Friday, July 24, 2009

Work-Life Balance: It's not just for parents

Yesterday I was at a board meeting of like-minded professionals. Since I usually work from home, it was a nice change to get dressed up (well, I wasn't wearing flip-flops and sweats, so I felt dressed up) and have a face-to-face meeting with people to discuss strategy and goals and tactics. Fun stuff!

What impressed me most, though, was the president of the group. Actually, I was a bit more than impressed--I'm actually a little jealous of her. She's younger than I am--she's probably younger than many of the people who were in the room--but she has a self-awareness and confidence that I'm not sure I'll ever have. She's leading a professional group and working full-time. And she's doing a bang-up job at both.

But it's not her leadership position with the organization that I envy, nor is it her full-time job. I could have both--in fact, I'm in a leadership position with the same group and have been offered a full-time job. Rather, I admire the fact that she has gone for an element of work-life balance early in her career--and it wasn't prompted by parenthood.

A year ago, as a newlywed, she was working for a cool, high-tech, high pressure company. The pace was breakneck and the hours were back breaking. When I was in a similar situation, I went for it: I worked the long hours and kept trying to climb the ladder. Not my friend. She realized that her marriage, her health, her own interests and development were more important than just work and sought to bring balance to her life. She stepped off the super-fast track and took a role at a company renowned for it's steady pace and employee-friendly atmosphere. Yes, she took a pay cut, but she gained so much more.

I love to hear stories of people without kids who seek a balance between work and life outside it. Too often "work-life balance" is a euphemism for "finding time to parent." This isn't always the case--for all the non-parent colleagues I have who spend way too many hours at work, I have others, like this board president, who are finding fulfillment outside of work. Another friend, who has a busy career as a marketing professional, has also gone to hairdressing school, is a landlord, and travels extensively. So what if she has no kids--she has a life than any of us would envy! Another friend is in a competitive sales role. She's successful, smart and attractive, so she's been asked time and again to mentor younger women and climb the ladder. While she tentatively agrees to be a mentor, she also politely declines the promotions. She's content with her current role and happy with her life--she has a lake house, a boat, a busy vacation schedule, and a good marriage. In her spare time she trains for triathlons. (Point to note: none of these people are Gen Y, who are so often credited with pioneering the work/life thing.)

Maybe we need to stop looking to Jack Welch and folks in the corner office for advice about work/life balance and start looking at all the regular people who go to work each day--and then come home to even more fulfilling pursuits.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This might be one of the nicest things I've ever read about, well, me. :) Thanks for all your support - it truly means a lot. I can only hope that when I have my own kids (some day in a land far, far, away) I can keep that sense of balance.