Work-life balance. This topic has been weighing on my mind lately. Why are we so intent on defining work-life balance? Does there really need to be a clear line between our work self and our home self? There are so many articles and theories on how to achieve this state of nirvana. Strategies that will ensure you don’t feel torn in several different directions. Believe me, as a working mother of 4 little boys, I’ve read them all.
Jack Welch once said “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences”
I absolutely agree with this statement. Sometimes the consequences are positive, sometimes negative. Though the choices are normally mine. I own them.
Whether you’re a parent or not, there is definitely an emphasis on leaving work at the door, not bringing it home. On the flip side, we bring our corporate selves to work. I recently saw someone criticised for posting something personal on LinkedIn and it raised something for me. Why can’t we bring our whole selves into the work place? I am a working mum. My family is a huge part of my identity, my story. So is my work. I feel more fulfilled as a person when I have both of these things in my life.
Some of the most influential and authentic leaders I have worked with, show their personal side in the workplace. They allow themselves to be human, and their teams relate to that. Life is complicated and messy and magical. Work bleeds into home and vice versa. For me, that’s OK.
Having flexibility in my role has allowed me to work part time, which works for both myself and my family. Part of this arrangement means that I could be emailing the team from the freezing sidelines at footy training, and that’s OK. Sometimes it means calling my son’s school to chat with his teacher during work hours, and that’s OK too.
For me there isn’t a clear line between my professional and personal identities and I’m OK with that.
I distinctly remember a time after my 2nd son was born. I’d just returned to work and daycare called to inform me that he’d been slammed with the inevitable illnesses there.
I was feeling the pressure to continue on at work as though everything was fine. So on one of his sick days, when I was working from home, I had a morning conference call and saw the reality that there was no way my babe was going to comply. I locked myself in my bedroom and put a bowl of popcorn outside the door, hoping he wouldn’t choke! Some deft use of the mute button and I made it through.
These days I don’t use the popcorn method. I let my stakeholders know that I have a sick baby at home and I will do my best to juggle. Nine times out of ten, it’s absolutely fine. Pick your audiences obviously, you probably don’t want to take this approach on an important pitch!
I think we need to focus more on the fluidity and effectiveness of activities, and less on a linear idea of moving from one aspect of our lives and into another, but perhaps leaning in and out of all aspects, multiple times a day.
I don’t need, or want, two different personas. Being a mum in the workplace has honed my ability to triage my workload, multitask at an expert level, have empathy for my colleagues, communicate at all levels and achieve efficiency honed by nap times and feed cycles.
Being a business professional allows me to engage with my 4 little boys in a different and meaningful way. My vocabulary is broader, which helps theirs. I get to set a realistic expectation of what parenthood in a modern era looks like. I can pass on my learnings to them in appropriate ways. They see that work can be fun and can make someone happy and fulfilled.
We need to focus less on the how and when we do things, and more on outcomes. At least, that’s what’s worked for me.