During a client meeting last week, one of the team members commented that my girls must be well-behaved because they never hear them in the background. I laughed and said, “No, it’s just my strategic use of the mute button.” I have a middle schooler and a kindergartner. They’ve grown up hearing me say, “Mommy has a meeting.” The only difference with the pandemic is that they hear it more often because they’re at home a lot. They’re excited because now THEY get to say they have meetings as well. Work-life balance has been top of mind as a business owner. 2020 has shined a light on it for others in a different way.
I can remember when my oldest was a baby. I knew that I was career-oriented and didn’t want to quit working to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. So, the work-life balance challenge began. Looking back on old pictures, it was rare not to see my laptop in the frame, even if we were chilling on the couch or in the bed in the evenings or on weekends. I had the mindset of always having to hustle no matter the time of day or night.
Recently I’ve heard several working parents say they feel unproductive and like they aren’t doing enough for their career right now. I totally get it. I was driven (read: maybe crazy) to write and publish my first book before my oldest was 2. Fast forward to today. I’m a learning coach for my kindergartner. And I’ll be honest. I freaked out a bit at first. I immediately felt like those other working parents – like I was going to be unproductive and not able to do enough for my career. My schedule would have to change. There was no way I could let my daughter loose on a tablet and expect her to know what to do. So when she’s in school, I’m in school. I knew that meant I would have to back off on some of the meetings and work I was doing. As a contractor who bills hourly I had to accept the fact that this would mean some lost revenue. (In the interest of full disclosure, I do co-parent my girls. I know that there are other parents who don’t have that option. They have to figure out how to work enough to make the money they need and have enough time to be with their kids. My heart goes out to you.)
I believe it actually is possible to achieve work-life balance during this pandemic and it looks different for each person. The reason many of us don’t feel it is because we set our expectations too high. Many of us fall into this perfectionist mode. Trying to “do our best” in every area of our life. That’s a waste of time, a one-way ticket to burnout, and a surefire way to feel like a failure at work and life. Am I the best learning coach in the world everyday? No. Am I the best marketer for my business all the time? No. Am I the best at eating healthy, exercising, and meditating everyday? No. It’s not possible to be your best all the time. Sometimes you have to lower your expectations of yourself a bit in order to keep your sanity. Then, you can focus on being as present as you can in what you’re doing.
Let me give you a simple personal example. My kindergartner had a project where she had to use painter’s tape to spell her name on some paper. Then she had to paint the page, let it dry, and remove the tape. Her name would remain in white with the paint all around it. I realized I didn’t have painter’s tape. I could have been upset with myself about it and dragged the girls to Target in the middle of the day (disrupting my oldest’s class time, mind you) just so I could have the perfect tape. I took a step back and opted to use Scotch tape. It didn’t look exactly like the example, but was good enough. And guess what. Instead of being stressed out I was able to use that saved energy to be fully present with my daughter. She didn’t care what tape I had. She was enjoying the process. She was so proud of the final product and the teacher thought it was fine. I didn’t fall into the perfectionist trap. Had I done that I DEFINITELY would have felt out of balance.
Let me give you a work example. When we were planning to launch this new website last month, I was tempted to hold back the launch because I wanted to have at least 4 blog posts ready to go and all the social media avenues lined up. I looked at our competitors and thought that’s what we should do to look good in comparison to them. Then I remembered a saying on a pair of socks I had just bought, “Be you, not them.” Instead, we took a different approach. I see this blog and the related social media as reflections of the brand and of me as the owner. Those who know me well know that words are important to me. I try not to waste them in my speech or in my writing. I decided we’ll write when we have something compelling and timely to say. It’s more important to be fully present in each post than to follow an artificial content calendar right now. So, we launched with 2 blog posts. We have ideas for future ones, but don’t feel forced to do our best and meet a particular schedule. Again, I didn’t fall into the perfectionist trap. Had I done that I would have launched the site later and missed out on some opportunities to promote the company in other ways.
Rethink what you see as work-life balance in this pandemic. It’s easy to get into this mode of being the perfect everything to everyone. That wasn’t possible before the pandemic so it’s definitely not possible now. Pick and choose the times and areas where you want to do your absolute best. I can’t tell you what those are because they’re different for each person.
And to all the managers and executives out there, please find a way to give your staff the time and space they need to take care of themselves and their family during these odd times. Cookie cutter schedules, deliverables, and performance measures just don’t work anymore. Parents have to juggle more than ever before. Others are taking care of sick or elderly family members. Even someone who is single without kids or sick loved ones faces challenges during this time. Make sure that you are evenly distributing work-life balance and other resources to your staff regardless of their personal situation.
I’ll end with this quote you’ve probably heard before as I think it’s even more poignant with what we’re all experiencing right now – “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”