“Work-life balance.”: There are not a lot of things that I just flat out don’t like (the texture of eggplant is on that very short list), but this phrase is one of them. The word “balance” in that phrase implies that you are spending equal time/effort/focus on work and on personal things at all times. So either you are doing 50% of the effort at work and putting 50% in at home, or you are neglecting one side or the other and made to feel guilty. Should my grandmother—a single mother of three after her husband’s untimely death who worked two jobs to pay the bills and educate her children—feel guilty because her life wasn’t equally balanced between work and home? Of course not. What she did was amazing.
The idea of “work-life balance” is an unattainable myth designed to make us feel perpetually guilty. I was fed this myth at the ripe age of 16 when I first started to vocalize my dreams of becoming CEO of a company. (Pretty sure none of my male counterparts received the same speech.) It was put to me that it would be hard to achieve that work life balance going after such an ambitious goal. This speech was the first of many deterrents. As a bright, young, African American girl, it was clear to me back then that I wasn’t like everyone else.
I wasn’t going to be treated like everyone else, so I couldn’t assume that just doing what everyone else did would get me what I wanted. I needed to be strategic in my actions. So how could I achieve my goals and ambitions? First, I had to decide what I wanted and then determine the steps needed to get there.
I started planning my life with the belief that the opportunity for my success existed, but it was up to me to improve my odds at every step to get what I wanted professionally and personally.
I wanted to optimize my life, not balance it.
I made some very intentional moves and deliberate choices that allowed me to achieve my CEO goal 18 years into my career, public board seat 21 years into my career, and an awesome marriage of over 33 years with 2 flourishing kids. Among those choices:
- Worked my butt off in school to get top grades, volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities so I could get into the best undergraduate business school
- Married a man who shared my ambitions and who was willing to let me put my career first, and even stay at home with the kids
- Had kids early to accelerate my ability to get back to work consistently
- Moving around the world to help increase my career options
- Leveraging my workouts for networking time
- Even chopping my hair off to gain an extra 3 hours a week of productivity
I didn’t do everything right and made plenty of mistakes, but I never lost sight of the fact that I could indeed have the life I wanted if I was strategic in my choices. I call it “work-life integration”, and I conquered it.
Part of my strategy was thinking of my career in phases because there was so much I wanted to achieve but no way I could do everything I wanted at once. As I often say, if you are willing to do the work, you can have anything you want in life, just not at the same time. So, here goes my Phase 2: My first order of business is to relinquish my CEO title. (I know, that was my goal, right?) Frankly it was just one of my goals, and the timing was right. My husband, who has been battling a terminal cancer for over 6 years, entered his final stage. This was happening just as the opportunities in front of MetricStream were requiring more intensity, not less.
I traded in a full-time, always-on, road-warrior, company-calendar-driven existence, for a portfolio of engagements that allow me the flexibility to control my calendar and location. I will continue my corporate governance work, serving on boards and advising growing companies and CEOs.
Since the experience of my early days, I’ve had a passion for helping women and people of color understand their potential and capitalize on opportunities so they can achieve their goals. I want to provide them inspiration and confidence to do what they want, even when someone else tries to define what success looks like for them.
So stay tuned and connect with me as I embark on Phase 2 of my life’s journey, because I plan to conquer it!