“You don’t need much to be happy.” With Penny Bauder & Lauren Silbert

You don’t need much to be happy. Health has regained its rightful place at the top of the happiness scale. Prioritize your physical and mental health and the rest will fall into place. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with […]

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You don’t need much to be happy. Health has regained its rightful place at the top of the happiness scale. Prioritize your physical and mental health and the rest will fall into place.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Silbert.

Lauren Silbert is the VP and General Manager of The Balance, a personal finance website serving over 13 million readers each month. She oversees a predominantly female team of writers and editors covering topics from banking and credit, to the economy and investing.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’ve been in publishing since I graduated from college over a decade ago. I started off selling print advertisements in special educational sections of major newspapers, then moved onto creating custom content with some of the world’s biggest advertisers like P&G and Kellogg’s. I crossed over into working in the audience development space for a few years, then jumped to the revenue side. In 2019, I became the General Manager of The Balance, Dotdash’s personal finance site. It’s designed to feel relatable to everyone, and really be a reflection of the modern workforce and their experience with money, so at that point I was leading the site, but I was also their target audience.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

Does working almost an entire year remotely, while pregnant, during a global pandemic, count as interesting? There have actually been some really fun and unexpected things I got to experience over the last few years. I once flew across the country to take a meeting with Martha Stewart, and it was a pretty intimate meeting, there were only a handful of other people there, so it stands out as one of the more nerve-wracking moments in running a business. Once we got there, I was totally floored to see how involved she was in every aspect of her business, despite her incredible success and tenure, she was totally involved and in control of her world, and that really stuck with me. At that point in my life, I would’ve fully expected to be hanging out doing something fabulous and letting people make decisions for me, so it was eye opening. It really drove home that she’s had all this success because she cares so deeply. When you represent a brand, and are trying to grow it, you need to be aware of every aspect, from hiring the right people to making decisions that steer the business in the best direction for the long term.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

One of the most exciting new things we’re working on at The Balance is our Money Talks tool. It’s a conversation coach that lets our readers simulate conversations with family, friends, colleagues and bosses that might be difficult to prepare for. We wanted a simple way to teach people how to have awkward but really important conversations like, ‘how to negotiate your salary at work’ or ‘talking to your spouse about credit card debt.’ Money is hands down one of the most uncomfortable topics to bring up, especially when it comes with the emotional baggage of embarrassment or fear, so we wanted to help our readers be prepared when this stuff inevitably comes up in their lives. It can feel a little silly, like practicing for a speech, but practice is what makes you good at it. When you understand how credit, debt, salaries, investing and loans actually work, it makes these conversations a lot easier, and encourages you to take steps in your life that can make a huge difference in your financial well-being.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I think I’ve been extremely fortunate to have more than one person who has helped me navigate my career. One of the reasons I appreciate Dotdash so much is that the people I work with are able to see past the initial task-based skills of the employees, and into the real strengths of their personalities. If you’re interested in a different department or skill set, that’s encouraged. You really feel like you’re being coached and allowed to grow into the career you actually want, instead of sticking within the boundaries of a role on paper.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

I actually found out that I was pregnant with my first child in January. There have been some silver linings (no commute!) but there have definitely been challenges. It’s supposed to be the time in your life that you’re taking the best care of your mental and physical health, but a lot of my attention was devoted to making sure our team was okay, my family and friends were ok, and that the business was operating at full steam. Because the pandemic happened so early in my pregnancy, I had a little time to focus on reorganizing in our new reality before I had to start building a nursery and reading baby blogs.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I realized pretty quickly that totally neglecting myself was a very bad plan. We work in personal finance, and when you see the economy crumbling around you and have to report on it to the world every day, things can get really heavy. When things are good, we take a lot of pride in helping people earn more, save more, negotiate a raise, whatever it is. But when things are bad, you feel a huge weight, because you can see how hard millions of people are struggling, down to the numbers. We’re here to help, and we’ve shifted a lot of coverage to serving people who need resources on what to do when they lose their jobs or are facing eviction. When you couple that pressure with all the uncertainty around what COVID-19 might mean for my pregnancy, it’s overwhelming. I wasn’t taking time to relax, and I started feeling anxiety about everything around me that I’d never had before. I usually pride myself on being levelheaded, and able to roll with the punches, but I couldn’t. So I started to block out time in my calendar to get outside with my husband and our dog, and really make sure I was shutting off work at the end of the day. Since my workday was mostly consumed with distilling the news on our site, I stayed away from TV at night (unless it was to watch a movie or old familiar shows). I started meditation and began to focus on some of the fun things I could do to prep for the baby. I felt myself coming back to normal, and saw it was helping me be more productive during the day too.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

The biggest challenge most of us have faced is a complete 180 of what our normal work experience is like. I was actually on vacation right before lockdown, and when I returned, we were entirely remote and were entering the height of the pandemic and close to the worst stock market sell off in recent history. On top of this, our team’s mental health was a top concern. We were all really scared about what was happening around us in New York City, and many people were separated from their families. Our team had to cover the grim outlook of the pandemic on the country’s economy every day, so it seemed like there was no escape. A lot of the challenges were how to stay productive, serve our audience but also maintain sanity through the craziness. We all became mini-therapists, whether you were a manager or just a concerned colleague, you wanted to support the people around you.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

To stay on top of all of the work, and be sensitive to how mind-boggling the situation was, we started to implement a few things that broke up the day. We now have daily team Zoom coffee breaks to simulate that watercooler feeling, where we tried to keep COVID topics to a minimum. We played trivia games, celebrated engagements, and shared Netflix recommendations (a lot of Tiger King talk, obviously). We also made sure people were taking days off. We recognized pretty quickly that people were working way more than they used to. Without anywhere to go, people would stay online much longer, and work through the weekends. Once people realized how much better they felt after taking time off, we saw them start to take their vacation days and set boundaries, which made them more energized and more productive than when they were in the office.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

This probably seems so obvious at this point, but setting clear routines, schedules, and boundaries for when work happens is crucial to working from home. We have some team members who were already remote, and they were able to share a lot of their tips with the rest of the team. It was actually eye opening to see how we can improve those working relationships if/when things get back to normal, so that’s definitely another silver lining. As far as your family is concerned, this is where it’s important to know when to shut things off. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there are very few things in our lives we can’t live without and family is one of them. Prioritizing the needs of yourself and your family will always be the right decision. This time at home has made us realize we need to make our work life adapt to family instead of the other way around.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

The pandemic brought us closer than ever, but there’s no denying you need a break from your family, and a work day usually provides that. Not anymore. We were sheltering in place for the first part of quarantine with my in-laws (mother, father, brother, and sister-in-law, three dogs, and a cat). We would sometimes watch our after-dinner movies separately, go on walks at different times, or take zoom calls with other family and friends to break up the monotony of seeing the same people over and over. Sometimes a 10 minute face mask while laying in bed is good enough to feel recharged.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

There are many days when it feels like we will never get back to normal life, but I think the most important thing you can do is reassure yourself that it won’t be like this forever, and even though things may be different, that’s probably a good thing. Here are five things I think about that make me feel hopeful.

  1. You don’t need much to be happy. Health has regained its rightful place at the top of the happiness scale. Prioritize your physical and mental health and the rest will fall into place.
  2. We’re all getting an important lesson in empathy. When have you ever been forced to think about your impact on people around you as much as you have over the last few months? We’ve been able to connect with people and their vulnerabilities on a totally different level.
  3. Celebrate all things, big and small. Whether it’s a pregnancy or that you just consistently ran for 30 minutes for a week straight. There’s a lot of bad stuff that will always be happening around us, and before the pandemic, we often deprioritized things for work or only acknowledged big wins. I think we’ve all learned that we can’t rely on external factors to make us happy, especially when most of them get taken away. You have to make your own joy.
  4. Our capacities for knowledge are almost boundless. So many people have picked up new hobbies and skills during the pandemic, I expect a lot of awesome new startups to pop up over the next few years, and definitely some really great content (books, TV, movies) to develop out of this. We also got smarter as a nation. We learned what a stimulus check was, how to negotiate with your lenders, landlords, and family, and how important personal hygiene and overall health can be. I think the population is going to come out of this better than before, particularly when it comes to the steps you can take to prepare for emergencies, financially and otherwise.
  5. I’m not sure about everyone else, but I think if we can make it through what is sure to be the craziest year of our lives in one piece, we know we can make it through anything. Any big obstacles that come up in the future, I’m just going to look back and say, “Hey remember 2020? You got this.”

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Just listening and being there. Steer clear of the fake over-positivity. That doesn’t seem to help. But empathize and offer any kind of support you can think of. It’s pretty rare that so many people are experiencing the same pressures and stress at the same time, so it’s hard not to connect about anxieties right now. Be open to the idea that many people are experiencing even greater hardships than you can imagine, and they need support. Share tactics that have worked for you, and listen to what others tell you they need.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m not a big quotes person, but the only one I have kept around is “Nothing good is easy and nothing easy is good.” I feel like it’s a good motto for work and life. It reminds you that all things require dedication and effort and without that sort of commitment you shouldn’t expect impressive results. It’s also sort of relevant to this time in history, when things are incredibly difficult for so many. It makes me think that we can work toward a better, more informed, more supportive, healthier world for ourselves. A change that big and that meaningful probably wouldn’t be easy, but we’re fighting toward it.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on Instagram at @lbsilbert, Twitter @LaurenSilbert, and LinkedIn where you’ll notice a mix of content from The Balance, Beyonce, nail art, and lots of pictures of my dog Fern.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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