Wow – what an exhilarating experience! I just returned from the National Association for Professional Women conference in New York City where I spoke on the topic of work-life balance. Star Jones, former co-host of The View, hosted the conference. Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, and Martha Stewart, Founder of Martha Stewart Living and Emmy Award-winning Television Show Host, were keynote speakers.
Balance appeared to be a key theme at the conference. Both Star and Arianna talked about the importance of taking care of self, and the high-powered women on the Power of Networking panel also discussed their challenges and successes with managing work and the rest of their lives.
For Arianna Huffington it took fainting from exhaustion on her desk, breaking her cheekbone and getting five stitches to make her slow down at work. Arianna shared her fainting incident with the audience. Five years ago, she was building the Huffington Post and had taken her daughter on a tour of colleges. Once her daughter went to sleep at night, Arianna would start working. When she came back from that trip exhausted, the fainting incident happened.
That was her wake-up call. Arianna told the audience she’s “rediscovered sleep”. “I’ve made a lot of changes in my life…I now strive to get seven or eight hours of sleep a night. You need time to recharge.”
Arianna encourages the same sort of stress-free living among her employees. She had two nap rooms installed at the Huffington Post offices, and “they’re full all the time,” she says. The company also offers weekly meditation and yoga classes for employees.
Star Jones had her own wake-up call when, at the age of 47, her doctor told her she needed open heart surgery immediately! Star had no idea her health was at risk. She just didn’t feel right. She became very tired, started having heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Fortunately, Star went to see a doctor, and an echocardiogram revealed she had heart disease.
Star now makes health a top priority and urged audience members to do the same. As a result of her experience, Star is now a National Volunteer of the American Heart Association and is dedicating her “entire life’s work” to raising awareness about the disease.
There’s a key message we can all learn from these speakers. It’s absolutely critical that we slow down and take care of ourselves. Otherwise, we may not have a second chance.
GlassDoor.com published a list of the Top 25 Companies for Work-Life Balance. Employees reported how their companies rate for balancing work with personal life. Here are the top five companies along with their rating. I’ve also included employee comments.
MITRE – 4.5 (out of 5)
“Grow your skills, keep a work life balance, and work with highly intelligent and ethical people”
Most of the people you work with are extremely sharp and driven to do what is right for the government agencies they serve and the American taxpayer. Work-life balance is very real and everyone is encouraged to take time off and keep their work hours under control. There is constant opportunity for non-traditional “career advancement”: working on tasks outside of your experience/degree, training, and collaboration.
North Highland – 4.5
“A great place to work”
- They're serious about work/life balance.
- You really have the freedom to mold your own career path.
- Incredibly friendly people.
Agilent Technologies – 4.4
“Agilent is an amazing place to work”
Agilent believes strongly in work/life balance. They generally pay a little less than their competitors, but they respect and value their employees and their families. The work environment is much less stressful than the competition. It's very easy to change projects and even job functions within the company.
People are free to move between marketing, planning, manufacturing, R&D, etc and learn along the way. Professional and personal development is highly encouraged for all employees, even if beyond the scope of your current job function.
SAS Institute – 4.4
“SAS is a great place to work, but you have to be there a very long time to advance.”
SAS heavily promotes work/life balance. SAS offers countless benefits (not just health insurance...) like aquatic center, onsite childcare, subsidized meals at the onsite cafes, gym, and list goes on and on and on.
CareerBuilder – 4.4
Great benefits. People are fun, really smart. Good balance between home and work. Casual dress code. Knowledge sharing is abundant.
For the full listing of companies, click here.
Do you want to do it all and do it perfectly? If so, you may be a perfectionist – a high-achiever who makes no room for mistakes. Those of us who fall into this category are always sensitive to weaknesses in ourselves and others. Unfortunately, we are a rigid bunch, and we are prone to self-doubt and fears of disapproval. Unlike people who strive for excellence, a perfectionist is driven and determined in a way that isn’t healthy. They are unable to enjoy the process of achieving because the pursuit of the goal causes so much anxiety. Wanting it all and wanting to do it perfectly is enough to drive any woman insane.
In a recent survey of U.S. working women, 61% indicated that “high expectations of themselves” was one of their biggest work-life challenges. In particular, they thought they should be able to do it all and do it all well. One woman commented, “I don’t have enough time to do everything as well as I would like – cleaner home, nice meals for my husband, more time with children and grandchildren, etc.”
It’s important to have high standards for yourself, but be aware of the difference between high standards and impossibly high standards. Always strive for excellence, but at the same time, remember that no one is perfect except God. I love this quote by Michael J. Fox – “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
We are susceptible to perfectionism, each one of us. Do you really need to cook a gourmet, three-course dinner each night? Or are leftovers good enough? Does your house really need to pass the white-glove test? Or can you live with a little dust? Does your home really need to look like a model home? Or will second-hand furniture do?
When I became a mom I realized I needed to lower my expectations or I would go bonkers. I used to follow my toddler around picking up her toys all day long. Ten minutes after picking up toys, more toys were strewn in the other room. My efforts achieved nothing and only exhausted me. Finally I learned to live with the clutter. If you don’t let go, you’ll go crazy. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough. Now I go for “good enough.” Consider what’s good enough for you.
Rather than hold yourself to impossible standards, be a realist:
Recognize your limits. Remember you are not superhuman nor do you have super powers.
Lower your standards when needed. You don’t need to live with the anxiety. Your peace of mind is more important than living up to impossibly high standards.
Accept your imperfections. You might make a few mistakes. You might even fail. So what? Let’s face it – you’re human. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Let go of perfectionism. Instead strive for excellence, but don’t expect perfect.
Sandy Boller-Bilbrey, Director at Scripps Alcohol and Drug Recovery Program, was named one of four 2011 Working Mothers of the Year by Working Mother magazine. What’s unique about Sandy is that after raising seven children, she adopted four more! I couldn’t imagine that! Hopefully, this will provide inspiration to those of you who struggle with working full-time while raising children. Here’s her story (excerpted from Working Mother magazine, November 2011 issue).
After raising seven children of their own, Sandra and her husband, Chris, felt that coming home to an empty house every day was “boring and uninspiring.” So last March, the couple made a life-changing decision to adopt four children. Now their lives are filled with constant chaos – and they love it.
The Bilbreys decided to adopt four sisters – Ana, 15; Karla, 13; Vanessa, 10; and Yessenia, 9 – after seeing them photographed with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in a calendar put out by San Diego County Adoptions.
Early on in the 18-month adoption process, Sandra shared her decision to adopt the girls with her supervisors and colleagues and was thrilled with the abundance of support she received. The organization offered up an array of services, including a $2,000 adoption credit, extended leave and an adoption support group.
Importantly, the 25-year employee was given the flexibility she needed with her job as the director of the Scripps alcohol and drug treatment program to juggle her new family commitments. “Everyone I worked with at Scripps was incredibly supportive and excited for us. It felt like Scripps had adopted the girls, too,” recalls Sandra.
In addition to working a full-time job, Sandra’s days are now filled with softball practices, homework and trips to the pediatrician, dentist and orthodontist.
Sandra credits her success as a working mom to her husband and her extended family. “We have gotten really good at handoffs and communicating daily activities to each other,” she says. “Now I have forty extra fingers to help me around the house, and I get extra goodnight kisses every night.”
To read about other inspiring stories of how women balance work and family, read Passport to Priorities: Your Road Map to Balanced Living.
Do you struggle with balancing work and the rest of your life? Maybe one of these quotes will provide focus and inspiration. Here are more of my favorite quotes on life balance. See if one of these really resonates with you. If so, then post it in a prominent place where you’ll see it on a daily basis, and it will serve as a reminder to you.
“Women in particular need to keep an eye on their physical and mental health, because if we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to-do’ list.”
~ Michelle Obama
“Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.”
~ Robert Fulgham
“Looking back at the times where I allowed my work to create stress and frustration in my life, I now realize what I thought was important really was not. I am not saying you should not take your work seriously; what I am saying is that we need to realize that life is all about balance.”
~ Catherine Pulsifer
“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
~ Lily Tomlin
“Balance, peace, and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them.”
~ Thomas Kinkade
“Life’s demands may not slow up any time soon, and learning life balance is an ongoing art. If you think one day you will get it all done, and then you can relax, you are bound to be disappointed.”
~ Christina Winsey-Rudd
“I work with wonderful people who support me. And my beliefs are that the business needs to serve the family rather than the family serve the business.”
~ Kathy Ireland
“A lot of things are good, but some are best for us. Assess your priorities, determine where you should spend your time, and cut out the rest.”
~ Kathleen Barton, from Passport to Priorities: Your Road Map to Balanced Living