Early in my career, I participated in a management training program where we were required to identify our “word in a box.” This one single word was supposed to describe us in a nutshell. Most of my colleagues agonized over choosing their word, but mine came to me in an instant, and I believed it summed me up perfectly. The word was “balance.” It resonated on a number of levels: I am an accountant who loves to balance the books. As a child, the teeter-totter was my favorite piece of playground equipment. And most importantly, as a married mother of two with a pretty demanding job, work-life balance was “top of mind”.
I operated for a good part of my career in search of the perfect work-life balance. It always felt like it was right there in front of me, just barely outside my grasp. One more week of long hours and I would be caught up and back in balance. You’ve probably already figured it out: I never really got there.
It took some time to realize that, at least for me, there is no such thing as work-life balance. Life is a constant juggle of priorities, with sometimes frenetic activity, and sometimes a lot of nice, quiet downtime. You might describe it as balance if you broaden your definition to allow for the usual instantaneous shifts in priorities that occur for a career woman, wife and mother.
If I were to participate in the same program today, my word in a box would be “genuine.” One thing I have found in my career, that now spans more than 20 years, is that you must always be yourself. Don’t be afraid to say what you think. Let people know who you are and what you stand for. It engenders loyalty, a sense of mission and purpose, and a team orientation that will take you far. And best of all, it’s a lot easier to be yourself than it is to find the perfect balance.