Thursday, September 13, 2007

Never Underestimate Work Life Balance

Phoenix, Arizona
National Hispanic Women's Corporation 22nd Annual Conference

Whenever I attend women's conferences (Latina or not) the topic of work life balance always comes up. 2 years ago at the National Hispana Leadership Institute annual conference, I distinctly remember some very powerful and successful women say that work-life balance is a myth and that if you want to be successful you can't even expect balance. (One panelist even went so far to say that if you have kids you'll never be able to reach the levels you want.)

At another recent conference, a woman who held a high state government position shared how taking a job in the state capitol took her away from her young children 5 days a week. She tucked her 5 year old son in bed each night via the phone.

These stories are evidence of the long way women STILL need to go in order to understand what balance is all about.

Today I attended a panel on Latina Power Players, featuring 3 high level leaders. They spoke of their mentors, their formative years, education, advancement up the ladder... but when the topic came to work-life balance a sad hush fell over the room.

One by one they recounted regrets caused by long hours at the office, putting the job first ALWAYS, and forgetting to take care of themselves. Divorce, stress related illness, and resentment from kids for "never being there" were openly discussed in this panel.

When asked to list things they'd have done differently either professionally or personally, no one had any professional regrets but did with life issues.
"I wish I'd dedicated more time to my children."
"I wish I'd slowed down and listened more."
"I wish I'd created stronger boundaries between work and home."

This is information women can share between women. Shared with the wrong audience and it could be a call to discriminate against women climbing the ladder or to toss out the gains of feminism and women's activism over the years.

Here is what I have to say: you can have balance if you CHOOSE to.

No job (or business, or non-profit, or cause, or fill in the blank) is more important than your health. Nor your cherished relationships, such as family or friends.

Equally, no relationship or physical limitation should stand in the way of achieving your potential in a career or business.

That is the true work-life balance equation.

When I work with clients, I ask about how much time they spend working. I ask how much time they spend with family and friends. I ask if they have any days of no email whatsoever, or days when their family is occupied so the client can get work done. I ask if they have set work hours and set personal time - with no cross over.

I meet too many people filled with personal regret but hold professional achievement. I'm not a lone voice- there are plenty of people who talk about the topic of work-life balance- but we need to be heard more loudly by women in salaried jobs. (For us entrepreneurs it is easy to delegate things out and create lifestyles that reflect our choices.)

Here are my simple tips for taking steps towards balance whether you're in your own business or work for someone else:

1. Learn how to say no.

2. Set work hours. Start and stop at the designated times. Be a stickler to this.

3. Quit trying to do everything yourself. Give someone else a chance to shine by handing over responsibilities.

4. Set family or friend time and don't overlap this into work. That means no business calls while your kid is on the playground, no blackberrying under the table at Grandpa's 80th birthday. Do you think no one notices that you're not fully present and engaged? Come on.

5. Change your limited beliefs. If you think that hard work equals success, then go find someone you know who had to retire early due to stress related illness. Find out how much fun it is to be benched for playing too hard.



Tuck, The Rebel Belle said...

Fabulous post Nancy! Engaging got my juices flowing. Be sure to keep watch for The Rebel Belle's response over at my blog -

A Rebel Belle Yell! oh ye fabulous Belle with Balls for a powerful and important topic.

You rock!

Susan said...

The part about the stress-related illnesses jumped right out at me. I used to be the Queen of Stress-Related Illness!

Even after I saw the pattern, it took a while to turn things around. But wow! I feel like a different person now!

Susan Cleaver
Creative Living Coach
Reiki Master-Teacher

Heather Champion Assistants said...

Thank you for this post, Nancy!
Prioritizing and making the best use of your time is what it's all about. We can't be in all places, doing everything at once, and we need to recognize our human limitations! My clients usually come to me because they are frazzled trying to get it all done, but never managing to accomplish it! We all need to decide what we each can do and then delegate the rest whenever possible! As a virtual assistant (VA), I've personally seen my clients go from totally overwhelmed not knowing where to begin, to feeling they have regained control and direction of their business after they delegated tasks to me. After all, can't everyone use the extra support and a cheering squad once in a while?
Kind regards,

Champion Assistants
Your business-savvy virtual assistants!