“You can have everything, just not at the same time”. I first heard this quote years ago at the Women on Wall Street conference, stated by a successful, beautiful business woman, a mom, who was a panelist at the conference.
I was somewhere in my early-mid 20’s, when kids were still not a factor for me. In my 30’s I learned that sometimes life can grant you everything at the same time: a demanding big career we’ve built over the years, and demanding little children. In a way, it’s a great problem to have -“how to manage having everything you ever wanted”. So, people who are blessed with this “great problem” are often reluctant to talk about the fact that “having everything you wanted, at once” presents a big challenge.
How can one juggle everything at the same time, do a good job everywhere, and be taken seriously in each area?
We let go of the notion that everything is going on at once, and instead, compartmentalize like pros. (Until it fails, that is. More on it later.) When you’re at work, you probably want to be known as just a CFO, or as just an anesthesiologist, not as a “mom CFO” or a “mom anesthesiologist”. When you come to a school event, you probably want to be known just as a dad, not as a “Wall Street dad” or an an “MD dad”. Why? Because, you may argue, one aspect of your life is not relevant to the other, and one can be perceived as a distraction from the other, resulting in you being taken less seriously in each given area, be it career or parenting.
Until this happens. (Notice that the video is more readily available with a hashtag #BBCdad rather than #BBCreporter). Here’s the gist: a couple of weeks ago, a BBC video went viral, showing Dr. Robert Kelly’s live BBC broadcast interview interrupted by his kids.
The video, which has been described as both hilarious and embarrassing in the media, is the stuff that working parents’ nightmares are made of – a collision of worlds in which people wear different hats. A university professor may be giving a lecture, and dreading a call from her child’s school nurse, because morning sniffles can turn into “you need to pick up your son from school now” in a heartbeat. A parent may be sitting at a parent-teacher conference, and praying not to get the call from his business partner about a client-related emergency.
Working parents and parenting workers try to minimize such work/care-taking collisions. Compartmentalizing to the max seemingly makes things more straight-forward: in the office you’re an engineer, and we can talk about coding, and at your daughter’s friend’s birthday party, you’re a dad, and we can talk about pee-wee soccer. Yet, all parts of your life really happen simultaneously (as described beautifully by this academic mom), so compartmentalization as a coping strategy lends itself to epic failure.
An alternative to compartmentalization is choosing your own way to define yourself as a whole, and standing by your choice, willing to take the consequences of your self-definition. The down side of this is that there’s a good chance there will be negative consequences for this, since we don’t live in an ideal world (marginalized “mommy track” is still “a thing” at many workplaces, for example). The upside is that potential negative consequences for embracing all aspects of your life as a whole will be generously compensated by:
– Getting rid of paralyzing fear that one aspect of your life might bleed into another, and it will be detrimental to your work/parenting. Whatever could happen has already happened – you’ve put all your cards on the table.
– Freedom to bring your whole self into any situation, without anxiety over potential “exposure” or blackmail along the lines of “what if anyone here finds out that I also [insert the blank]”
– Attracting opportunities that make the best fit for all aspects of your life, and allow you to grow in your way, at your pace, vs. following rigid paths that dictate what your life/career should look like.
Yes, there is a risk that you may appear more vulnerable [to the people who don’t know you well, don’t have your best interest in mind, and whose opinion you don’t necessarily respect] if you choose to be a “BBC reporter/dad”, a “CFO/mom”
Yes, there is a risk that you may be taken less seriously [by the people who don’t know you well, don’t have your best interest in mind, and whose opinion you don’t necessarily respect].
The freedom of living your full life, on your own terms may be worth that risk. What are your observations on compartmentalizing a career and family?
UPDATES: This summer, I’ll be presenting and co-presenting on intuition development for analytical thinkers at a conference for Psychotherapists at Garrison Institute, and at the Academy of Management conference in Atlanta. Would you like to introduce your organization to research-based programs on intuition development? Let’s set up a call to discuss. (Or send me an email at Alina@AlinaBas.com )
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