Work-Life Balance Doesn’t Exist. “Having It All” Does.

The work-life balance debate rages on. It’s divisive. It’s tired. And it’s irrelevant. The “experts” are right on one point: work-life balance isn’t attainable. But what “they” get wrong is why.

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The work-life balance debate rages on. It’s divisive. It’s tired. And it’s irrelevant. The “experts” are right on one point: work-life balance isn’t attainable. But what “they” get wrong is why. The question isn’t whether women (or men!) can successfully be high-performing professionals and be fully present for their families. You absolutely can – just not all the time and at the same time. I strongly believe you can have it all.

It’s not about balance. It’s about satisfaction.

While pregnant with my twins, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t return to work – that I wouldn’t want to work. I was ambitious and dedicated. I was good at what I did, and I was respected for it. I liked my job! My plan was to take maternity leave, then go back to the office and happily come home every evening to my husband and beautiful children, and all would be well for everyone.

That plan was foiled one late night as I rocked my crying son, praying he would go to sleep so I could sleep… so I could tackle my mountain of a to-do list… Wait, what? It hit me hard: My priority is being sharp for my job? Over the wellness of my children? The next day, I met with human resources and put my career on the line. I was honest. I’m not happy. My family isn’t happy. They listened, and I left. My husband was incredulous. He was there to see the 100 people who showed up to my office baby shower; some flew in, others drove in. I had been there four years, and I had a good reputation and even better relationships. How could I be unhappy? How could I quit?

Because it impacted how I felt about being a mom. And I couldn’t live with that. During the following year, while I captured so many of my babies’ milestones, I kept my foot in the game. I volunteered, I was on the board of trustees for United Way, I fundraised for my church, I freelanced for my entrepreneurial friends. Then, right around my twins’ first birthday, I decided to jump back in with both feet and give the professional world another try. And for the next six months I barely saw my family. I left before they woke and came home long after they went to sleep. How did I get here again?

I refused to give in. I knew I could do better, that I had to do better. So, I changed my narrative. I committed to working only the hours I needed to. I called in reinforcements. I built a team I could trust – and leaned on them. And almost every night, I made it home to eat dinner with my family, except on the rare occasion that I had a work emergency or was on business travel.

Be home for dinner.

If you’re not, you’re doing something wrong. You’re managing your time inefficiently. Or you don’t have enough confidence in your abilities. Or, maybe, you just don’t want to be there. From my perspective, there’s no other reason. If it’s important to you, commit to finding a way to make it happen.

When I interviewed for my current position with Lockheed Martin (remember: the best time to look for a job is when you love the one you have), I was completely transparent. I explained that I had young children and when I am not on travel I plan to be home in time to have dinner with my family and I would make myself available after I put them to bed.

Know your worth.

Is every day perfect? No. It’s a constant struggle. Some days, home loses out. Other days, work does. But in the end, you have to be satisfied with what you have – what you’re getting and giving. Remind yourself daily that you add value. You must be able to have everything you want. Ask yourself: What are those things and how do I get them?

I believe I equitably distribute what I can offer of myself to everything and everyone that is important to me. I’m continuously giving and taking: How can I get this time in to do X? Where are the hours I can steal away to be X?

Find those who complement you.

You’re not looking for praise; you need support. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Don’t compromise. Be aware of your weaknesses and rely on others to fill in those gaps while you focus on your strengths. Remember too, you are evaluating your company just as much as they are you. You picked each other.

You can have it all.

What works for me, may not for you. And that’s okay. Whatever you do, be confident in yourself and what you deliver – at home and at work. Be comfortable in your own skin and in the choices you make. If you focus on satisfaction, you can indeed have it all.

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