I recently read the series of short essays by The Atlantic called the Ambition Interviews. It's a series looking back at a group of women who graduated from Northwestern University 20 years ago and how their lives and careers have evolved in the past two decades. As I began reading this series, it prompted me to take a step back and think about the choices I've made over my now 20-year plus career (I honestly don't feel that old but my children, now 12 and 14, gladly remind me). I've been working in some capacity since 14 when I was a cashier at a pharmacy (even earlier if you count babysitting) and if there is one thing I've learned it is to know what success (personal and professional) means to YOU…don't be distracted by how others define success FOR you.
Within 4 months of getting married to my husband I was pregnant. I remember coming back from the hospital feeling completely overwhelmed, entirely out of my element, and totally exhausted. And then I jumped on a work call for my job at a high-tech company. I worked throughout my leave (which was only covered at 60% of my pay for 6 weeks). Even though I liked my job, it was hard to officially return to work. I remember dropping my son off at day care and driving away crying wondering why I was having someone else raise my child. But, we didn't think we could afford to have me stay home – so I went back and adjusted. Fast forward 2 years and my second son was born. Did I learn anything from my first leave? No. I worked my entire leave AGAIN.
When I look back at that time with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that I lost an amazing opportunity to commit myself entirely to my family and being a new mom. I wish I could take that back. For those of you who are just starting your families, I REALLY hope you can learn from me and take advantage of your time off with your baby – you never get that time back and it's one of the MOST amazing, transformative times of your life.
I haven't figured out balancing work and family. My take is that it's a myth. There will always be some kind of imbalance – sometimes it will be in favor of work and other times it will be in favor of my family. I haven't missed the BIG things – graduation from elementary school, sports events, birthday parties, and a variety of other things that are important to my kids and husband. My boss, Nick, who is the CEO of bluebird, has always been incredibly supportive of me doing whatever I need to do for my family and we’ve tried hard to set this culture through all ranks of the company. Nick has moved meetings, allowed me to opt out of dinners so I can get home, and given me all the flexibility I need to figure out how to find that elusive balance. Am I distracted at night on e-mail? Yes, often. Do I lose my temper because I'm stressed about something at work? Yes, more than I would like to admit. Did I bring my laptop to the chorus concert? Yes, but my son hates chorus and didn't even pretend to sing…so I don't feel too bad about that one.
At the end of the day, it's hard…really hard. So, why do it? I love what I do and bluebird is the most amazing place for me to do it. I think it's important for my children to see me working hard at something that matters. And doing it in a company that's striving to make an enormous difference in the lives of patients whose daily struggles put mine into a very different perspective. It's also important for me. I am fulfilled by what I do. It means a lot to me to feel like I'm making an impact and a difference for others.
Sometimes (often?) this sense of imbalance feels like I’m always failing at something – but what I’m learning is that imbalance does not equal failure. There are always things that compete for my attention, and I’m learning to prioritize and be present in the moments that matter and I am being more intentional about defining what those are for me.
Everybody needs to make their own decisions about their own work/life balance and their choices about working and raising a family, taking care of aging parents, or whatever it is that's your passion outside of work. The only right decision is the decision that's right for you but it is a CHOICE, a DECISION. My advice to you is to make it consciously and not let time pass you by.