The Shriver Report – Are We Approaching the Idea of “Work-Life Balance” All Wrong?

Special Edition

Are We Approaching the Idea of “Work-Life Balance” All Wrong?
woman balance

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“How have you been?”

That’s the universal question that comes from a chance encounter at a grocery store or kid’s baseball game with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. How do you respond? A remark about how busy work is, how well the kids are doing in school, and that Joe was roped into coaching Little League for the boys this Spring?

Or instead, you start off with a family anecdote and the follow-up question comes, “And how is work going?” For many of us, this is the composite of our lives – work and family. Not one without the other.

So why do we think we’ll be successful in trying to separate the two and live a life that isn’t laden with opposing forces? There are two parts to this life equation and the sum total of “happy” or “not happy” depends on how those parts work together.

Now let’s add some other factors to the mix to make it more interesting (isn’t life that way, after all?) – personal finances, health and wellness, family needs, career ambitions. There are nuances here that play an important part, but maybe we aren’t sure how to manage it all.

Managing expectations is important. I meet professional women all the time who think they have to do it all and do it well to be successful. But in almost equivalent numbers, I see more women coming forward and sharing how they constantly struggle to find some type of “balance” in their lives.

“For many of us, this is the composite of our lives – work and family. Not one without the other.So why do we think we’ll be successful in trying to separate the two and live a life that isn’t laden with opposing forces?” Allison O’Kelly 

First, to that I say, there really isn’t a calculation of equilibrium here that exist in any positive sense, and to strive for that will just bring on more stress. I think it’s more about work-life satisfaction.

Here’s what I mean. Balance is a very divisive word in this context, with either side being “up” or “down” if they aren’t completely in sync. There isn’t much these days so cut and dry, especially if you have children. Balance also doesn’t account for interaction or even collaboration between the two sides – think of standing in the middle of the seesaw with one foot on each side of the fulcrum.

Instead, the different facets of our lives take priority in a continual shift. Whereas if we strive for satisfaction in our lives, it means we are looking at the big picture and finding fulfillment in most (let’s be realistic here) things we do.

In 2005, I started a company based on the growing need of flexible work for professional women who also happened to be mothers and wanted more say in their works schedules. At that time, the focus was really on how to change how we work, centering the conversation on altering that one part of our lives.

It was and continues to be an important mission, but we’ve since recognized is that it isn’t just about the work. Women are asking for help to find flexibility, but also raising their hand to ask how to manage all of the other life factors.

Creating a support system is one of the most important things we can do as professional women. This week, we are thrilled to launch a project long in the making. Mom Corps YOU is a national online community helping professionals find their own work-life satisfaction by embracing the power of sharing candidly our daily challenges and learning from experts and each other. At its core, this resource is a catalyst for conversation and new ideas on how to own the different aspects of our life – career, family, finances, health and wellness – and bring them together cohesively.

We were truly honored by the celebrated experts, authors and inspirational leaders who signed on to share their knowledge and insights with the Mom Corps YOU audience. Just a few of them are listed here: Jean Chatzky, financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show; Tory Johnson, weekly contributor on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and #1 New York Times bestselling author of he Shift”; Lee Woodruff, co-founder of the Bob Woodruff Foundation and co-author of In an Instant; Samantha Walravens, author of Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood; Jennifer Owens, editorial director for Working Mother Media; and Lisa Belkin, senior columnist for The Huffington Post.

I believe every woman has the wherewithal to define life on her own terms. If feeling out of sync with work and family, learn about work alternatives. If trying to get back into the workforce, understand the skills required. If trying to incorporate nutrition into a busy schedule, find new resources. But ask for help, look for resources and learn from others who have been through it too.

What do you think? Can you offer something to the conversation?

Allison O’Kelly is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Allison O’Kelly is founder/CEO of Mom Corps, a national talent acquisition and career development firm with a focus on flexibility. In 2014, she launched Mom Corps YOU, an online community for professional women seeking support and expert resources for better integrating professional and personal lives.
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