard for men. When was the last time you heard a guy say, "I'm really low energy today. I think I need to take it easy." Or, "I really need to talk to my boss about my long hours." There are very few role models for men seeking work-life balance.
Those commercials showing people taking a moment out of their hectic day to drink a cup of tea while looking out the window at birds flying over a sun drenched field of flowers - those tea-drinkers aren't men.
I'm not going to go into the long list of ways that our culture puts (pits?) men and women into opposing camps because that's such a huge topic, I would have to write a book. But I can say for sure that they definitely don't share the self-care camp. A lot of men feel so much pressure to work, provide and succeed that self-care rarely enters their minds. At least women have cultural permission to step back and slow down, whether it's with a cup of tea, some smelly bubble bath or the cliched mani-pedi. Men have examples of very few outlets that are actually healthy (the gym, the pool table - with beer, sports events - with beer, TV - with beer).
The friend I mentioned in the first paragraph said her high stress is partly because her husband is working 15 hour days. I suspect there are a lot more channels open for her to find solutions to her stress than there are for him. This is a large scale, systemic social imbalance. I don't have a solution for it. But I do have some words of advice. Men, take care of yourselves. Get some exercise, eat well, and take some time to pause and reflect on what's important to you. And women, if you have men in your life headed to burnout, in addition to modeling good self care, help make space for them to do this work, too. It helps everyone.