Years ago, when my husband and I decided to have a family, alongside with pursuing both of our careers, I was faced with a question that, frankly, everyone should be asked, not just women – “Can we have it all?”. Yet somehow, inevitably, it seems to get asked almost exclusively to women and something I hear more and more as I advance in my career.
While I’m happy to share my thoughts and experience, I believe that the search for meaning, harmony and fulfillment should be bias- and gender- free. Looking for a full and balanced life is not just a women’s issue – it’s an issue for us all. Inevitably, the more things you have going on in your life, the more roles you play, the more we are all challenged to manage our full and sometimes overflowing lives.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Press For Progress”, and one of the clear signs of progress should be that this kind of question becomes something we start asking everyone, not just women.
And whoever you are, my answer will be the same : what matters, in my opinion, in “having it all” is that ‘all’ is what is important to YOU. There is no one definition.
With that in mind, I’d like to share what I personally found useful during my own life journey so far.
1. Define what ALL / WHOLE is for you.
– Take a holistic view. Define success broadly. It is not just about work. Work to live, don’t just live to work. The way I define success is not about how fast I get ahead in my career but how far and deep I can go and how I can get there while being happy in life. I see this as a marathon, not a 100m race.
– Make choices. You cannot have it all. Some of your life choices may have some career consequences. It’s ok. Be at peace with it, if it fits your vision. For example, depending on your industry and your occupation, your geographic mobility can impact the type of jobs you could get. A frequent situation is with couples managing dual careers. This is the case in our family and this had to come with tough choices along the way, such as living a split family type of life for most our relationship. Now, I actually believe it is the secret of lasting couples, as we really enjoy seeing each other!
– The rule of 5. When it comes to choices, one of the best tips I ever heard was from Jim Lafferty, a former P&G leader. He thinks you cannot fulfill well more than 5 roles in your life, 5 like the 5 fingers of one hand. So if you want to be a great manager, a great mother, a great wife and a great friend for example, you can only take at most one more role to excel in. Do the check for yourself. Sometimes, the perfectionists that we all tend to be, we want to be excellent on way too many fronts. Which leads me to the next point.
– Carefully choose your benchmarks. Not all singers can be extraordinary multi-dimensional artists like Madonna or Lady Gaga. Only at school can you eventually have As in all disciplines. It doesn’t work like this in real life. Stop being a perfectionist everywhere. Don’t compare your involvement with your kids to stay-at-home mums or dads. And don’t benchmark yourself with your mother if she did not work. This is especially tricky nowadays as social media gives us just a selective glimpse into other people’s lives, often a perfectionist one.
2. Set boundaries and define your rules.
– Define your “routine” working hours and get yourself and your team used to this. You cannot always make it work but at least it creates a standard schedule more often than not. If you have to login by 8 am and logout by 6 pm, try to follow it routinely.
– Have non-negotiable rules. One of the things I realized was creating the most stress for me is all the dilemmas we can be facing every day on setting priorities and balancing our personal life with our work. My way to manage that is to think once and for all about what would be my best answer, establish this as a key principle and then stick to it. For example, one of the rules we created early on and applied systematically when our daughter was young was that she would not spend more than one night with our nanny filling in for us. Over all these years, we have managed our schedules accordingly or flew home the grand-parents if the one night rule was unpractical. Think about creating rules in case of conflicting priorities or of situations when you face a trade-off between work emergency and family obligations.
– Be clear on your no-miss days. These choices are eminently personal and only you can know what works for YOU. There is clearly no right approach apart from ,I believe, deciding those upfront. For example, in my case, amongst the many important days in the school calendar, I have chosen to never miss my daughter’s back-to-school day, but I am tolerant with myself for the many other events if I cannot cope with my work schedule. We do celebrate quite eventfully all our birthdays in the family (via dinners, parties, or week-ends) but we are at peace with not necessarily being together on these exact days.
– Learn to say no. A tough one, I know ! But your time is your most precious asset, so use it to make the most impact in the roles you have chosen for yourself. Every time you say no is in fact saying yes to something more meaningful to you. One of my personal tips is to tell the person you will get back to them, considering availability and other commitments and priorities, rather than providing an immediate answer. Here a great article I found with useful tips on “the art of saying no”
3. Beware of the 3rd job – get help at home.
There is a big lie going around that women have a harder time achieving higher positions at work because they have children. This is not true. It is not being a professional and being a mother that is difficult; it is everything household related. This is the ‘invisible work’ that women are responsible for that we hardly ever talk about. Between the “mental load” of planning and the emotional labor of being a support system, many women will put in enough hours in a day for another full-days work. As Justine Rivard says : “Like a smartphone with too many apps running in the background all at the same time, women’s batteries drain that much faster due to this immense amount of invisible work”. Here is a link to her article on “the invisible value of women”
So here are a few suggestions on how you can share the load.
– Child care is your priority investment. In hindsight, one of the best decisions my husband and I made when becoming parents was to have a have a reliable support system with a full time nanny. It is indispensable when both partners are working full time and live far away from family members who could help out She truly enabled us to give our best self to work, as we knew we could fully count on her, even for sick days, last minute travel or evening events. It was not a negligible investment at the time, but worth every cent.
– Share the work, outsource and delegate. If you are in a relationship, it starts by having a true partner. I am grateful that my husband genuinely shares the load of parenting and leading our household. And if you have kids, put them to work on the “family chores” earlier on versus treating them like kings and queens. Next is to get help by outsourcing some of the household tasks that you find the least rewarding (in my case the cleaning, and the laundry, while I love cooking). Part of the lesson is to accept to get some help and not only define success by doing things on your own, so…
– Take credit for planning vs. only for doing. Think about the value add of just planning everything, what we eat for dinner, what you need to buy for cooking it, what clothes to buy as your kid grows, what to do on weekends. This is a job of its own, so take credit for it.
– Let go of your high standards. If you want help from spouse or kids (true also if you want to delegate at work), you can’t assume that people will do it your way. Start embracing the mantra that “Done is better than perfect” !
4. Blend your schedule – one life, one agenda.
– Manage one agenda – you only have one life. I know some people keep their different schedules in different calendars, but that has never worked for me. I only have one life and I need to see everything integrated in my agenda.
– Put yourself on your schedule. The calendar is getting full amazingly fast ! With meetings and phone calls. I book windows for myself for WORK! Next time you start filling out your daily calendar schedule blocks of time for yourself. I also identify in the title what it is for so you are not giving the slot up so easily. I find this especially key before vacation which is always a crazy time and for the first day of your return for clearing up the inbox and work.
– Flex your time. While respecting the Company core work hours and getting the job done, I have always found it helpful to build in a little flexibility, for important doctor appointments or nice things like picking up my daughter at school from time to time or for going to the hairdresser (roots are for trees ;-)). In the Coty Geneva office, we have yoga classes over lunch time a few times a week and I am thrilled to see how popular they are with our very committed employees.
– Put your passion at work. You are at your most creative and your most productive when you do what you love. You feel energized, you are at your best with others and more resilient. So put your passion at work – as you grow, you become more of who you already are. You will grow the most in your areas of strengths. Be clear on what those are and volunteer them to the company and community.
5. Remember to take care of yourself
Self-love and self-care are your fuels for success and happiness. If you are well, you can spread joy among others. However, you may find self-care as your toughest challenge as you continue to juggle other responsibilities.
– Make time for yourself. Have me time rituals. Personally, I am a regular client of hair salons, nail bars and spas.
– Do more of what you love ! Create habits. It’s the best way to make things systematic. Have a Girls night out (or in) once a week, for example – I do these often with my daughter. Also, I plan a yearly trip with my twin sister, a nice ritual we started 16 years ago when we turned 30. And every year, my husband and I go on a mini-honeymoon.
– Sleep is your best fuel. Nervous breakdowns are often triggered by lack of sleep. Make sure you know how much you need to sleep and go to bed early enough to allow that ! Or recover enough during the week end.
– Have someone to call when you need to talk. When the chips are down, sometimes just talking to someone can lift your spirit and help take the weight off your shoulders. Having someone listen to your concerns helps make you feel supported and understood, which in turn encourages you to look at things differently.
– Be an optimist. It is a great way to drive success, happiness (and also health !). Many research studies have shown optimism has a real impact on the ultimate success or failure of a business. Those who are more optimistic can see to a brighter future, and are more resilient to stress in the face of day-to-day struggles. Here a great book I recently read on this topic (in a free audible versi
I hope some of these tips and experiences help you as you plan your life. Maybe we can’t have it all, but we certainly can – and should – have it WHOLE.
I would love to hear your thoughts and advice you think would be helpful to others.
#PressForProgress #InternationalWomensDay #westandforyou