Work/life balance: I think it’s an epic fail.
That’s what I said to a younger friend of mine who had just come back from maternity leave, and she was struggling to manage her family, her career, and her finances. Like many of us, she had crafted a plan to do it all, and on paper, it worked perfectly. But after being back for a few months, she was struggling. She came to me and asked, “Jeanne, how do you manage?” And I felt her pain, because I, too, often struggle to find the proverbial work/life balance while raising two kids.
On most days I feel like a work/life balance failure, so I have decided to retire the phrase “work/life balance,” because the word “balance,” to me, is part of the problem. Balance requires this even distribution of weight, and to achieve it, it helps to remain perfectly still. And probably like you, my life is never still. And so this idea of work/life balance is just too rigid for the flexibility that life requires. It suggests that we can meet all needs simultaneously—at home, at work, and at play. And if we can’t, what’s our problem?
I now have a new philosophy, and it’s to achieve “sway.” Sway is about embracing the natural ebb and flow between work and life. I no longer strive for balance every day, but I reflect periodically to ensure that I’ve swayed in both directions. Sometimes it’s a few days in one direction or even a few weeks, but eventually I sway back, and over time, if it doesn’t, I reevaluate, and then I make changes. Here’s what works for me.
1. Ask for help.
I found I had to ask for help, both at work and at home. At home, I had help in the form of daycare, summer camps, carpools, takeout, and even the dry cleaner. At work, I had many mentors. I started to build my network, and I had to take training classes.
2. Take risks.
At different points in my career I would change jobs—that always felt risky. Switching daycares felt risky, and most recently, the riskiest thing I’ve done is let my newly licensed 16-year-old daughter drive by herself, to practice. It was really frightening. But we all survived.
3. Have a long view.
There are a lot of ups and downs every day, and many times they’re unexpected ups and downs—things that you just don’t plan for. But acknowledging, even on the worst days, and saying to myself, “This, too, shall pass,” does get me through the day and reminds me to embrace the sway.
These tips can be used for investing, too.
So thinking about this, and looking at the two trajectories of my life and my career, I started philosophizing about it. The more I looked at it, the more it reminded me of the stock market. Now, I know that’s not normal, but it’s a hazard of having spent more than 20 years working in financial services.
And what’s fascinating to me is how much the market is like life—it’s not balanced. It has sway.
I had this moment of enlightenment: As women, many of us experience volatility in our lives and our careers, and we manage quite well, as a matter of fact. We ask for help, we take risks, and we take a long-term view.
When it comes to investing, many women are not confident about making investment decisions, and many don’t ask for help when it comes to retirement planning. This got me thinking. As women, we have the skills; we’ve developed them and we use them to manage our lives and our careers. These same skills can be used to manage and invest in our financial futures. So if you feel like you don’t have the confidence to invest, or haven’t taken advantage of the help that’s offered to you, it’s never too late. Now is the time. You can do this; and you have what it takes. It is no different than managing your career and your life.
As I said to my young friend who asked me how I managed, “The secret is to take a deep breath and embrace the sway.”
Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time, and you may gain or lose money.
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