This is Not Your Father’s Workplace
I can’t think of a better phrase to describe where I find myself today in work and life:
“This is not your father’s workplace.”
Now that I am a new mom to a six-month-old son, this phrase that Rania has said many times over the past year has helped me own what my unique workplace and work-life situation looks like.
HOW I MAKE IT WORK
I work from home, full-time. I have two part-time jobs, and I work with each of them in person each week. Now, with a baby, I’ve established a routine that works well for me, my family, and both jobs. We have a nanny come to our house a total of about 20-25 hours a week. During that time I have calls, focus on my work and maximize my time. The rest of the time when we don’t have nanny help, I spend with my son. I try to really focus on and enjoy him – we go on adventures, run errands or we play. When he’s napping, I often squeeze in a little more work.
Every night, my husband and I make dinner, which is usually a frozen meal; because we don’t make time to cook right now. This is one of the areas we are both fine letting go without any guilt so we can spend our time on the things that are important to us. Occasionally, we’ll have friends over around dinner for an hour or two, to get in some social time with those we love. After dinner, we spend time on our priorities – for me, its my work; for him, a comic he is creating. Most nights, I work until 11 pm or as late as 1 am.
MY ENCOURAGEMENT AND INSPIRATION
The biggest professional inspiration for me in this new season in my life has been some of the women I met in Brazil and Argentina in November 2013. Rania and I traveled there to interview both corporate women and entrepreneurs for her new book, UNDETERRED: The Six Success Habits of Women in Emerging Economies.
This trip was almost a whole year before I was pregnant. And yet there were a few conversations that burned into my memory, and have helped me now:
- We met the tiny, energetic Paula Arregui, Product VP of MercadoPago in Argentina, in a dark trendy bar. She described loving her work so much that she was answering email on her phone while giving birth in the hospital. She said it was her choice, and she loved to work – no apologies.
- A highly successful entrepreneur, and a single mom, Argentinian Maria Luisa Fulgueira, told us over a fancy lunch at one of her favorite restaurants how when she mentors young women, she has them over to her house to meet her kids and show them they can also have a family, be a good mom, and be successful in their career. You don’t have to choose!
- The first woman we met on the trip was Dora Szwarc Hamaoui, Director of Novos Negocios at Fibra Experts in Brazil. Over breakfast at our hotel she told us how she has a weekly standing lunch date in the middle of the week with her two young sons. Her work calendar is always blocked off for her time with them, and she never misses it. If someone asks her to meet during that time, she just says she is unavailable. She said she also always shares what she is doing at work with her boys, and they are proud of her.
- A calm, confident presence, Flavia De Hora, managing director at Accenture in Brazil (the firm’s most senior woman in the country) said she found it important to “be a little bit selfish” as a key to her success. She knew she was a better wife, mom, and leader when she made time for the things that made her happy.
- BONUS: This sassy, bold, honest and touching post by Croatian author and HR Manager Gordana Frgačić, The Real Truth About Having It All, is one of my favorite articles I’ve ever read on the work-life issue.
One big thing I took away from all of them was the importance of really being present where you are, and not falling trap to the guilt of ‘not enough,’ whether you are with your child or your work. If you’re with one, give it your whole focus. Then, give yourself permission to shift your whole focus to the other when it’s time. It creates a strength, peace, and confidence within, and it benefits everyone (what more could your work or your family ask for?). When I’m doing this, and doing my best, I feel proud, content, and like my life is successful.
CHALLENGING OLD WORKPLACE PERCEPTIONS
I won’t lie – there has been some subtle opposition from the older generation, expressing concern for un-traditional schedule and workload (“I’m worried you won’t be able to get it all done”), and projecting their experience on me (“I just remember how hard the first few years are with kids, my wife quit her job to stay home”). It’s been really frustrating, since I feel like I have proven myself and my hard work, time and time again. How do I combat this attitude?
- I make a lot of effort to continually communicate in detail with my bosses. I check in and see how things are going, where we are, tell them where I’m at on my project list, and what I’m accomplishing.
- I share my schedule, and then I don’t apologize for it. If I’m getting it all done, making all the calls, and I am available via email or phone even if I’m out with my son, then it shouldn’t matter what time of day I choose to work.
- I try to never mention how tired or stressed I might be – it doesn’t help my case, so I keep it to myself. I just have to make it all work – no excuses, no complaints.
- When the timing is right, I occasionally address issues head-on. In the case of the subtle opposition, I experienced, I brought it up – I said why I felt like that was false, and what I was doing in my life to make it work, how important my career is to me, and how, “This is not your father’s workplace.”
Most of these actions have also been learnt through the encouragement, expertise and mentorship of Rania (who also really encouraged me to write this piece), and follow several of the strategies listed in UNDETERRED for career success.
While I’m extremely grateful for it all, and recognize how lucky I am for being able to set thing kind of schedule, I’ve also earned it. It wasn’t handed to me. I’ve worked hard (and still do) to be able to make my schedule work for me, my family and my work.
Some people have said, “Oh, I could never work from home, I would get distracted with things that need done around the house [or other comment here].” It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure. But for me, being home with this arrangement has only improved my focus and productivity. Because I only have short windows of time to get something done, whether it’s getting a bite to eat, a shower, catching up on email or social media, getting dressed, paying some bills, or getting work done, I quickly make decisions that make the most of my time. It’s part survival, part providing for my family, and part gratitude and effort to maintain this arrangement. It all comes down to consistently showing up, delivering value, meeting deadlines, working hard, communicating well, and giving it my best.
The hardest part of this schedule is pushing through the tiredness. Sleep is a long lost friend (whom I dearly miss!). But the truth is, as any new parent can attest, you’re just always tired – there’s no way around it, and there’s no catching up – so you just push through. And despite that ongoing challenge, this situation is really ideal for us at this time in our lives. It’s totally worth it. And I love having the best of both worlds, professionally and personally, as a mom, and as an ambitious woman.
For some more specific work-life strategies and examples, check out this awesome recent article: Forget Work- Life Balance: 4 Work-Life Integration Strategies Around the World.
Do yourself a favor and buy UNDETERRED! Like me, you will be bursting with ideas, inspiration, and encouragement to create the work-life you desire. This is OUR workplace!
“What is happening to you is normal and it’s happening to women all around the world no matter if they are CEOs or bank clerks, saleswomen, or housewives. Not a single one of us has a unique formula how to juggle and manage the work and private life. It is very individual, and it depends on dozens of factors which sometimes you can, and sometimes you can’t, influence. You just adapt the best possible way you can in order to make your life worth living. So the best advice I can give you is that you have to decide for yourself what does having it “all” mean to you? What makes you happy and satisfied with your life? – Gordana Frgačić, The Real Truth About Having it All