The Myth of Work/Life Balance
Early in my career, I was often overwhelmed by the feeling of being
torn. I was constantly pulled, mentally and physically, between the
people who mean so much to me and the career that means so much to me.
It began as a young professional, when I got a chance to go through the
global credit training program at Chase Bank and become one of the
company’s first female executives. Did I have to work longer hours than
my male counterparts? Yes. Did I have to be more prepared? Yes. Did I
want to prove I was an equal? Yes. Was I thrilled to do this?
But, how could I explain this to my husband, my friends, and later, to
my kids? Long days, long nights, and long weekends of work—
I’ll admit, there were even nights I slept at the bank because I worked too late to leave.
And it continued. When I had kids, I was the only working mom in our
pristine little suburban community. When I was the one assigned to bake
cupcakes, I was outed when the perfect class mom fished the empty
Entenmann’s box out of the garbage. (Who knew that my personal touch of sprinkles wouldn’t convince everyone that they were homemade?)
Work-life balance? Quality alone time usually involved a bathroom.
Speaking of bathrooms, while at Chase (yes, finally an executive), and a
commuter, I held morning meetings for my female colleagues in the
ladies’ room at 7:30 AM as I put on makeup. (We women multi-task well!)
I never felt like I was “in the moment”—my mind was always in the place I wasn’t. I felt guilty about everything, and it was palpable.
So, does all this mean I’d advise my younger self to compromise? To
choose between having a career, a husband (for a while), kids, and
friends? No way. What I would tell her is to apply the same
she did at work to her personal life. To become the CEO of her life. And to check the guilt at the door.
Notes to my younger self,
Life would have been easier on you if you consciously made a list of
the really important things. You don’t have to rank it, but make sure
that you know what the “Top 5” or “Top 10” are.
Then put your list to the test. If kids, husband, career, family,
friends, food, and exercise are in the top 10, keep them there. For
everything else, ask yourself, “Does it matter profoundly?” If the
answer is no, it’s time to outsource those roles: cleaning services, dog
walkers, personal shoppers, cupcake designers. Think “easy” when you
can. “Easy” hair, nails, clothes, food—whatever frees up that extra two
hours each week.
Then, share your list with your loved ones, and elicit their support. And make it your goal going forward to be present, to and to do the best with what and who matter to you most.
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for not being Superwoman—she’s overrated. If you have bought into the myth of “doing it all,” you’re
going to feel torn in a hundred directions and guilty about not being
present for any of the things you are doing. Remember, even Superwoman didn’t juggle all of the balls at once—if she did, even she would start to drop some.
Plus, I don’t know about you but, outside of the gym, I’d never be caught dead in Spandex.