by Vicki Larson
Like many other families, mine has had a few syndromes and acronyms attached to it. But since dysfunction seems to be the new normal, I have accepted whatever’s been thrown my way and worked to make the best of it.
One syndrome I didn’t expect to face, however, is “divorced women's syndrome.” In fact, I didn’t even know it existed.
But ignorance is no excuse.
Going through a divorce is a wrenching experience, whether it was your decision, his or a mutual one. No one thinks it, like cancer or autism, is going to happen to him or her. Your beliefs about marriage, love, commitment — and about yourself — are challenged, and things you took for granted need to be reevaluated. And then one day, you face a new reality: At the end of the day, it’s just you.
So you take charge of your life, perhaps for the first time; that’s not such a bad thing. Or so I thought.
“I admire you,” a friend told me shortly after my marriage broke up. Within a few months, I got a full-time job for the first time in more than a decade, bought a house and worked hard with my former husband to make the transition as easy as possible for our two boys. “Look how strong you are.”
And I did feel strong — most of the time. I realized I’d been given a chance to reinvent myself. Sometimes it felt overwhelming; other times, empowering.
It affected the way I felt about myself and my kids, the way I welcomed new relationships in my life and, according to author and journalist Bob Rosner, the way I approached my job, too.
Self-reliance may get a woman through her divorce intact, Rosner writes in the Working Wounded blog for ABC news, but “it's very dangerous to bring this to work as the defining aspect of your personality.”
Women will go out of their way to help, advise and mentor co-workers who come to them, but Rosner says we don’t seek the same from others. “Work, for many women, becomes a solitary activity” — thus, the “divorced women’s syndrome,” or DWS.
And that, he says runs counter to way things work in the workplace where it’s a game of give and take, ask and receive.
Is he right? I haven’t sought out mentors, true, but I have asked advice from some of my colleagues and learned to delegate. And as my company has had layoffs and my colleagues and I have taken on more responsibilities, I’ve asked my staff to “help” me — really, all of us — by getting their work in on time and complete. I still, however, struggle with asking for what I want — like more money, a decision that might cost me nearly a million dollars over the course of my working life, according to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever’s book “Women Don't Ask. ”
Still, I have always thought that being self-reliant is what employers meant when they seek “self-motivated” people and those who are “able to work independently.” No one wants an employee who has to be told what to do all the time.
Maybe it’s a lot like learning to navigate the dating world again — finding a healthy balance between being too needy and so independent that you never let down your guard. So, just call me a self-starting team player, or SSTP if you must. As syndromes go, that one’s not too bad.