Nancy says, “Once I got comfortable accepting that my primary purpose in life wasn’t pleasing everyone else, I realized I needed to make time for what was important to me and my family as opposed to what other people seemed to value. For example, I’ve always disliked crafts, so there’s no point in spending time on that because it’s what a great mom is supposed to do or because Instagram is full of cute pictures of moms and their daughters making wreaths.”

Nancy began having more honest conversations at home. She says, “I had to get real and give my family a sense of my schedule and commitments. If I couldn’t do something, everyone needed to know. Being honest, treating my family like partners, made a huge difference in how we communicate. We’re much more relaxed together now.”

Coaches who work with women report that the disease to please is becoming more problematic because expectations are constantly ratcheting up. This is an unspoken elephant in the room at many of the women’s conferences we attend, where programs on “achieving balance” have become a standard part of the repertoire.

On one hand, women are urged to “go for it” and aspire to leadership at the highest level. On the other, they’re warned about the consequences of missing virtually any activity involving their kids. The fact that balance is now more often described as “work-life integration” doesn’t change the basic message, which is that women not only can “have it all,” but that they are fatally flawed if they do not.

he meeting took place in a glass-walled conference room atop a downtown hotel. The board was large; more than thirty people were expected. Most held high-profile corporate, academic, or nonprofit positions. About a third of the board members were men.

The room was cramped, so seating was crowded and haphazard. Flight delays caused by storms meant a fair number of people trickled in late. But as Sally tried to focus on the details of the plan being presented, she was primarily struck by the contrasting ways male and female board members responded to late arrivals.

Virtually every woman acknowledged newcomers by signaling that there was sufficient room for them to get comfortable. They pointed out empty seats, scooted their chairs aside to create more space, or found new seats for themselves at the room’s periphery. They also made themselves physically smaller, pressing their legs together, holding their arms against their sides, shoving their purses under the table, even positioning their notepads more squarely in front of them.

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