Just because you can’t have it all doesn’t mean you can’t have it on your terms.
Balancing personal and professional demands seems like a reasonable goal, but the truth is, achieving the perfect balance is often impossible. Each day, millions of women feel they face no-win decisions over whether to hunker down at the office or be present for their families at home. When asked to name the barriers they face in advancing their careers, conflicting work-life priorities rise to the top of the list.
“There’s a tension that comes from wanting to be fully present for all parts of your life,” says Jennifer Martineau, co-author of the new book, Kick Some Glass: 10 Ways Women Succeed at Work on Their Own Terms.
“But the notion of balance is a fallacy. It’s not possible to be fully present for work, and for your family, and for your health, and for yourself—all at the same time.”
Instead of striving for an impossible balance, Martineau advises women first to think about their own values and what is important to them. “It’s different for every person, and that’s okay,” she says.
If you are at the point of thinking about stepping away from your career, remember that there is another option besides dropping out: shifting gears. Consider powering down instead of opting out entirely.
Shift Down and Stay the Course
In Kick Some Glass, Martineau and her co-author, Portia R. Mount, explore the “power down” alternative, advising that “women may not need to leave their organizations if they can adjust the demands of their roles to accommodate childbirth and child-rearing.”
While powering down looks differently depending on an employee’s unique situation, Kick Some Glass suggests some ways to get started.
Advocate for better leave policies.
“This is your first line of attack because employers don’t want to lose top talent,” says Mount. “In writing the book, we talked to pregnant women who looked at their companies’ leave policies and recognized that the policies were archaic. In some cases, a gutsy conversation with their employer affected change.”
Mount recommends a few talking points: “You can say something like, ‘this policy is not going to help you get the best out of me, one of the talented members of your employee base. It is going to force me into decisions that aren’t ideal for me and my family, or for you.”
Draw courage from the knowledge that it’s not just about your individual leave, Mount adds. “It’s also about other families. You want to be sure your company’s leave policies are strong enough to support you while you are out, and that they are supportive of your colleagues, as well.” Organizations want to retain strong performers.
Keep your network intact.
For employees who opt to power down their careers by reducing their hours or switching from full-time to part-time, Martineau and Mount write that maintaining a professional network can keep you current in the workforce: “It’s far easier to keep your network intact if you keep your foot in the door rather than shutting the door behind you.”
How to stay involved? Maintain professional association memberships. Continue to interact with colleagues within your network “to remain on their radars and to stay attuned to what they are doing, learning, and talking about,” Martineau and Mount advise.
And to expand your existing network, periodically attend meetings or conferences.
Outsource low-value activities.
On a day-to-day basis, the demands of a career and motherhood can be so great that not only do women struggle to manage it all, but they also don’t have time to stop and think about how to prioritize. This is the time to outsource tasks like meal prep, grocery shopping, or house-cleaning. Don’t feel guilty.
“Part of powering down is figuring out how you can use other resources to take care of some of the things in your life that don’t require you, specifically,” she says.
“We feel like we have to do everything, but what services, for example, are available that can fill some of those gaps so you can be fully present for the things that are most important?”
Beware Impostor Syndrome
Let’s say you’ve identified your values and you have a clear picture of what it will take to live your intention. Whether the next steps involve a difficult conversation with your employer, going out on a limb to build a robust professional network, or taking the leap into self-employment, a healthy dose of self-confidence is required.
Unfortunately, many successful professionals experience impostor syndrome—the feeling that they haven’t earned their accomplishments or that they’ve somehow faked their way to success. The good news is that there are simple behaviors you can adopt to help overcome feeling like an impostor.
Everyone goes through periods of self-doubt, but the important thing to remember is that balance shouldn’t become the impossible goal. Find ways to align your career with your values and recognize that what works best for you is likely different than what works best for everyone else.