5 Ways to Ruin Your Career AND Your Marriage

(Laura’s note: I’m on maternity leave, and while I’ll be blogging occasionally over the next few weeks, I wanted to take the opportunity to share guest posts from some of my favorite bloggers. Enjoy!)

By Alisa Bowman

I suppose we all reach a low point in life. Mine came roughly one year after the birth of our daughter. It was then when my marriage, my health and my career all fell apart at the same time. I was walking around with a constant case of swollen glands along with fatigue and mental fog that just wouldn’t quit. My clients were not happy with my writing. One of them even went over my head and asked his publisher, who’d hired me to edit his book, to fire me. And I was not happy with my husband. In fact, I was living with my parents so I could stay away from him.

Yes, things were quite bad.

It’s now 6 years later and my life is the polar opposite. I’m in love with my husband again, and he’s also in love with me. My clients are in love with me again, too. I’m also happier than ever, and my health is great. It’s from this perspective that allows me to look back and see what caused my problems 6 years ago. I can now see with humility and clarity that those problems were not random bad luck. Rather, I brought them all on myself, and I did it by doing the following. Here are 5 ways I ruined my career and my marriage, and how you can ruin your career and your marriage, too.

1. Compete for Best Super Mom. I tried to be the perfect wife, perfect mother, and perfect professional writer, and I failed. The problem with perfect is that there’s never an end to the obsession. There are always more work projects to take on, more crud to scrub out of corners, and more state-of-the-art techniques to try on your children. In an effort to be everything to everyone, I ended up being little good to anyone. Once I learned how to lower my standards in some areas (for instance, my house is not the cleanest or most orderly on the block), I was able to free up time and energy for what mattered most.

2. Never ask for help. If my husband didn’t do something around the house, I did it for him, and I was resentful about it. If I couldn’t physically get everything done in a given day, I tried to get it all done anyway. I’ve since learned that “I need help” and “Can you help me?” are among the two most powerful phrases in my vocabulary. Asking for help doesn’t make me weak. Rather it means I’m smart enough to know my limits and courageous enough let others know I have them.

3. Assume people know what you want. For many years, I thought that my husband knew what I wanted, but he just didn’t do it because he was trying to torment me. I also thought that various clients who didn’t fulfill their end of the bargain—for instance by supplying recipes or something else they had once promised—were the same. I figured they were taking advantage of me. I now know that people have bad memories and lack ESP. They need instructions, and they need reminders, too.

4. Hint at what you want. It doesn’t work. Believe me. I tried to perfect hinting. Oh how I’ve tried. More important, it’s actually easier, more effective and less stressful to be direct. I now use a three-sentence rule when asking for what I want. I either call or make a request face to face. I ask for what I want succinctly and without drama or blame. I shut up and I wait for a response. Nine times out of 10 I get what I want.

5. Try to figure out who is right and who is wrong. This wastes so much mental energy, and it also leads nowhere. It’s far more productive to either solve the problem or to learn from the failure. Rather than think, “Whose fault is this?” I now think, “What can I do about this?” and “What could I have done differently?”

Alisa Bowman is a professional writer whose work has appeared in Men’s Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Parents and many other publications. Seven of her ghosted and coauthored books have made the New York Times Bestseller List, collectively selling well over 3 million copies. She writes an advice column for Living magazine and is the creator of ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com where she dishes out marriage advice. She is the author of the memoir Project: Happily Ever After and co-author of Dangerous Instincts.

8 thoughts on “5 Ways to Ruin Your Career AND Your Marriage

  1. Alisa, I love this post! The first point is the one that really resonates with me right now. As a new mom, I am trying to juggling being the best mom, best wife, best/cleanest home, most organized, best employee. And it’s just not sustainable. Or even needed! Lowering my expectations really helps. And knowing that no one expects me to “do it all.” My husband and daughter would be happy to have a less organized home but a happier mama. And I am, too!

  2. Great post. You are probably putting many therapists out of business with such great advice. It took me more than 6 years to learn these things… and reminders like your post are helpful and appreciated. Thanks!

  3. Like it! I am struggling with bedtime for my 3-year old. I almost went out and read every book on bedtime. But even on the worst nights she wakes up happy and in love with her parents… You have to pick your battles while also acknowledging that some things are non negotiables for you.

    Anyone have any tips for getting a 3-year old to adhere to a bedtime. If we set a time and ask her to be in her room playing quietly alone or with us, is it fair to expect a week of screaming before the results kick in? I know you are supposed to do this when they are younger but we did not. And I feel you can’t force sleep but you can force quiet time in your room… right now we are not succeeding at either!

    1. We have kids 2, 2 and 4 and struggle with bedtime too. The 4 year old can play/read for awhile on his own but if he’s awake for over an hour, he requires some help (more books and CD’s, etc.) One two year old is an early bird and falls asleep but the other doesn’t and requires being put back in his room, a parent staying there, etc. One of the best quotes I heard on consistent bedtime came from another parent. This especially works for one child. “My kid can’t tell time so I can alter bedtime depending on our family situation and when she’s tired. It’s a consistent bedtime because bedtime happens when I say it does, consistently.” This is especially important when naps are intermittent, in my experience.

  4. Agreed! Hinting at what you want and your needs are isn’t going to help anyone. We hope our husbands are mindreaders and then fault them when they’re not when if we could just ask for what we want and need, things would be so much better.

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