It was just another busy day at the office; fifty emails first thing to sort through and an urgent request that required my immediate attention. And then there was the call from my son’s school, which is something that had become a regular occurrence lately. He was acting out again, inconsolable, and the school had no idea what to do to manage the behavior...they ask, can you come get him? My mind is racing, the request is critical and I can't miss the deadline, but something is going on with my son and he needs me. I paced the conference room talking options with the teacher over the phone, looking at my watch every minute to check how much time I had left before completing the deliverable as promised.
This was the moment I knew my life was not balanced. It was stressful and regardless what my decision was in this scenario, I felt that I was going to let someone down. It felt like work life balance with a four year old and a two year old was unachievable. My work life scale was not balanced and I was not stacking it right.
I was trying so hard to be everything at work and everything at home, that I missed out on the signs that I don’t have to be Superwoman. My son needed more time with me, quality time, and I was trying to multi-task in my typical efficiency focus. He deserved more, I deserved more, and my team at work deserved a less stressed out version of me at the office. This is what led me to reset my work life balance “scales” by defining what is important to me, resetting my expectations of successful work life balance, and asking what I need from others to make it happen.
- Prioritize: I spent some time thinking about what was important to me beyond a successful career. Based on where I was in my life at the time, I needed more one on one time with my son and he needed reduced hours with other children. I also am committed to being an active Christian, a supportive wife, a happy mom, and a healthy human. If I started feeling overwhelmed, I went back to my list. Because I kept these priorities in the forefront, it took me literally eight months to finish this article, but I was able to achieve it without stressing out myself or my family.
- Ask for Help: Once I was clear on what was most important to me, I had to figure out what this meant for my schedule at work. Initially, I needed reduced hours to get my life put back together and adjust to having a Kindergartner who rides the bus and a two year old who is the busiest little person I know. I don’t have a nanny, I don’t have a parent closer than a thousand miles from me, and I do not have a fairy god mother. I looked at the options available at my company and approached my manager with a plan to make reduced hours successful. Ultimately the company and I came to an arrangement that worked for both parties. Yes, part of me was completely nervous that this would impede my career growth. But once I had a clear plan, asked for support, and received reduced hours, the rest is manageable. Not rainbows and unicorns, but manageable and worth it. I was absolutely afraid to ask, but I would have regretted not asking much more.
- Organize the Calendar: I am a helpful person by nature. I care about people and they know I will make time for them at the office and after hours. I needed to manage my calendar to create space for my other priorities and “retrain” the people around me who were used to me being extremely flexible. I needed to build in quality time with family by “paying it forward” and blocking this time in my calendar. This helped me manage any outbursts at school and minimized interventions because my son started to know when he could have my full attention. I started day one with blocked out spaces in my calendar when I was at the bus stop or travelling to the office. I blocked out dinner time. I found ways to transparently show others I was unavailable during certain times of the day. If I am a reader at the school, my calendar is blocked. When individuals attempt to book meetings over these times, I consistently decline them and ask them to be moved (or request a delegate). Sure there are very important meetings that I miss, but I follow up with key individuals afterwards to get the critical context and actions from these specifically.
- Plan for Crazy, and Manage it: Ok, so let’s be real. Every day is still complete madness even with the reduced hours and increased focus. From 5am to 9pm I am off to the races with a list of things to accomplish. I do squats while brushing my teeth, calf raises while packing my son’s lunch, I have two to three protein bars in my purse for when I forget to eat. It happens. The thing that keeps me going is that I plan for it. I buy or make healthy snacks on the weekend, pack them in my purse, car, or computer bag. I have quick fix meals in the freezer ready for dinner (and I order pizza on Tuesdays). I hired someone to come clean the house every other week. I have made friends with amazing neighbors that bail me out on days I am running late (and vice versa). It takes a village, so build one ahead of time.
- Last but not least – Reset Expectations: I want to be great at what I do. This gives me great drive to accomplish things and pride in a job well done. My expectations of myself were so high that if I did not achieve everything on my list for a specific day, that I considered the day a failure. There was no grace period, no rolling over to the next day. In reality, the only person who noticed these “failures” was me. I didn’t drop the ball on the big things and nine times out of ten I was making decisions based on optimum priorities. I was delivering at work and supporting my family. So what if I forgot to pack my son a lunch one morning, he can buy it at school? Why feel bad about asking for an extension on a deliverable that the next person isn’t going to use for another week? I put this pressure on myself over and over. When I started to cut myself some slack, I was actually more productive and much happier. I teach my kids to try their best and that no one is perfect, so why was I expecting so much perfection from myself? For those of you familiar with children’s movies, sometimes you have to be Elsa for a moment, and let it go.
My son is excelling at school, I am a happier mom, my husband and I get date nights, I sleep (gasp), my career is stable, and I am learning and growing as a leader within my organization. Oh yes, and as if the above doesn’t sound crazy enough, we now have a puppy (no I am not kidding). I steadily increase my hours at work from the house and hope to go back “full-time” with flexibility around where I work these hours. I feel more at peace with my faith, with my family, with my health, and with my career. I also get the occasional night out with my girlfriends.
Of course, just yesterday I was coloring pictures at the table with my son (who insisted on finishing the Spider-Man picture) and he looked up at me with big hazel eyes, and in a serious tone he asked me if I was going to be Wonder Woman when I grew up. I laughed and quickly said “I like me better.” Funny guy!!!
In closing, I would like to thank my family, friends and company leadership for their unyielding support in my journey. While much of the outcome of this success story I was able to shape using the steps above, equally important are the people around me. The high trust, results driven relationship I have with my manager, the friends that don’t let me quit, and the family who loves me unconditionally...they are my super heroes!
I will be sharing more on Pink Petro TV on February 18th.