Oh the irony, that today of all days I would be writing about work life balance. At 6:50 am my middle son told me he would need a ride, at 7 and 8 am, to and from Lacrosse practice. I ended up feeding and dressing his little brother in the car, then driving back home again to retrieve a forgotten backpack. I finally made it to my office in a less than great mood, only to be reminded of my promise to have this blog post done before noon. Before I could get two words on the page, my eldest son started texting me–from college–he really misses me and wants me to visit. Since that never happens, I quickly agreed to the 5 hour drive, but the messages persisted. When would I arrive? What would we do when I got there? When would I leave? A few weeks ago, I had given up coffee, sugar and refined grains, but in the last hour I’ve had two cups of coffee, a bagel and a cupcake. Now I have to squeeze in a work-out.
So why write the post at all? Well, when I speak at an event, I am often asked, “How do you do it all?” I’m a people-pleaser by nature, so I hesitate before answering “I don’t.” Yep, I’m the one that just gave a motivational speech, and am now admitting that I don’t have it all figured out; that life is hard, even for me.
I’ve chased work-life balance most of my life, asked other women for tips and read a million books on the subject. I even tried Gwenyth Paltrow’s advice, to lay-out your children’s clothes the night before; somehow in my house, the shirt I laid out has a stain or the socks are itchy or a child wakes up with a fever. Suddenly, my best laid plans are laying alright, on the ground, throwing a temper-tantrum. Now that my eldest is 19, I can officially say I’m making it. It’s not always pretty, but I get there. I’ve rarely had to cancel a meeting or business trip. I have three active sons, but have only been to the ER a few times, my house is mostly clean, my work is mostly done and my children, although far from perfect, are kind, loving, appreciative and hard-working.
So, what’s the trick you ask? Well, there are two. First, I believe in living an intentional, authentic life. Being honest about what matters to you and making choices that support and further your personal goals. For example, I am not a good mom or boss on less than 7 hours sleep, so no matter what is going on I know I need to be in bed at a certain hour. If I choose to stay up late and end up miserable the next day, I will not blame my children’s tantrums or a crisis at work for my bad attitude. I’m not saying you should take the blame for your child’s tantrum, I’m just saying that if you eat right and go to sleep at a decent time, it will be easier to stay calm and possibly even gain insight from bad situations. Another intentional decision I’ve made is to limit my children’s extracurricular activities. Their opportunity to be the next Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, fill-in-the-blank, may escape them, but the world is a better place when I’m not behind the wheel of a car, racing to and from multiple practices. Do the decisions you make on a daily basis reflect what you think is important or what the neighbor thinks is important?
The second trick is to look at the big picture. If you evaluate yourself on a daily or weekly basis, you will rarely measure up. Before I curl up in a corner and admit failure, I reflect on the last month. There is absolutely no way that my children and work will be perfectly balanced each week, especially when I’m traveling for work. Those weeks, my kids get short-changed. Now, now, settle-down, before you start with the email lectures, keep reading. Once, when I was traveling for work. My son lost his driver’s license, but would be going on a plane, so needed his ID and texted me non-stop. “I need money for a replacement license.” “Where is my birth-certificate?” At that moment, I could not help him and do my job, so I decided to tell him that this was his emergency, not mine. A few hours later, he thanked me. I thought he was being sarcastic, but no, he was truly thanking me. He said, “sometimes I’m mad that you can’t do as much for me as my friends’ moms do for them, but then I do it myself and I feel strong and capable.”
So this balance thing. Here are my thoughts:
- Look at the big picture. Today was bad, but how was last month?
- Set reasonable goals for yourself, your career and your life. What do you want to be known for?
- Set routines and make decisions that support those goals
- Every child needs love, after that, it depends on the child. Make sure you know what your kids really need.
- Focus on the positive. I didn’t help out in my son’s kindergarten class each week, but in the summer and on holidays he came to work with me and learned to work a photo shoot.
In closing, I find it helpful to think of work-life balance like your GPA. There are those exceptionally gifted people who get A’s on everything and in every class, but the rest of us may bomb a test or forget a homework assignment on occasion. Once you finish high school or college though, you’ll only remember your cumulative GPA, one number that averages all those good and bad grades. On any given day you might be a little unbalanced, but in the grand scheme of things you have a 3.8 GPA. So keep up the good work!