I love this post from Amy because her experience is universal for anyone with passionate interests outside of work – men and women. For women in technology, however, the balance can be extra tough – especially when competing with peers who may have a stay at home partner – Amy gives great ideas about how to strike the right “balance.” As a side note, we can’t miss recognizing the Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Trio of Women for Championing Gender Equality & Peace-Building – INSPIRATIONAL! Have a great day!
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– Betsy Speare
Work-life balance – how do you do it? I get asked about this more than almost any other topic. My “a-ha!” moment came about 6 years ago. Up until then, my work-life balance was nonexistent because my work was my life. Evenings, weekends . . . I prioritized work over everything else and lived with my cellphone nearby, ready to answer any call, whenever it arrived. A planned hour at the office on Saturday morning easily became a full day as the inbox and potential work items expanded to fill all available time. I excelled at work, but was so wrapped up that friends and relationships got lost along the way.
Then my now-husband Gytis entered the scene, in a complete family pack with 3 children. It was 0 to 60 into a world of carpools, practices, games, curriculum nights, field trips, and making dinner. (Kids can’t meet you at the bar at Seastar for a late meal, it turns out.) Early on we were reviewing the upcoming weekend’s activities: softball, baseball, soccer, I don’t remember all the events that needed attending, but it was full. I noted I had a presentation due on Monday, was planning to hit the office on Saturday. Gytis turned to me and asked, “Okay, so what do you want to miss?”
Wow. “What do I want to miss?” That question (my husband always asks me to note that it was delivered matter-of-factly, not with malice) changed my weekend and my life, forcing me to consider the tradeoffs and putting the notion of “balance” in high relief. In that moment, what was more important? We talked at length – I didn’t want to “miss” anything the kids were doing, so we agreed that he handle dinner on Sunday night, while I would work on my deck. Much to my surprise, I finished my deck: instead of going to the office and doing that and 20 other things random things, I focused on the work that was important, and got it done.
Finding balance is all about establishing priorities and sticking to them. “Balance” implies some sort of universal scale; in fact, it’s a highly personal one. You (and only you) have to decide what balance means to you based on the criteria you have for what you want to miss. Even harder, you have to set and maintain the boundaries that enable you to have that particular balance – and decide when and how you’ll make exceptions.
I should also add that this is not a perfect science. Even after my epiphany, I still work hard to get it right – and I have had plenty of “learning moments” along the way. For example, I used to teach Pilates two nights a week. I loved it – but it meant leaving work promptly, teaching for a few hours, then rushing home to do dinner/family/etc PLUS catch up on whatever happened at work because I left promptly. Which means everyone got a little cheated: fulltime job, Pilates clients, family. I had to regretfully put that part of my life on hold for now, because I really can’t do it all. Recently I missed a key meeting to prioritize a volleyball match that on balance could have been missed (it wasn’t a “first” or “last” match of the season, nor a playoff) and had to really scramble to reassert my voice and team because I wasn’t there.
I got a few things right, though. I made the time to travel to China with step-daughter as a parent chaperone, and that’s a memory that will live with us both for the rest of our lives. I missed some important work items but I’d make that trade-off again in a heartbeat. I deliberately changed roles to keep work negativity from oozing back into the rest of my life and to make it easier to assert my boundaries. And I’ve learned to be more honest with myself and those around me so that we are working on the same set of assumptions. Don’t expect me at that meeting; don’t look for me at curriculum night.
So my advice:
- Think about what you “want to miss” – this can help you strengthen your focus, delegation skills, partnership, and management if you do it well.
- Don’t overpromise. To your work colleagues, to your family, or yourself. That’s where regret and guilt come in.
- You own setting and sticking to your boundaries. Easy to say, which is why there is #4…
- It isn’t easy and anyone who says so is lying.
So, let me know… how you handle balance? Use the comments!