Working from home seems like a dream—until you try it. Before you try convincing your boss you can work remotely, head on over to US News & World Report, where I talk about the pros and cons of working from home. Read it here.
Did you know? Healthy employees are nearly three times more productive at work, which translates to 140 working hours versus 45 working hours. Over at US News and World Report, I talk about five healthy habits to build your productivity and career. Read it here.
While most of us dream about working from home, many who have experience with telecommuting discover it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And once you start the challenges can start to outweigh the benefits. Over at US News and World Report, I talk about five issues to look out for, and how to mitigate the damage. Read it here.
When both partners in a relationship work, it can be difficult to balance love with career. Modern romance often means no one is home to make dinner, and quality time can be hard to find. Over at US News and World Report today, I talk about the ten ways to still find success as a couple while pursuing a career. Read it here.
You may have the right skills and work ethic to advance your career, but if you don’t pay attention to certain x-factors, you’ll be pushing a boulder up a mountain. Working hard means nothing if you aren’t making the important decisions. Over at US News and World Report today, I talk about the five decisions you need to make. Read it here.
Balance is about choices, and it isn’t easy. Over at US News and World Report today, I talk how you can realistically achieve work-life balance. Read it here, and get honest. This is one of my favorite posts recently.
At some point, working on vacation came to be expected. Did you notice? Work goes on without you, however, and no one is so important that you can’t take two weeks off (if you are, you’re doing it wrong). Over at US News & World Report today, I discuss ten reasons why you shouldn’t work on vacation. Read it here and give yourself permission to take a break.
In her cover story in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” Anne-Marie Slaughter proposes workplace changes in an effort to balance the impossible juggle of career, life, and motherhood.
The problem is, there’s still a lot more up in the air.
Slaughter argues women can have it all – assuming that America’s economy, society, and men just get their heads on straight. She proposes we change the culture of face-time in business, integrate family values into the workplace, and regain work/life balance. Such policies, she says, would enable women to find some sanity.
And she’s right, women can have it all, but we can’t do it all. And that’s where Slaughter and other advice from high-powered women executives falls short.
We need to rethink the workplace, but more importantly, we need to rethink motherhood. Women in the workplace is a relatively new phenomenon, and as such, we assess the system’s flaws freely. We safely point out all sorts of places where workplace culture can help us, but no one goes as far to say that we should request help with motherhood. While work woes are considered modern and new, and thus, up for debate and change, motherhood is considered old and sacred, and despite the context of modern times, we still believe motherhood should be practiced in a singular and specific way – alone.
Presumably, we’ve got motherhood down pat if only we could find enough time to do it. But motherhood does not live in a bubble and as work changes, it pushes the definitions of family life. Instead of responding and changing our views of motherhood, we insist on holding onto impossible Madonna-like ideals. Case in point, Slaughter poo-poos rich, career women who rely on round-the-clock nannies, implying that those who use nannies have failed in combining “professional success and satisfaction with a real commitment to family.”
My own mother didn’t have a choice. As a single mom, she worked full-time outside the home to pay the mortgage, put food on the table and provide me an upbringing that wasn’t rooted in poverty. While I do consider my mom a superwoman, she too had her own set of nannies in the form of daycare, after-school activities, and my babysitter Peggy, the neighbor across the street. In contrast, Ryan was raised by two loving parents, dual-incomes, and a bevy of nannies. Incidentally, we both grew up to be pretty amazing people.
The simple fact is that no matter how much you make, what you marry into or the level of your career success, you cannot do it all. Every woman, regardless of class or choices, needs help. The old adage, “it takes a village” often gets paid lip service, but unfortunately we live in an increasingly insular and disconnected society that holds onto the notion that women shouldn’t just have it all, but should do it all as well.
Women are not superhumans, however, and despite trying to do everything ourselves, it’s just not possible. We’re human. Not superhuman, but prone to make mistakes, imperfect, devoid of energy, even love at times. We have feelings and our sole purpose in life is not always to take care of everybody else. Sometimes we need to take care of ourselves.
While we openly discuss the policies that need to happen at a government and career level, we need to openly discuss the changes that need to happen in our family lives as well. We no longer live in a society that allows you to go-it-alone, despite the strongly independent roots of the American Dream, if you want to have any semblance of sanity.
We need to talk about the realities of motherhood, our changing relationships with our partners, and the fact that it’s completely okay to have help – from your nanny or your neighbor, husband or daycare, cleaning person or assistant. Modern life cannot support private nuclear families or picture-perfect lives. Let’s return to our real roots of kinship and community while we advocate for flexible work hours.
You need help, no matter who you are. And the sooner we let go of the ridiculous Madonna-like ideals and notions of motherhood, the better off all women will be, those who want to have it all and those who just want to put dinner on the table.
A Note on Men
Men don’t often get a lot of respect in these conversations, and that sucks. Slaughter begins her piece in the Atlantic with a successful career and an unhappy adolescent son, along with a husband who has a career and the flexibility to be at home with their son as needed. She closes the article with a less successful career (by her standards) and a happy adolescent son, along with a husband that presumably has more free time now that she’s home more.
The insidious conclusion, albeit unconscious I’m sure, is that a woman needs to be home for the full-growth and success of her child. A man with a less demanding career is not enough.
If women are going to successfully change the notions of motherhood, we need to accept that men can help us and that they will be really good at it. Fair’s fair.
“Work is the only thing which makes life endurable to me,” Charles Darwin wrote, later remarking that work was his “sole enjoyment in life.” Darwin’s work allowed him to withdraw from the world to concentrate entirely on his genius.
Burying yourself in work is so ingrained and glorified in our culture to survive, that nowhere is safe, even the previously safe haunts of creativity where the tradition of daydreaming and an idle nature were once protected rights. Such inefficiencies are now subject to intense bright-lights examination.
One ad agency describes the process they went through to obtain ISO 5000, a certification previously reserved only for factory lines and manufacturing. The process revealed some “surprising inefficiencies” but came at a price. “All the hyper-efficiency can be exhausting,” reported the Chief Creative Officer Jeff Gabel. “You’ve removed your slop factor.”
Exhaustion is now the modus operandi. As such, workaholism is not a reaction to passion, but the inefficiencies of the modern workplace.
“The fact is,” Dave Balter, founder and CEO of BzzAgent, says, “few white-collar employees work 9-5 at all anymore. We’re expected to address work issues on weeknights and often on weekends. We’re constantly reachable and it goes without saying that many are reviewed on the merits of their ‘always on’ capacity.” (via Max Kalehoff).
Most of us are working the usual 9 to 5, but also when inspiration strikes. Whereas in the industrial revolution, work was indeed done when you completed your widgets for the day, the knowledge society demands your energy when it’s seemingly most inconvenient. Right before bed and long into the night, for instance, or first thing upon opening your eyes in the morning.
There’s a credible explanation for these 9 to 5 outliers, which is that the productivity pockets are cushioned by breaks – a tweet, sleep, dinner, interaction with friends and family. Such idleness is great sustenance.
Alain de Botton, best known for his philosophies on everyday life, agrees. There’s a glorious stubbornness to human nature, he says. We need a break, we need a pause, we’re not made for continuous action. Looking out the window is a fundamental part of human nature, he argues.
“Periodic breaks relieve our conscious minds of the pressure to perform — pressure that can lock us into a single mode of thinking,” argue the authors of Creativity and the Mind, a landmark text in the psychology and neuroscience of creativity. Their research suggests that regular breaks enhance problem-solving skills significantly, Wired reports.
We’re working all the time, not because we need to, or even because it’s effective, but because our jobs require us to show up, be seen, and scrub through the afternoon slump. But the truth is, no one is working at 3 pm. That should be nap time, argues De Botton. (Interestingly, those who nap have a higher capacity to learn).
The culture of workaholism, worn with a badge of narcissistic and perfectionist pride, isn’t mixed with a lot of real work, he says. In our squeeze for uber-efficiency, we’re making a giant mess of inefficiencies.
A recent Wall Street Journal post profiled a young “superhero” who “rises at 3:30 a.m., works out before work, takes three of his four kids to school, works flat-out all day, gets home for dinner and bedtime with the family and then works until midnight.”
If you were counting, the young superhero gets a whopping three and a half hours of sleep. Disgusting.
Workaholism is sick and it’s wrenching to watch the pedestal we build for it.
We are not drones, and we should not indenture ourselves to workaholic servitude. Our rhythms, what truly brings about the bliss of efficiency, require not the constant ticking of the clock, but a restful mind, a glance in the other direction, a check mark in a box that doesn’t exist on any spreadsheet.
That is, sometimes work needs a little life.
Quick, which is more difficult – work or life?
Up until a year ago, both competed for my attention, each piling weight onto the seesaw to rise towards the favored position. A year ago, however, I started working at Alice and Ryan and I started hitting our stride (both of which were not without challenges, however… many, many challenges).
While working for a start-up demands hours, it demands more in mental energy, in spikes of time about as predictable as a bingo game, where the only invariable is that you know work will be stop and go. This means it’s often difficult to separate work and life, especially in the statuesque pursuit of balance, but while I used to recognize and promote blur, I’m now mindful of the distinct delineation between the two.
Smart people don’t balance two sides of the same coin – your work and life are, after all, inseparable from the backbone of your binding. You can’t push one to one side and one to the other and hope equilibrium presents itself because the entities are glued to each other and to you.
What I mean, for example, is that I cannot see Ryan and refrain from discussing at length our work. I have long agreed that behind every good man is a good woman, and likewise, the same holds true for Ryan and I on both sides. While he is the one that shows up to Brazen headquarters each day, my ideas fill his head. While I’m the one who walks into Alice each morning, Ryan’s sense and advice follows me.
More to the point, I guess, is that there is a mutual respect for what we choose to do with the majority of our day and into the night, and sometimes into our sleep and into dreams. Although when we do relate to each other our dreams from the night before, it’s not very likely to include the mention of a spreadsheet.
Right now, Ryan is across the street from me working. His offices are located diagonal from my condo, but I have yet to see him this week except for when he dropped me off from our weekend in Philly together on Sunday. I was working on a Wall Street Journal exclusive early this week, and he’s working on big plans for Brazen later this week. We also have friends, family, a basketball league, dance classes, books, blogs, grocery shopping, the gym, bill-paying and other magnitudes and minutiae of daily life competing for our attention.
Oh, and the new season of Chuck just started.
When I walk into work, much of that has to go away. I imagine this is natural for most people who enjoy their jobs, but particularly at start-ups you have to be ready to do whatever is put in front of you that day. Everything planned for the day will get eaten up by new priorities, larger plans and whether or not the toucan (our CEO) monopolizes all the time with the dolphin (our President and my direct boss). This can be best described as acting as a pivot, keeping your center, but spinning to each new person and project that appears.
One of the best parts of working at a start-up is that an idea spun in the morning has the potential to be fully realized by the afternoon. It can be that quick and magical and exhilarating. Also, the customers. When I worked for a non-profit in a trailer across from the food pantry that I was raising money for, I thought I wouldn’t again experience the rewards of being in such direct contact with the people I helped. But Alice has that.
One of the more challenging things is that blurring my work and my blog and my life to such an extent can make me very unhappy. Sometimes I feel like I’m always working which is frustrating, so I’ve tried to have clearer boundaries. I don’t really believe in work/life balance as an ideal, but no longer do I trust in work/life blur so much either.
As a generation, we’re always on. Is it okay to tweet during your workday? How often? What about talk to your significant other? Send personal emails? Do you work with your partner at night? Accept calls from the boss? Check your iPhone during a movie? Where is the line drawn and what is acceptable?
For Ryan and I, we have chosen to spend the majority of our day, not with each other, but with two different start-up companies. Our lives and relationship are more difficult and more enriched because of it. What about you? Work/life balance: truth or myth? Does it stand a chance?
My adrenaline starts to pump and the anticipation in my stomach rises so quickly that a little laughter escapes. But at 10:03 pm on Monday, the 22nd this is a bad time to laugh.
I yell to my boss Mark, “Tech Crunch just published!”
“What?” he yells back.
I run into his office, “Tech Crunch just published their post!” The rest of the sentence, that they published an hour early, an hour before they were supposed to, an hour before the embargo lifted and we were going to launch the site doesn’t need to be said. Hundreds of people are already on the site. Are we ready? I’m not ready! I thought we had an hour.
“We’re going live!” Brian exclaims. “Right now! Go! Go! Go!”
He sweeps through the office as excitement sweeps through our fingers. It’s bad that Tech Crunch published early, but their article is good. I’m shaking a little and smiling. Mashable emails me. They have to publish their article now too and I tell them it’s okay. We’re turning on the site now. We’re opening the doors. It’s starting. Alice.com is launching in beta.
The rest of the night is quick, blurry, surreal. When new press comes out, we yell, “CNET is up!” “Business Week!” “Financial Times!” and I throw the links onto Yammer. I refresh my screen every few minutes to watch the bar on the new customer graph rise. I work more than seventeen hours, my co-workers even more, and none of us really notice.
Some of the developers bring sleeping bags, the customer service girls bring a blow-up mattress, and the rest plan to sleep under their desks. At Alice, each employee is assigned an animal. I am a crane, which means, in part, that I’m particular. I want my own bed, so I drive home in the middle of the night.
The highway is completely empty, black and shiny. I own it. The asphalt, everything beneath and all the buildings lined up along on the side are mine. No other cars or people or lumbering trucks. I drive fast because I’m tired, and I want to sleep, and I want to get up and do it all over again.
Considering my co-workers only got two or three hours of sleep, I know they feel the same. The Alice team is more than dedicated, more than hard-working. This is the start-up life, our life.
There’s a lot of talk about balance. Some of the most popular authors preach zen-like attitudes, getting out of work, and lifestyles that are built on, well, not a whole lot. And then there are those who talk about sacrificing your health for your start-up, who talk in terms of not just passion, but obsession for your profession, and whose idea of fun is innumerable hours spent on a single idea.
Fighting balance across the fence is blur. And that is where I live. A life that should preclude me from having any sort of relationship with anybody or anything other than work, but in reality, betters those relationships. A place that makes me excited to be young and in love and working hard.
Peace, it seems, can not only be discovered in the quiet pauses of life, but also in the often forceful and uncertain flow that rushes against walls and norms and status quo.
I just got off the phone with Zeus, and I’m angry. This isn’t a surprise because I’m quick to anger, quick to forgiveness and quick to just about every emotion, really. The emotional roller coaster of being a woman and all.
Zeus and I have been engaged in phone warfare. Which also isn’t all that surprising considering that he works for a start-up and now I work for a start-up and well, life is busy.
Many of you already know this about Zeus being Ryan, but I felt it was time to announce it beyond my About page because of some recent emails I received from my readers.
I feel I have every right to keep my private life private, but I also feel a strong relationship with my blogging community. My blog and the people who support it are the primary reasons I’m successful today, and so it’s important to me to be as transparent as possible.
I didn’t make my relationship with Ryan explicit before because we had just started dating (even now we’re early in the relationship game), and it’s hard enough to begin a relationship, let alone have the extra pressure of so many people watching you. I mean, Ryan and I are both “In a Relationship” on Facebook, but not even explicitly with each other because I’m so superstitious.
(Yeah, you try dating me.)
“People that exercise every day and work twelve hours a day have no life,” Ryan reminds me. So, okay. But maybe I could be the exception?
“No, you can’t have it all. Something has to give,” he goes on. Ryan is practical to my impractical. Rational to my emotional. The pea to my pod. He’s a Taurus and I’m a Virgo. He’s an INTJ and I’m an ENFP. By all personality tests and worldly measures we’re a good match.
But sometimes it’s hard to like someone so much and have so much else going on in your life. It’s hard to think that we might not always live in the same city or that I might not be able to change the way I want to.
It’s easy for me to ignore all these elephants cramping my view though, because in my heart, I see this working. And I know that because this is one of the hardest times in our lives, it’s also one of the best. If you’re playing it right, the best time in your life is filled with uncertainty and risk. There’s nothing balanced about that. It’s exciting and exhilarating, and to take full advantage, you need to:
1) Let go.
2) Give in.
I work for a company that will disrupt the traditional retail market and my boyfriend is someone that has disrupted everything I know about relationships. Nothing is stable now. That’s the thing about work/life balance. It’s more of a see-saw, kind of up and down, and is only ever balanced for the briefest moments in time.
Yes, this post was Ryan-approved before I hit publish. What are your thoughts on work/life balance? How do you achieve it? Do you want to have it all? Is it possible or are you content with just one or the other?