The ultimate juggler – that’s what I was at my peak achievement of “work-life balance”! Now that I have the opportunity and space to reflect on what life was like when I was CEO with two young children, I realise that what many saw as an amazing achievement was in fact a delicate balance and compromise.
I thought I had achieved the best of both worlds, having negotiated a four-day work week, had the kids in a crèche where they were comfortable and happy. People would ask – how do you do it? Little did they know that life at the time was run with military precision, otherwise everything collapsed.
My husband had a job that required him to be at work by 6am which meant that in the mornings, I was effectively a single mum. I had to get a baby and toddler ready and out of the house by 6.50am so that we could get to crèche by 7am when the doors opened. After a hurried goodbye, it would be a dash into the city. Most days consisted of working through lunch so that I could leave at a reasonable hour to avoid the worst of peak-hour traffic.
Time at home consisted of dinner, washing up, laundry, baths, kids’ bedtime, followed by collapsing in bed from exhaustion so that I could start it all over again the next day. Naturally, there was travel, extra hours, other work commitments in the mix. To be perfectly honest, I think my husband and I did not have time for a decent conversation in three years.
What about that day off in my 4-day arrangement? Interestingly, I have no memory of my days off! My only recollection is of being so exhausted that I had to send the kids to crèche anyway. I was powering through the rest of the week at such an intense pace, I actually needed the day off just to breathe.
A colleague had asked me before I accepted the CEO position – do you have the support networks to make this happen? What he meant was in-laws, parents etc., (or wife if you are a man!). Unfortunately, in my case, no on all fronts.
Is it possible to have work-life balance?
Instead of looking for balance, which implies two competing priorities, perhaps it would be more productive to aim for work-life integration? This is my target. I work less hours during a regular work day, but make it up at unusual times, but it doesn’t bother me because I love what I do and feel so passionate about it. Contrast this to my high-flying career where I resented the mobile phone ringing after hours and resisted having a smartphone for as long as I could. At the time, I just didn’t want work creeping into my life. Now, it’s a welcomed part of my life.
So what do you think? Do you have your own work-life balance story that you would like to share?