Work-life balance — the impossible dream?
Taking a career break is risky, whatever the reason. However, as some of the women profiled in the book Career Interrupted have experienced, returning after the birth of a child has its own unique challenges. Lucy Roland, was sidelined after having baby number two in spite of the company’s significant grooming and investment in her MBA education. Maggie Evans-Galea was told upfront in her first post-doctorate position that having a baby was a ‘career killer’ in science, while by Lisa Croxford’s own admission her law firm was ‘going out on a limb’ to take her back under more family-friendly work conditions. These experiences make returning to work after having a child appear more like combat than transition.
Many of the Career Interrupted women found themselves in a daily struggle with the goal of ‘having it all’: achieving a truly inspiring and rewarding career, having a healthy and spiritually rewarding life, while also being the best partners, mothers, sisters, daughters and employees they can be. Each day involved making choices and sacrifices in their quest to solve the work-life balance conundrum. The reality for most women is that they aim for some semblance of integration of these elements into their lives, and simply do their best each and every day. Many, upon reflection, recognised that their life happened in stages; there were periods when they focused more on one aspect of their life than others, and as they moved through the different stages their priorities changed.
What can we learn from the experiences of these amazing women? While their circumstances and strategies were very different, these women had one thing in common – they took control of their futures. Despite the obstacles and challenges they faced, they ultimately thrived because their success was based on their ability to take ownership of their careers and take a lead in charting their own destiny. Their insights led to the evolution of the THRIVE model, which you may find useful in navigating your own way back to a fulfilling career.
- Take charge
Manage your profile while you are away. Ensure you keep in touch with work. When you are ready to return, set boundaries at home and at work regarding acceptable hours, flexibility and your availability. Learn to say no when arrangements are not going to work for you.
Don’t pretend you’re fine or you can do it without help. Ensure your partner is a true partner in sharing responsibilities equitably. Involve your family to the extent they and you want. Outsource domestic labour and childcare if that’s what you need. Use mentors and advocates to open doors and advocate for you when you are away.
Have perspective. You have many chapters in your life. See your situation in the context of your whole life — how does this stage fit in with what you want in life? Your own needs may not be the main game, at least for a while. Don’t forget your own needs and remember to take care of your own wellbeing. Research shows that prioritising your own needs alongside those of others will minimise chances of burnout and improve your productivity.
Be authentic. Be the person you want to be, make choices consistent with your values and don’t be influenced by the community, society, or others’ expectations of how you should live your life. Some women find happiness at home, others in careers, others in both. Recognise that you will be a great role model for your children by being authentic.
Prioritise ruthlessly. Eliminate time-wasters. Efficiency will be paramount, especially when you’re back at work. Treat every minute of your time as precious and you will become more productive.
Let it go. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. It may be time to adjust your standards and let go of your quest to be the perfect mother, partner, friend and career woman. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Plan your life, but also recognise that the unexpected happens and setbacks are inevitable. Don’t think of them as failures, but as the need to choose another way.
Want to read more? Career Interrupted – How 14 Successful Women Navigate Career Breaks (Melbourne Books) will be released in October 2015.