We can vote, we can own property and we can shatter the glass ceiling. We are slowly working our way towards the top job in the White House, and no one batted an eyelid when the UK saw a second female PM into Downing Street – at least not because of her gender. So is it possible to have a work/life balance, or is it just another thing to beat ourselves up about?
In her new book Women Who Work: Rewriting The Rules For Success, Ivanka Trump made an interesting comment about the busier times in her career in relation to work/life balance: “I worked and I was with my family; I didn’t do much else,” she writes. “I wish I could have awoken early to meditate for twenty minutes and I would have loved to catch up with the friends I hadn’t seen in three months, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day. And sometimes that happens.”
While there are many things that Ivanka Trump may say, do, or be associated with, that are less palatable to the wider audience, herein lies an interesting and perhaps surprisingly grounded thought, because for every Insta-perfect mumpreneur out there who manages a gym routine, high flying career and perfectly presented children, the majority of us have the overwhelming feeling that we’re failing if we don’t achieve absolutely everything. It’s one thing saying that ‘balance’ is the key, but sometimes, doesn’t that just feel like another thing to add to the to do list?
We are often told that when it comes to career or family, one or the other will end up suffering. In our experience we have almost never met a parent who would let their children suffer because of their work, and because of the perfectionist streak in most of us, combined with the financial need to make our jobs work, our jobs tend not to suffer either. What can go flying out the window are our friendships or time dedicated to our own wellbeing.
Trump isn’t the first high flying woman to say that she doesn’t believe that a work/life balance really exists. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, was quoted in a 2012 interview saying there’s no such thing as work-life balance: “There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance.”
Of course, despite the sage advice that she gives not to let convention dictate what you do, Trump’s suggestions are somewhat undermined by the fact that she appears to have ready access to personal staff at home who help her to manage her various work and life commitments – not a privilege that many of us have. Nonetheless, the point is made that beating ourselves up over the things we’re not doing rather than being chuffed to bits at the things that we are doing is something worth considering.
Sandberg, who, amongst other humanising aspects has admitted to crying at work, has also said: “employed mothers and father both struggle with multiple responsibilities but mothers also have to endure the rude questions and accusatory looks that remind us that we’re shortchanging both our jobs and our children. As if we need reminding.” It is a feeling that many men and women will feel is all too familiar.
This is a much discussed topic across the Internet, and probably the bottom line is that everyone will find their own way to handle the question of work/life balance. Mental health is at an all time peak and we hear boundless stories of women (and men) who feel as though they are at breaking point with the variety of obligations they have in their lives.
We don’t know, but we’re working on it, together. Surely it is a collective responsibility to try to support one another? While the world’s most successful businesses begin to look at alternative models of working, whether it be flexible hours or working from home thanks to a changing world of work facilitated by technology and socio economic changes, some of it still seems to come down to our own approaches; maybe we don’t kick ourselves for not going to the gym five times a week? Maybe our friends will understand if sometimes our catch ups need to be had via FaceTime instead of in person?
Spabreaks.com’s Co-Founder and Managing Director Abi Wright, herself a mother of three, is passionate about the subject and has always had good relationships with her senior management team (98% female), enabling her to work with them to find working solutions that fit their needs. She is also investing in wider home working programmes for part time parents wanting flexibility. This comes from a background of encouraging all her members of staff, but particularly facilitating opportunities for women in a traditionally male oriented sales environment. She says: “I don’t think there is a specific or correct work/life balance to be found. I think it’s more about finding a balance that works for you on an emotional level only then can it work.”
The bottom line? This whole work/life balance thing is a work in progress, but the good news is that we’re all in it together, and we’re all trying to find our way. So try not to be too hard on yourself about it – it’s just another thing to do.
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