Is Work/Life Balance Achievable at 25? At 45?

A cliche topic, but I’m very anxious & excited to share my perspective on work/life balance. As a young professional, I have read articles, talked to mentors, listened to speakers, and heard everyone’s own opinion on how to achieve the one dream that seems utterly unattainable, especially for someone new in their career. Between Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) telling women to “Lean In”, Anne-Marie Slaughter (former Director of Policy Planning for Hillary Clinton under the Obama administration) telling women we “can’t have it all“, and Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo!) who has been criticized for returning to work 2 weeks after having a baby the messages about women advancing in the workplace seem to be more conflicted than ever.

So how can women expect to rise the ranks of the corporate ladder (or build their own business, or rise in a non-profit) while still being a great wife, mom, & friend when our days seem to fly by?

For some perspective, my typical day begins with a 5:00AM wake up call to be on the road no later than 6:00AM. If I get on the road that early, my commute to work is only 30-40 minutes (as opposed to my 1.5hour commute home thanks to the fact Chicago does not have a reverse commute). I work from 7-4PM followed by my 1.5hour commute home. By the time I get home & eat dinner, I’m exhausted. Fitting in friends (live or on the phone), working out, or reading a book (or even crazier – all 3 in one night) seems impossible. I’m the type of person who needs a nap just writing out my to do list.

When I think about work/life balance I wanted to be able to do everything in one day, every day. My dream day would be waking up at 6AM, and head to my favorite coffee shop (which you should all know now is City Grounds) for some personal quiet time with the Bible, or a new book (saving the other for the evening wind down). I’d go home, and get ready, with a quick 20 minute commute I can get into work by 8:45. I would leave work at 5PM on the dot (again with a 20 min commute!) and would go to a workout class, have dinner with Kyle (my husband),  blog while watching some TV, and end the evening with a phone call or Skype session with one of my friends. After getting ready for bed, I would finish my night with a good book – and get a full 8 hours of sleep.

And why can’t I do that? Well, #1 issue is the commute (which is another blog topic alone), but the real issue, the heart of it, is feeling that to have “work/life balance”, it all needs to get done in one day, every day. Real work/life balance I’ve learned is balance over time. So I work from home two days a week to make up for the commute, work out at least 4 (taking advantage of weekends), try to go out with a friend at least once during the work week & once during the weekend, and read as often as I can. It’s not perfect, but most weeks I feel there was some balance. And that makes up for late nights at work, or days I need to cut out early to make it to a friends. I know there will be days the balance is more tilted to work, or to friends, or to reading, or to family, but it’s finding balance over a period of time (say a week, or a month) that should allow you to feel at peace with your career, your family commitments, your friendships, and most importantly, your personal sanity.

To take credit for this epiphany would be a lie, so I want to share with you the “talk that inspired it all” – a TED Talk in fact. If you’re unfamiliar with TED, you are missing out. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment & Design and the idea is to give a 5-18 minute “talk of your life”. The talk that inspired this post (and has just a little “inappropriate” language so beware) is by Nigel Marsh, an author  & CEO in Australia.

His talk, “How to make work-life balance work” is well worth the 10 minutes of your time.

So grab a cup of coffee, take a work break, turn this on before bed, and listen…really listen. And comment – I’d love to hear your thoughts on such a complex, and controversial topic.

xoxo, Alicia

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