Drop the Ball - Critical summary review - Tiffany Dufu

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Drop the Ball - critical summary review

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Personal Development and Biographies & Memoirs

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-1250071736

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Critical summary review

Working mothers everywhere face a dilemma: while wanting to pursue a successful career, they also feel responsible for keeping the household running smoothly and for making sure that their partners and families are happy. Such emotional stress is felt much less, if at all, by working fathers. Tiffany Dufu found herself in a similar untenable position: wanting to do it all, yet not being able to manage everything. Eventually, she found a way of getting her husband to share in the daily workload. So, get ready to learn how to get to an equality-based partnership!

Working mothers

Dufu had been brought up to believe that she could do it all. So even though she knew many women were struggling to successfully balance work and home life, she believed that she would be different. Six months after giving birth to her first son, Dufu started a new job. She loved her work of helping and empowering other women and girls, and therefore felt excited to return to work – unlike many others, she did not find it difficult to leave her infant son behind on her first day at work.

Since both she and her husband Kojo were working, they could afford an excellent caregiver for their child, and Dufu had negotiated a private room at work so she could pump breast milk throughout the workday. Six hours into her first day at work, Dufu’s illusion of being the perfect mother, career woman, and housewife at the same time painfully collapsed. In the flurry of getting adjusted to her work, she had forgotten to pump her milk, and it had soaked through her t-shirt onto her suit jacket. Her breasts were extremely swollen and painful, and the negotiated private room was actually a toilet stall.

At the end of that first day, completely exhausted, Dufu heard her husband come home, kicking off his shoes and leaving them in the hallway, and head to the fridge to eat the dinner she had prepared for him, leaving his dirty dishes in the sink, and then relaxing on the couch. That was when the realization hit her – even though they were both on the same road, somehow her husband could avoid the crash, because he intuitively relied on his wife to do all the work.

Trying to do it all

This situation might sound familiar, and, in fact 58% of millennial working mothers find it harder to get ahead in their careers after becoming a mother, compared with only 19% of millennial fathers, as a recent Pew survey found. Part of the problem is that workplaces are still organized around the mistaken assumption of a perfectly supported worker, as well as the heightened demands of modern-day child-rearing. Both of these send a clear message to women, who are made to believe that they can have it all - if they do it all.

But any working mother will soon discover that this is impossible. The most traditional solution to this problem for women is to abandon their careers altogether, but since this requires money, only 5% of married mothers choose to do so. Indeed, in 40% of U.S. households with children under 18, mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners.

That is why 17% of women instead decide to slow down their career pursuits, sometimes even declining promotions in favor of getting the housework done. Some women forgo this conflict altogether by choosing not to have children at all. This is reflected at the corporate leadership level: while around 49% of women in leadership positions have remained childless, only 19% of their male counterparts have chosen to do so.

The author believes there is another way: a way for women to have fulfilling careers and a happy family. The answer is as simple as it is complicated: by getting your husband to do his share of the household duties.

A woman’s place

The author believes that her indoctrination of having to manage a home started early. She even remembers her 13th birthday card which featured a cartoon of a girl running into the kitchen with bags of groceries, and the handwritten note of her parents thanking her for all her contributions to the family. When her parents divorced, Dufu and her sister moved in with her father, and since she was 16 years old at the time (the oldest woman in the house), the household duties quite naturally fell to her. 

Dufu writes, “Gender role indoctrination starts early, passed down to us in the conscious and unconscious attitudes and actions of even the most progressive and well-intentioned parents.” And this has far-reaching consequences: many women feel the pressure of having to succeed both at work and at home. Whilst juggling a career, most women will also feel responsible for managing childcare and household chores. According to the American Time Use Survey, 50% of American women do some form of housework every day, compared to only 20% of men.

Even in households where chores are divided, women still end up being what Judith Shulevitz calls “the designated worrier” - women are the ones who feel the need to manage everything and to ensure that things run smoothly. Most women will feel like a moral failure if their home life does not run smoothly. This emotional guilt is unique to women, who, even when they can pay for the best childcare for their children, will often feel like they are “a bad mother” for doing so. Men in the same position, on the other hand, see themselves as economic providers, a feeling unaccompanied by emotional guilt.

Turning point

The author experienced similar feelings of overwhelm and guilt with all her work but found herself unable to ask her husband for help. Instead she tried to get everything done by herself. One day, the emotional strain simply became too much. After a busy day at work worrying about a large upcoming project, she returned home to a screaming toddler, while her husband was watching a baseball game on TV and calmly asked her what she would cook for dinner.

That’s when Dufu snapped. She yelled at her husband, “You tell me!” and then stormed off into their bedroom, slammed the door, and collapsed crying on the bed. That evening marked a turning point for her. She finally asked for help and realized, to get to where she wanted to be, she would first have to figure out what mattered to her the most.

According to psychologist Dr. Ayala Malach Pines, the root cause of burnout is not having too much to do, but feeling that whatever you do does not align with who you truly are. To figure out what mattered the most to her, the author turned to two techniques. The first was a funeral visualization – she imagined three of her closest friends and associates eulogizing her life, to get clear on what she wanted to be remembered for.

She also decided to ask people around her, “Tell me about a time when you experienced me at my best.” Asking this question will tell you which of your strengths and qualities have the most impact on others. The answers for Dufu were surprising at times and led her to relearn to listen to her intuition.

Eventually, she figured out which three things were the most important for her:  loving her husband, raising her son to become a conscious global citizen, and advancing women and girls.

Go ahead, drop the ball

Once you have figured out what it is that matters the most for you, you can actively start working toward those aims. The author realized during a business course led by Jerry Hauser that not everything she did in her daily life was geared toward reaching her goals. 

In business, there is the Law of Comparative Advantage: rather than focusing on the areas you are best at, you should focus your efforts on those areas that bring the most value to you and those around you. Dufu realized that she could apply this principle to her home life as well. In order to raise a conscious global citizen for example, it was not exactly conducive to plan out her son’s summer clothes – instead, she should probably focus her time on reading her son a book every night.

Looking at her to-do list of eight items one day, Dufu realized that there was only one item that was critical for her to accomplish herself. While all other items still needed to get done, she now already felt a sense of relief because those were tasks she could delegate. Some items, such as “marinate chicken” were even superfluous, so she decided to get rid of these chores altogether.

Some others, such as “get umbrella stroller” or “buy shower gift” could be delegated creatively, such as asking her childminder or a friend to do those things for her. But some items on the list would have to be done by her husband.

Given how, in most relationships, the housework intuitively falls to the woman, the delegation of tasks can seem like a daunting prospect, especially when it means upending gender stereotypes. Dufu believes the key to getting your partner to help is to “Delegate with Joy.” Instead of approaching this as a transactional experience, like getting paid for a job, you should try and make this relational: show your partner how his helping you will fulfill a higher purpose. That was what Dufu did: knowing that her husband was proud of all her achievements, she told him that in order for her to fulfill her purpose, she would need a little more help around the home.

The four go-tos

While delegating is a good start, it will probably take a while until both you and your partner are taking on equal loads of the household work. Dufu called her comparative advantage strategy into question every single day in the first few months. She had delegated the opening of the mail to her husband, and for the first three months he would dutifully get the mail and bring it inside – and then let it accumulate on the counter unopened.

This served as a constant reminder to Dufu, but she decided to drop the ball. She had delegated this task, so it was not up to her to worry about it any longer. It was difficult, but eventually she managed to feel at ease with the ever-growing pile since she had achieved some emotional distance from the task to be accomplished. And her patience was rewarded: eventually, her husband noticed that the mail pile had become unmanageable and finally dealt with it. Since then, delegating and committing to tasks became easier.

While you may be freeing up time by having less housework to do, you should not use that time to work more. Instead, there are four go-tos the author recommends to make the most of your life as well as handling the constant pressure of being a mother and working at the same time:

  1. Exercise to build your stamina.
  2. Go to lunch to build your network.
  3. Go to events to build your visibility.
  4. Sleep to build your renewal.

Final Notes

Women have been brought up to believe that it is up to them to keep home life running smoothly, even when they are working demanding full-time jobs. This attitude is taking its toll, seeing fewer women and mothers in leadership positions, and leading to burnout and emotional stress.

By delegating tasks to your partner, you can relax about your home life, excel at your job, and make time for the things that really matter to you.

12min Tip

Try to figure out what it is you truly want in life and prioritize your to-do list accordingly.

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Who wrote the book?

Tiffany Dufu is an American entrepreneur, author, and a leading figure in empowering women and girls. She is founder and CEO of The Cru, a peer coaching platform to help women a... (Read more)

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