As a founder & CEO with two young children, two of the most frequent questions I was asked as I approached each of my maternity leaves were how much time I was going to take off to be with my newborn babies, and how I was going to feel about the organization and the team while I was away.
Essentially, they were asking me about work-life balance — a concept that has been foreign to me since I was 23 years old, working a full-time job while trying to get my first baby, Move This World, off the ground. It’s a concept that seems foreign to many, especially women. In a 2019 survey by Bustle Trends Group, 48 percent of women said they lack work-life balance. It’s even more challenging now that we’re living, working, and caring for children from home in the midst of a global pandemic.
When you think about it, work-life balance tilts heavily in favor of work. Typically, work is direct and specific, but life is multifaceted and multilayered. Work consists of tasks and goals; life consists of your health, your family, your friends, your home, faith, neighborhood, school, bills, transportation, and through all that, your emotional state.
When we discuss work-life balance, we are erasing the complexity of what life entails. It isn’t possible to balance everything equally with work, which often takes up the majority of our day and focus. One in eight Americans work more than 55 hours a week and one-third of Americans carry their work into the weekends.
Integrating life, work, health, family and friends must be a long-term goal. I want to be able to live a healthy, fulfilling, creative, active life doing meaningful work that makes my daughters proud. In order to do that, I need to recognize and accept that I will be better at certain pieces of life at particular moments in time.
Embracing the Seasons
The key to successfully integrating all that life throws our way is embracing the seasonality in which we’re able to focus on each aspect of our lives. We can see this by looking to the literal seasons as an example. In the winter, when the days are short and the nights are cold, we can spend more time indoors with our immediate family. In the summer, when the energy is high, we can take a half day on Friday and stay out late with our friends.
And during a time like this, surrounded by uncertainty and isolation, we must do our best to practice empathy for ourselves and those around us, because every decision — whether to leave the house for groceries or to pivot your entire company online — is being made under a state of duress.
I think about each aspect of life like a pod. Each one can only be filled up so much, but so long as none of them hit empty I know I can always top them off when the time allows. To compartmentalize this way is an act of self-forgiveness that acknowledges the degree to which we are overstimulated by technology and communication, and generally have too much going on. Research has proven that self-compassion has a direct impact on our overall well-being. By practicing forgiveness of ourselves for not being able to “do it all” we are taking care of ourselves, which will allow us to better take care of the priorities we’ve identified.
I no longer attempt for each area to have equal attention from me all of the time. When I was first building Move This World, I turned on the work pod full force. I missed Sunday football games and was a friend who was so immersed in getting something off the ground that I didn’t make as many catch-up phone calls. I worked until 3 a.m. and got up again at 6 a.m., eventually giving myself hives. As a result, my health pod was depleted. Fast forward a few years later, I needed a six week sabbatical to recover.
During this pandemic, my family pod is turned way up. My young children and my husband are getting my focus. My friend pod has been put on simmer as I prioritize my family’s well-being throughout this uncertainty, and recognize that it’s harder to see friends in person. I know that we will return to a time when that can happen, but for now the friend pod gets fueled around my toddlers’ schedules and when I haven’t spent too much time staring at a screen already. The friend pod may be getting less attention than it normally does, but I know that soon it will rebound.
In addition to embracing the seasonality of when certain aspects of our life come into focus, I’m also leveraging the constraints I have on my time and energy to be more deliberate and productive with what I do have. Since becoming a mom, I became more productive with my time in the office, and that has been a direct result of embracing the constraints on my time now that I wear this important role of mom. This is a phenomenon that many parents experience. A study completed by the St. Louis Federal Reserve found that mothers were more productive at work than their counterparts.
To start the process of integrating work with your life, find the areas of life you want to prioritize — in other words, what will your pods be?
Once you’ve identified your pods, reflect upon the last season to figure out where things stand today. And when you check in with yourself again, remember to be kind. It’s okay not to achieve everything at once. As we move through the seasons, we find the space to thrive within each one over time.