Monday, November 12, 2012

What if there’s no such thing as work-life balance?

If you were to ask Jennifer Pope, a Vice President with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans about work-life balance, she’d tell you that there’s no such thing; “it’s a misnomer”, she stated, in our recent women’s leadership webinar. “It’s always a give and take”, she explained. “We have so many demands on us as moms, leaders, coaches, and volunteers that we have to take pause and realize there’s only 24 hours in a day.”
Rather than strive to attain balance, she lives by the philosophy that “we were born onto this earth for a purpose and we need to make the best use of our time here.”
So what if there’s no such thing as balance? How can we make the best use of our time? I asked Pope, along with our other guest speaker, Shannan Gardner, Tax Partner with Moss Adams, to share their approaches to being a leader and having a life. In addition to some highly practical tips, like preparing meals in a slow cooker and learning to delegate, they also shared the philosophies that they live by.
Shannan Gardner described her approach to this work-life challenge as a continual work-in-progress. “You need to constantly redefine what work-life integration means to you. This is true for me as a parent but also was very true before I became a parent and a wife. What works for you today may not work as your personal life changes. Even with my children, what I needed for them when they were first born was very different than it is now that they’re nine years old. I’m constantly having to reevaluate my work-life integration and make sure that it’s appropriate for the personal and professional fulfillment that I need.”
“It’s important to remember that it’s not always going to be perfect”, she added. “You’re never going to have a perfect division between work and life. Sometimes things aren’t going to work out exactly as you have planned them and you just have to be able to be flexible and go with it.”
Gardner, who co-champions Forum_W, her offices’ women’s initiative, takes an active role in helping talented women at her firm advance in their careers. She advises up-and-coming women not to succumb to the pressure to be all things to all people, but to value their time and their talents. “For example”, she shared, “my boys play basketball and for the end of season party they needed cupcakes. I am all for taking time to bake cupcakes with my children but I’m not going to do that right before a large deadline. I’m okay with going to the store and purchasing cupcakes because baking them at that point in time is not the highest and best use of my time.”
Jennifer Pope concurred, “I definitely agree with that whole cupcake situation. I have sent my kids packing with some of the fanciest cupcakes in town!”
Pope discovered early in her career that she has a desire to help others grow into leadership roles at Thrivent, where she now leads hundreds of employees in the Member and Field Interactions department. A key to her ability to be effective as a leader and a mother is being present. “Whatever you’re doing, focus on the present” said Pope. “If you’re with your family, be present with them. If you’re at work, be in the present and listen. It’s a privilege to work with others and to serve others.”
She also doesn’t want you to take all of this too seriously. “If we aren’t having fun while we’re here and with what we’re doing, then we need to take pause, ladies, reflect, and redirect. Don’t be so serious. Life is short. Learn to laugh!”
Work-life balance may be a misnomer, but in any case, it is possible to be a leader who has a life. Here are some things to try:

1. Redefine and reevaluate what balance means to you
2. Things are not always going to be perfect
3. Be flexible
4. Don’t try to be all things to all people
5. Know what is the highest and best use of your time
6. Focus and be present
7. Don’t be too serious
8. Learn to laugh.

And it’s OK to cheat on the cupcakes.

Shannan Gardner and Jennifer Pope were guest speakers in the webinar Work-Life Integration, part of the Emerging Women Leaders webinar series.
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