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Debunking work-life balance: Managing our choices

February 19, 2014

By Susan MacKenty Brady

This is the first in a series of posts by Linkage EVP Susan MacKenty Brady. Here, she shares some hard-earned wisdom about navigating the choices that come with being a woman and choosing to lead.—Ed.

Being a professional woman leader means the demands of our relationships, our choices, our work, and our interests all conspire to ensure our inability to achieve the “perfect balance.” And this invites some big questions: Can I really have it all? Do I want it all? Can I show up fully and say “yes” at work and meet the demands (and callings) of family, and friends, and non-work life? The men in my life tell me this isn’t just a challenge for women. And then I tell them that may be so—but women actually want to (need to?) talk about it.

In fact, 80% of our Women in Leadership Institute™ board membership assert that this is a topic that deserves the attention of our best and brightest thinkers. I maintain that one way to solve many of our talent issues is to fully unlock the potential of half of the world’s workforce. Further, our research shows that more and more organizations understand the bottom-line value of having women in positions of leadership. However, the attention women are getting to engage as leaders at work, and the organizational focus on this systemic need has only just begun.

While organizations get their act together to remove barriers (ranging from lack of sponsorship of women to taking a stand about developing a diverse talent pool) we, as women, need to dig a little deeper than this in our quest for balance. This isn’t about managing the day-to-day chaos. This is about: Can I really have a fulfilling and engaging professional life and personal life at the same time?

In order to navigate through the vast number of choices (and seemingly conflicting ambitions) I’ve been graced with, I’ve had to learn how to comfortably live with the realities of an unpredictable, yet very full and engaging life. And I’ve had to redefine what “Having it all” actually means. For me, “Having it all” means being fully engaged—consciously deciding what I want to engage with, embrace, and go for in my life. And “Having it all” also requires the ability to make and live with the consequences of hard choices.

This has been scary. And at times really hard. And has also required me to change some key expectations of myself. For example:

  1. The pursuit of perfection is futile. The beds sometimes don’t get made. Multitasking in meetings may lead to sending an email to the exact person it wasn’t meant for….
  2. I can’t control everything. As it turns out, my husband can actually keep our two daughters happy, fed, clean, and enrolled in school all by himself—without me—while I travel.
  3. Endulging in guilt is like shooting myself in the foot over and over and over. Realizing how counterproductive obsessing over questions such as: “Did I really not make dinner for my neighbor who had surgery?” and “Did I really miss my direct report’s birthday after remembering others the same week?” leads to maybe the most important insight of all….
  4. I must live with the fact that I will disappoint others. This has been the hardest of all, but accepting this fact is also why I can finally admit that—on a good day—I’m no longer a controlling perfectionist who has a black belt in feeling guilty.

The point is: To “Have it all” (whatever that means to you—but let’s stick with “being fully engaged”), we need to roll up our sleeves and be ready to manage ourselves through all of the tough choices along the way. I wouldn’t run a marathon without training first, so why on earth should I expect to know how to navigate through the myriad of choices that are available to me without preparing first?

In my forthcoming posts, I’ll share a bit more about my experience, my research, and what I call The Five Disciplines of Full Engagement (think of these as muscle-building techniques for good choice making):

  1. Know what you want and what you don’t want
  2. Know who you are and what you’re good at
  3. Don’t let yourself be derailed by the Gremlins of Choice—control, perfectionism, and guilt
  4. Get skillful about asking for what you want
  5. Get comfortable and skilled at agility

Feedback
As a leader, what barriers do you face to having it all?

More about Susan

Brady_SusanSusan MacKenty Brady is the wife of Jamie Brady, the mother of Caroline and Abigail Brady, a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend to many (too few hear from her often enough), the Executive Vice President of Global Programs and Marketing for Linkage, an Executive Coach, and a champion of advancing the acceleration of women leaders. Check out Susan’s keynote at the 2013 Women in Leadership Institute. She can be reached at sbrady@linkageinc.com or on Twitter @Susanmbrady1.

 

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