Just Keep Swimming: Thoughts on Work Life Balance
Featured in the picture above are the tippers of the scale in my work-life-balance equation, aka my kiddos.
It’s taken me a while to write this post, since work-life-balance is NOT something I’ve mastered. I don’t have a recipe, or a 5 step program….But I do have a bit of an obsession, so here it goes….
It’s something I think about daily. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not exactly a relaxed, go-with-the-flow person, although I do think that sounds lovely. I approach balance in the fairly focused way I approach just about everything in life…yes, I realize the irony: I intensely seek peace. Every night I ask myself 3 questions: What 3 things were amazing today? What did I do wrong, that I should make sure not to do tomorrow? What did I do right?
It's fairly easy for me to come up with where I fell short for the day. I’m a mom, after all, so I have ample opportunity to be self-critical. Maybe I wasn’t as patient, or as present as I should’ve been. Interestingly, often my thing I did “right” was saying “no” to an event. No, we can’t go to the farmer’s market. No, we can’t do a play date. No, we can’t go out to dinner. We need to stay home. We need to batten down the hatches and slow. life. down. We need to fold laundry together. We need to read 10 books. We need to bake banana bread with way too many chocolate chips. We’re busy.
Saying “no” helps me own my schedule more, and be more deliberate with how I spend time. It doesn’t quiet that inner critic, though. The one that says, “You didn’t work enough today,” on days dominated by family time, or “You didn’t dedicate enough time to the kids today,” on days dominated by work.
Pre-kids I didn’t have to say “no” as often – fewer demands on my time, and therefore I took on a lot of fun projects at work. One favorite was starting up a women’s group at the bank. It might not be a shocker, but the finance industry is predominantly male, especially as you go up the ranks. I absolutely loved pulling the women together and creating a community of support. We talked about networking, career mobility, skill development….then I became a mom. All at once I felt like I was falling short in work, and in motherhood – giving half of myself to each, and therefore not enough to either. Mom-guilt kicked in with full force, while I found myself turning down opportunities I previously would’ve jumped on. I couldn’t really muster the enthusiasm to talk with my women’s group about career mobility, but was desperate for answers on how on Earth to manage two seemingly opposing, utterly demanding passions.
There was an investment banker, who was (and probably is) absolutely top in her field. She’s brilliant, intimidating….and a mom. I emailed her one day asking if she’d be open to speaking to our women’s group about work-life balance. If you know anything about investment banking, you know that it is not exactly known for moderation. Analysts routinely work 90-100 hour weeks, and as you go up the ranks (if you survive the entry hours) the hours cut back but the intensity steps up. As a result, the people at the top are…uniquely driven, and mostly male. So, why reach out to an investment banker for work-life balance advice? I figured that if she had a handle on it at all, she was basically a work-life-balance ninja.
I didn’t interview her in advance to hear what she was going to share (like she would’ve had time for that). I didn’t expect her to actually solve my problems.
It was kind of a Hail Mary from a desperate mom, trying to still be a banker. But, what she shared was extremely pragmatic and liberating
“If you feel like you’re not meeting your work-life balance goals, you need to change your measurement period.” She viewed achieving balance on a daily basis as unrealistic, and therefore stressful. This was the negative feedback loop I found myself in – trying to do everything, every day. Trying to work a full day, while also being present for all of my little one’s needs and special moments, and not for a second considering my own needs. She instead allowed herself to have work-heavy days, and family-filled days, and focused on achieving work-life balance on a weekly basis.
It still broke my heart when I had to go a full day without seeing my kids because I had to leave before they woke up, and got home after they went to bed….but my mom-guilt subsided a little as I then would compensate by stepping up the quality time with my littles another day that week.
Patience isn’t my strong suit, but I’m learning to not judge my success or failure too early. Because the important stuff can’t be measured day by day – progress is made over weeks months and years.
So, give yourself more time, supermom, and you can find your balance and move a few mountains along the way.