Tag Archives: Work life balance

Coming into the light

I went through a dark time a few months ago where I felt like my kid needed 50% of me, my husband needed another 50%, my job needed its 50%, my other family and friends needed 50%… so I was either doing fantastically at a few aspects of my life and failing miserably at everything else, or I was failing at everything at once.

Also, notice how there was not a percentage of demands made for myself. Every day, I made choices to sacrifice my own sleep, emotional and mental well-being, diet, exercise – forget about fun and relaxation, ha! – for someone or something else. I went days and days without a chunk of time for myself – or, if I did have a moment to myself, it was clouded with guilt and indecision.

And people from different aspects of my life were not kind. I was told how I was failing and in what ways. People disappeared from my life instead of hanging in there. More importantly, I got no offers of help. Maybe it’s because I tried to shield people from how hard it was for me.

These conditions resulted in occasional emotional blow-outs to my loved ones or having to take mental health days from work with no notice to my colleagues because I. Just. Can’t. Take. It. Anymore!

Then, something happened. I started to communicate what I needed. (I’ll be honest, I did not often do it in the most eloquent of ways – yelling and breakdowns and tears don’t often fall into the category of optimal communication in my opinion, but if I’m at least stating my needs through it all, I say: whatever works.)

I’ve read that one should push through the inconvenience, the discomfort, the conflict of communicating your needs (should I say, especially women?) in order to realize balance in life, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t… until I had no choice to do so because the alternative – the status quo – hit such a level of unacceptable that there was nothing else to do.

Was it inconvenient, uncomfortable, and conflict-generating? HELL YEAH IT WAS. And on the other side, I have the support of a loving husband, a happily dancing-tantrumming-singing-tantrumming-laughing child, more respect in the work place and among clients, and sleep.

Y’all, I said I’m getting some sleeeeeep.

Who knows how long it will last? Life will throw another curve at me, boy do I know it, but I will relish what I can for now. And if I need something from you, you’ll hear about it.

 

Advertisements

Forget about having it all. I would rather not have to DO it all.

Oh yeah, I have a blog. All of those good intentions to create a thoughtful space for executive moms juggling various aspects of life was put on the back burner in favor of keeping some measure of SANITY.

The past year has been hell, I’ll be honest. And not for any particular reason. On paper (read: Facebook), everything is fine. We celebrate birthdays, we see friends and family, we work, we even go on vacation. And you know what? It’s sucking the very life out of me.

Here’s the breakdown for me of what the time requirements FEEL like in a given week – maybe it looks familiar to anyone else out there?

  • Child = 30%
  • Husband = 20%
  • Work = 40%
  • Friends and extended family = 10%
  • Chores, errands = 20%
  • Sleep = 5%

You don’t have to be an executive to figure out that adding up to 100% is a complete figment of the imagination. Things haven’t felt manageable within the context of a 100% ceiling in a long time.

Instead, I have been working tirelessly to impossibly squeeze a 9 inch pie into a single, wee cupcake liner. As a result, two things have happened:

  1. The feeling of failure is my constant companion. Either I am not excelling in any area because I’m spread so goddamn thin, or I’m excelling in one area at the horrible expense of another.
  2. My sense of self is completely eclipsed by my sense of duty and responsibility to all other parties. (Ah! Maybe some of you noticed that “Me” didn’t make the bulleted list above.)

I felt like a drawing slowing being erased. My identity as a PERSON with my own interests, needs, wants, and experiences was being totally wiped out.

So I did something about it. I started taking steps to take care of myself. Here are some things I did in the last 4 months or so:

  • Became a member of a spa near my work
  • Joined a weight loss program
  • Bought art supplies for painting
  • Invested in individual therapy sessions

And you know what? I wish I could say that things have been going well. But the reality is, they haven’t at all. As a result of trying to focus on me, my marriage has suffered greatly, my child sometimes feels neglected and acts out (and I don’t feel as close to her), my numbers at work aren’t as great at last year, the art supplies are sitting there collecting dust, my therapy sessions have gone sideways because maybe the therapist is not a great match for me, and the weight loss program has been only nominally successful but significantly burdensome.

It’s not all bad. I have had a massage or two at the spa. And I have lost some weight. And I went to a couple of totally unsatisfactory, one-time painting “classes” where I produced pieces that I was going to trash if not for my friend insisting she could find someone else who would take them.

Is this progress? Is this being successful? Is this acceptable?

From here, we can pivot to discussing getting support to change and make a real and lasting difference in the life of working women and working moms – support from spouses, friends or extended family or the community, more flexible work environments, and dealing with the sometimes latent, but nevertheless lingering sexism that EXPECTS women to do it all, or that it’s just the woman’s problem to figure out and manage.

… But that’s another post.

 

Vacation that isn’t a vacation.

My husband went to LA for a week to visit family and old friends. He’s managed a major recent move for the family, has watched our little girl day in and day out with few breaks – he needed a vacation away!

So I decided to take a staycation – I took the same week off of work to care of our little one and relax. What a delightful prospect!

But: OH MY GOD. YOU STAY AT HOME PARENTS ARE OUT OF YOUR MINDS.

How do you do it?? I barely catch my breath running around after the little one during “down” time (ha!), and then it’s time to do something else. I don’t feel I can ever catch up. And the house was totally ignored. How does my husband manage to keep our daughter clean, fed, well-rested, and engaged (well, ok, maybe a little lax on the clean), AND also keep the house as immaculate as he does?

I think our plants are on their last legs from lack of water.

Our backyard is brownish rather than greenish.

The trash and recycling trucks come by once a week, but they will have two week’s worth the next time because I forgot to put the bins out.

Dusting? Ha!

Vacuuming? Hahaha!

Dishes? BWAAAAHAHA!

I was so stir crazy and lonely at the house earlier in the week that my daughter and I ended up doing wonderful day trips later in the week, but it was still a tremendous effort – the planning and packing, the mini tantrums while we were out, the fatigue – oh, the fatigue!

And SAHP do it all the time.

It’s Monday. I had a client meeting so early that I had to leave the house at 6:15 AM. And I was bright eyed and excited to go to WORK! Hooray for work!!

 

By the skin of my teeth

On Tuesday, my daughter was 364 days old. I felt like a bad mom that morning because I decided to spend time with my husband the night before instead of doing the work I needed to do, so I was scrambling to get work done in the morning instead. I was paying more attention to my laptop than to the kiddo. I was also feeding her breakfast and preparing her lunch for later. She was content to eat her bread and bananas, didn’t fuss except when she wanted some more, but I couldn’t help thinking I was missing out on a morning of her life and now I can’t get it back. To top it off, our part-time nanny was late, causing me a lot of stress since I had a packed day at work and was going to be late, and I had done nothing to prepare for family who was coming in from out of town, much less the housewarming-plus-first-birthday party that was scheduled for the weekend. So my daughter got a stressed out mom who basically ignored her. Lucky kid.

Whatever, it’s fine. Nobody died, right?

But that was the morning. Here’s how the day actually turned out:

Got to work, was late for my 9 am call but the host pushed it back to 9:30 anyway so I had time for coffee and breakfast. Score!

Then I had a company manager meeting where I was able to report how I kicked ass in the past month and I proposed something totally off the cuff that everyone voted yes on and will be implemented. Score!

Then I had to drive to the boondocks of the East Bay to try and land a new client. I wasn’t careful about my GPS and it took me to their manufacturing facilities rather than their headquarters. %&$#!! I was a half hour late. I walked into the office and there are a dozen people staring at me from inside a glass wall conference room. I thought I was meeting with 2 people. %&$#!! I made my apologies and got introduced, and learned the CEO deigned to come to this meeting. I ordinarily love that, but I’m somewhat unprepared. %&$#!! So I had to wing it and didn’t show my slide presentation at all because it was a little weak anyway. (So much for ignoring my daughter in favor of working on slides in the morning.) Turns out the discussion was awesome, the CEO was very interested, and when I hit on something in particular, he said, “Hold on, you can do that for us?” I said, “Yes. We’re currently doing it for 5 other companies right now.” He said, “When can you start work for us?” Score!

I drove back to the city, parked the City CarShare car in its little cubby, and I quickly decided that my day needed to be topped off right. I called my husband, who reported that his sister landed safely and since they were taking care of the kiddo, they didn’t need me to come home immediately. (My poor daughter really got the short end of me today.)

And here is how the day ended:

I sat at a bar taking advantage of happy hour cosmos for a bit, then headed home to a loving husband, a delighted sister-in-law, and a happy, chirpy baby girl who would be turning 365 days old the next day, full of hugs and kisses for Mom.

Not a bad ending to a sketchy beginning.

Three practical ways to say “No”

Juggling family and work – something’s got to give. All the work-life balance blogs, books, and articles say that you should learn to say no, but rarely do people talk about how to do so well so that it doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re the bad guy or leaving people in the lurch. Here are some ideas – applicable to work AND home.

1. OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE. “No, but let’s do this other thing instead that will give us the same or similar result.” Often there is an alternative approach than my doing the specific thing I’m being asked to do. Can I do it differently than how I’m being asked that is more efficient? Or do I need to do it at all – are we just going through me because it’s always been that way? If I don’t need to do it, then what can happen instead? The trick to this is concentrating not just on the task you’re being asked to do, but stepping back and thinking about what youre collectively trying to accomplish in which your task is a part: is there a way to meet the objective that doesn’t require the task being asked, or at the level of involvement that is being asked?

2. PUT IT OFF A BIT. “No, I can’t right now. We should definitely get to this, but let’s connect tomorrow/next week/etc on this since I’m focusing on something else right this minute.” If it’s not urgent (truly urgent, which you’ll find few things actually are!) then you might find it resolves on its own or other things happen to get it to the next step if given some time.

3. HELP SOMEONE ELSE DO IT THEMSELVES. “No, I can’t do it myself, but I can definitely help you get to the finish line on this.” This one is my favorites because it’s a win-win. In order for this to work, you’ve got to have someone who doesn’t know how to do it and is willing to try. So many of my junior and mid-level staff are willing to try anything. GREAT! Let’s do it. I always give the baby a bath at night, but if my husband does it with me a few times, we can trade off and I can get some much needed down time. Is it going to happen exactly as you would do it? Probably not. Does this require up front investment in your time? Yes! But the ROI of saying no this way is typically realized fairly quickly.

Maybe there are other ways to say no in an effective way?

I’ll say it: I’m looking forward to going back to work

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a new mother, it’s that people don’t have qualms about judging you every which way. Though I nurse my baby, I’ve seen enough “how dare you choose formula” posts on online mommy boards that I cringe and really feel terrible for the new moms who are subject to those scathing comments.

Well here’s one for all those judgmental people out there: I love my baby girl to the end of the world and back but I CAN’T WAIT TO GET BACK TO WORK. I feel like screaming it from the mountaintops.

Our little girl had a rocky delivery, and a rough start with 12 days in the NICU. She was fussy and generally unhappy when we got her home; it was a tough transition for all of us. Thank goodness we have come out on the other side in many ways, and you know what? It feels damn good! Our little girl is a delight, and she’s thriving. Maybe we first-time parents are doing something right.

But while I’ve cherished all the smiles she has for me, and I’ve celebrated all of her milestones, and I’ve marveled while watching her learn new things every day, I still desperately want to head back to the office.

I’d like to have conversation with other adults, and have it not be about babies.

I’d like to dress in sharp clothes every day and feel great about how I look rather than wear sweats covered in drool or spit up.

I’d like to challenge my mind by figuring out issues around new medical technologies rather than figuring out how else I can entertain a two month old.

And I was going to say that I’d prefer to hear clients whining than my baby, but that’s pretty much a draw.

*****
When I left for maternity leave, I purposely (and purposefully) created a situation in which the idea was not to have things maintained in the exact same way during my leave as before, but instead to keep our team’s goals in sight, ensure they had the skills and support necessary, then let the team run with it on their own while I was gone. (It’s easier to do when you hire the right people from the start.)

Since I’ve been gone, revenues have been maintained and business has grown to support hires. Clients are happy. My staff have tackled things they’ve never encountered before and have grown professionally by huge strides. This is excellent news!

My first order of business when I return in a few weeks is to interview both my team members and our clients to learn their new ways of working that developed in my absence, so that I can do my job to put in place additional support systems, identify areas of quality improvement or increased efficiency, give people an opportunity to identify and commend colleagues who did exceptional work internally or externally, and basically celebrate how far we’ve come.

Yes, it’s a little kumbaya, but I don’t care. My absence was very disruptive even as prepared as we were, and I want my team to know that disruption is nothing to fear, and coming out on the other side should feel damn good.

Decisions, decisions: Should I stay or should I go?

We have decided to cancel a babymoon trip because of other circumstances that can’t really be helped. (Our dear kitty cat has been sick, and we don’t really want to leave her in others’ hands for too long while we’re gone.)

My husband expressed regret, and understandably so. He noted that it was an opportunity for us to clear our heads before we have to really dive into preparing for the birth of this baby. But for myself, honestly, having a babymoon at 7 months pregnant is a bit rough. The discomfort of being so big is starting to be a daily reality.

So I suggested that the trip be less of a cancellation and more of a postponement, to sometime in the next year after the baby comes. We can take the baby, or not. He asked, “But would we really want to take a vacation without the baby?” and I responded, “I don’t know, but it might be good for us to do so, regardless.”

* * * * *

Kids will be a priority, no doubt. But how far of a back seat would our marriage take, or how far of a back seat should the job take? What is walking that fine line going to look like for my husband, for me?

I have NO IDEA. And few people do, right? Am I going to be a blubbering idiot, guilt-ridden and with serious separation anxiety once I have to go back to work? Or will I be so desperate to get back into the swing of things at work and leave the stress and uncertainty of Baby to someone who can handle it better than I can? (shrug) Don’t know.

But regardless of how our hearts react, there is balance to achieve with our rational sides as well. We may not want to leave the baby at home, even with someone we trust implicitly, but perhaps we should take some time away for ourselves, even in the first year. Kids benefit from their parents’ healthy and loving relationship. I may not want to work away from the baby, but who knows? Maybe I’ll be setting a good example for her. Maybe I’ll be closer to achieving true flexibility between work and home life as an executive that my mom struggled more to accomplish in the 70s and 80s.