Editor’s note: This post is part of the Women’s Money Week.
On my way to lunch I was walking behind two women in their mid-thirties. They were in a conversation that went like this:
‘I am expected to teach, do admin and publish in these top notch journals. Men at my department do it but they don’t have to look after a three year old, cook the dinner and run the house. I just can’t do it.’
‘Yes, I’m finding my life impossible as well. By the time I’ve done my teaching and looked after my daughter, I can hardly write my own name; what about writing break-through articles.’
‘And it isn’t the same for people who don’t have children or their children are grown up. I don’t know what to do.’
‘Worse thing is I don’t feel I’m a good academic or a good mum.’
And so it went on!
I’ve been there. I mean, ten years ago I did have ‘a big job and a small child’.
Today, I have only the ‘big job’: most of my readers know that I have a chair (full professorship) in a high ranking university, I teach, research and publish and, for my sins, I became Head of Division (four different departments) at the beginning of January.
Back when I had a ‘big job and a small child’, I remember:
- Staring lovingly at the impression of a baby tooth left on my glasses case (I was in a hotel in Vienna);
- Sending an email message to the editor of a book to tell him that I’ll be late with my chapter because my son broke my glasses (and it was true);
- Being awake when everyone else in the house was asleep – so I can sneak in a bit of writing;
- Getting so pre-occupied with an idea that I forgot my toddler son is at home.
You see, I’m not a super woman. There were many signs that my worlds – the world of a scholar and the life of a mummy – had collided. I did many strange things.
I still never had a conversation like the one I over-heard. Because my ‘now’ and ‘then’ are connected by making a predicament into a problem; a big problem of reconciling being a scholar and a mummy but still there were solutions.
I had my cake and ate it; this what I think made this possible.
Get out of your predicament
Did you notice that during the conversation I overheard, one of the women said ‘I just can’t do it.’?
Don’t do that! First don’t get drawn into this kind of conversations – sharing can be therapeutic but outbidding each other on who has the largest predicament is probably counter-productive.
Second, don’t put yourself into a predicament. Every time you say ‘I can’t’ you have accepted defeat and there is no solution. Or, shall I say, you brain is not being conditioned to look for a solution.
Turn your predicament into a problem; ask ‘under what conditions I can make it’. You (and your brain, of course) will work out the conditions under which it is possible to advance in your career and have a life (family life included).
Once you’ve worked out the conditions, zero in on each and every one of these. Make sure that you can create them. It is all about problems with solutions, you see.
My sister in law, who was a single mum at a time when this was very much frowned upon, arranged a bartering agreement with her land lady so she can go out to work: she cleaned and cooked for her (and paid rent), and in exchange the land lady looked after her baby.
Be productive, not busy
Lately I’ve started spending a lot of time being busy and not really productive. In my day job, I’ve been slipping into overrunning meetings (after all, some people come to me in quite a state) and then my whole schedule falls under the weight of the implications.
At home some of my writing time goes on doing ‘the round’: checking Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. I can try and tell you that it helps me relax and gets me in the groove for writing. But I know you’ll call me out on this one.
It keeps me busy but has very low value in terms of productivity.
Keeping the balance between work and life works much better when time-sucks are consistently eliminated and you keep your eye on being productive.
Being productive has three elements to it:
a) Make your choices. This is about choosing what to do and what not to do; about deciding how to achieve maximum effect with the optimal effort. For instance, I knew that two things will get me maximum return in academe: publishing and getting grants. I also didn’t want to travel for work as much as I did before my son was born. So, when he was young I did middle level management jobs at the university – I love building organisations, it kept me at home and provided material for my research into university governance and change.
b) When you have to choose between your work and your child choose your child. Don’t forget that the time when they really need you and want you around is very limited. Before you know it you’ll be the most embarrassing person ever and will be asked to stay out of the way.
c) Compartmentalise your time. When my son was young, I knew exactly how long I have to finish a piece of writing so that I can look after him and play with him. During that time – be it only an hour – I worked like the Devil himself was on my tail. As Woody Allen said, you’d be amazed how productive you can be when you work only four hours a day.
Keep your focus
Work out where you want to be in your career and your life; make sure that these wishes reconcile.
Once you know where you want to be star working the conditions that will enable you to get there and the actions you need to take to make your dream(s) reality. Every day, every week and every month should take you closer.
Don’t meander, don’t hesitate. You want to do it and you can.
Choose your life partner well
This is about choosing your life partner well (or shall I say, I hope you have chosen well).
To be able to work out a balance between your career and your home life you need support and you need a partner with whom you can share everything.
You also need to discuss the ‘contract’ of your relationship and the arrangements that this involves.
Some of my friends have very traditional arrangements where their husbands go out to work, are the main breadwinner and expect not to take part in anything around managing the household and/or the upbringing of children.
Our arrangement is somewhat different. And it wasn’t even my idea: it was John who started all this. After he phoned the clinic and was told that I am pregnant, he looked at me and said:
‘And we share everything.’
‘What do you mean?’ – I asked.
‘I mean we share equally everything. We share looking after this child and we share bringing in the income.’
This is how it is with us. Sometimes he earns more and I do more in the house; at other times the positions are reversed.
We always add up to a unit!
Yes, I believe that women today can have work life balance. We can have successful careers, start and run businesses and have family life as well. It is all a matter of attitude, organisation, choosing carefully and choosing well.
And when I think I used to joke that I have no problem with my work life balance because work has become my life!