Work-life balance is a necessary but often overlooked area of scholarship. Many people don’t realize how pervasive the issues of work-life balance are in their own lives, until their public (work) and private (life) spheres come crashing together (or don’t meet at all, which can also be problematic, depending on what kind of life balance is personally needed). Although men have their own work-life balance issues, women are especially susceptible to coming across work-life obstacles. From too-short maternity leaves and the subsequent discouragement of future employment or promotion opportunities at their jobs (Buzzanell & Liu, 2005), the existence of a glass ceiling in the workplace that prevents women from being promoted (Barreto, Ryan & Schmitt, 2009), unequal pay between women and men and even women without children and women with children (Woldfogel,1998), to the frustrating catch-22 of facing criticism for being either a working mom or a stay-at-home mom (Cuddy, Fisk & Glick, 2004), women have a lot on their plates to deal with.
The trick to dealing with these issues is to become more knowledgable about work-life balance issues in the first place so that you know how to negotiate with your boss about what you need. This is not a cure for all impending work-life balance issues, but when you know what you’re worth and what you deserve to have a healthy, balanced life, you’ll be better off. I recently had the privilege of chatting with Mary LoVerde, a work-life balance strategist and author of The Invitation: When You’re Ready To Take Your Next Step. In addition to publishing four books (in three languages!), Mary has been featured on Oprah, 20/20, ABC World News Tonight, and has her work published in the Wall Street Journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Ladies Home Journal. Mary has been an employee, an employer, and an entrepreneur, so it’s safe to say she’s had her fair share of experience with work-life balance issues! Read on for her sage advice about balancing your life, knowing how to ask for help, and bouncing back from a break-up.
What is work-life balance to you?
Work life balance is feeling good. It is not about getting everything done. That is never going to happen. In fact, if you think you have too much to do and not enough time to do it, you’re right. This is not your imagination. And you have not failed in some way. There really is too much to do. And that is why it is time for a new approach to life balance. I am not against the strategies that we try to use to get a handle on things. But if managing, organizing, delegating and simplifying were going to work to balance our lives they should have worked by now.
Most of us try to solve our life balance issues by asking, “What should I do?” I think a better question is, “With whom or what should I connect?” Why? Because when we feel overwhelmed it is because we feel disconnected from something important. The only known antidote to disconnection is connection. So my life balance motto is, “When you can’t keep up, connect.” Understanding that we will not get it all done, we can instead focus on staying connected to what really matters- and that will make us feel good. I do believe that connection is the solution to just about every problem we will ever face.
What is a typical day like for you?
My day is full of rituals so that I stay connected to what matters most to me. I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel each day. Have morning rituals: I have a cup of tea when I get up. I believe that there is no substitute for stilling the mind and moving the body every day. So I begin by meditating for 15 minutes – and doing some exercising. I don’t turn on my phone until I do. I wear a Fitbit to get 10,000 to 12,000 steps a day. I journal for 5 minutes about what I am grateful for and what would make for a wonderful day and I jot down my to-do list, starring the most important ones. At the end of the night I turn off my cell phone and leave it in the kitchen. Before we go to sleep my boyfriend and I share what three nice things happened to us that day. I try to control the distractions during the day whenever possible so my brain can do some deep dives into my projects.
What is the one work-life balance issue that you see affecting women the most? What is your solution?
We do not ask for help. Even worse, we often refuse the help that is offered. I believe it is important to remember: People want to help. Let them. Research shows it is actually good for everyone. Stop trying to do it all yourself. Accepting help is a way we stay connected to each other. We are DNA wired to need others. We need to lay down our pride and our reluctance to ask and accept help (lest we are seen as weak, needy or asking for too much.)
Our business is in breakups, so we really specialize in helping women bounce back after a tough one. What is your advice for getting back into work after a breakup?
Go back to the basics. For some reason when we get stressed out we quit our basics. We don’t sleep, we stop exercising, seeing friends, eating well, drinking in moderation etc. Give your body and mind every support you can think of to get back on an even keel.
Should breakups be given special considerations in the workplace?
Yes and no. Certainly the pain we feel when we break up is real. Our brain chemistry changes and a broken heart is more than a figure of speech. But just like every other experience in our lives, we have a responsibility to show up to work and deliver to the best of our ability. I do think it is important to be gentle with ourselves and find ways to soothe our frazzled nerves so that we continue to do a good job at work.
One big, prominent issue in our society is this false dichotomy that says you can either be a motivated working woman or a family-centered woman, but not both. How do we approach this misconception?
There is research that “proves” that a mother does best if she has a career and her children thrive. There is research that “proves” that a mother does best if she stays at home and her children thrive. And there is research that shows that what is most important to having a successful career and/or a happy family is that she made the right choice for her- the one that she is happiest with. There is an excellent book on this topic that I think every woman should read called, What’s Your Lane: Career Clarity for Women Who Want to Work a Little, A Lot, or Not at All.
How do you see a single mother being able to balance work and family without sacrificing herself?
She must have help. Back up plans for sick time and coverage when things run long at work etc. The point is she can feel good- but only with help.
What is the one piece of advice you find yourself giving people most often?
Give yourself credit for all the good you do. Many of us fall into bed at night, thinking of the 3 things we did not get done or did imperfectly and totally ignore the 3,792 things we did do well. I want women to recognize that even though the may not get it all done- they have created wonderful connections in their lives, with their families, friends, colleagues, their communities and their God. It is time for them to give themselves credit for all the good they do- and feel good about themselves.