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1-on-1: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently

Marcus Buckingham is a leadership expert, internationally renowned speaker and New York Times best-selling author of several books, including First, Break All the Rules; Now Discover Your Strengths and Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently. He’s the founder of TMBC, a management consulting company, and has been hailed as a visionary by corporations such as Toyota, Coca-Cola and Microsoft. He has appeared on Oprah and Larry King Live and been featured in major newspapers.

SUCCESS: What led you to bring your life-strengthening message to women in particular?

Marcus Buckingham: The leading data on women’s happiness over the past 40 years is compelling and disappointing. Women have gained greater power, broader influence, higher education and more money, but according to research by the National Bureau of Economic Research, women’s daily life satisfaction has gone downhill in the last 40 years. Men are actually slightly happier now that they were, probably due to the slight increase in prosperity we have had, while women’s daily satisfaction has dropped steadily, even given that greater prosperity. It’s true of women in the work force, those not working, those who have kids and those who don’t. As a researcher, I find this trend discouraging: half of our population is experiencing decreasing net happiness and satisfaction with life. When we look at what makes people engaged and fulfilled with their lives, everyone from economists to psychologists seems to agree that the feeling of self-efficacy, feeling valued and effective in your strength zone is critical. The happiest and most successful people are those who have figured out ways to play to the best of themselves in each part of their lives. They feel in the zone.

SUCCESS: What is causing this ongoing dissatisfaction and unhappiness in life?

Marcus Buckingham: There are two causes. One is excess of choice. Life’s tricky for women because they have more choices than men. Most women don’t get much help in knowing what choices will strengthen them, or how to have a strong internal compass so they don’t wonder about or regret the choices made. The second cause is that the advice women have been given is misleading. Women are told to strive for balance. It’s impossible to balance a morning let alone a day or a life. You’ll never balance perfectly the amount of hours spent on each particular aspect of your life, and it’s not satisfying when you try. If your goal in life is balance, you’ll forever be disappointing yourself.

SUCCESS: What do you mean when you say that the happiest and most successful women know how to catch and cradle?

Marcus Buckingham: The challenge of life is not to juggle, the challenge is to catch—to select a few clear strong moments from each aspect of your life and reach for those, draw them in to you. I call this “catch and cradle.” In contrast with manic juggling, there is a deliberate reaching for specific moments to cradle. When you cradle a baby, you concentrate on it, you feel its weight, and allow it to move you; you’re very responsive to it. Cradling is a very nurturing position; you’re not grasping it to you, there’s hopefulness to it. If you want to live a full life, a life that fulfills you, then you need to know in each part of your life which the specific moments that really renew your energy, and bring you joy, and go after them. You want to imbalance your life toward creating more of those specific moments. It’s a very different approach. It’s not “learn to say no” it’s “learn to say yes.” Learn who you are clearly enough to know which moments you need to say “yes” to, and understand that the moments won’t be the same for your sister or your next door neighbor or your coworker.

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