Work-Life Balance – Superwoman or Juggling Act?

I recently had the privilege of attending a workshop panel in which women leaders including presidents of national and international companies and the Lieutenant Governor and Chief Diversity Officer of New York State shared their personal and professional experiences with a room full of riveted entrepreneurs, many of them female. One question that came up was around the topic of “Work-Life Balance.” The insights imparted by these powerful, astute, and articulate women are well worth sharing.

One panelist observed that in her experience, “There is no such thing as work-life balance. It’s more a matter of moving from moment to moment to moment with a set of guideposts.” Another panelist agreed, stating that “It’s less a balancing act than a juggling act. I’ve always got more than one ball in the air at a time.”

These high-powered panelists agreed that the “Superwoman” myth so valiantly wrestled by the generation of women who came before us and forged the path was now being laid aside for a more realistic approach. “I’ve had to get used to the idea that I’m human,” said one panelist. “I can’t do everything perfectly all the time. You have to give yourself a pass sometimes.”

Anyone juggling so many demanding roles will likely experience what one panelist described as “the knowledge that at any given moment, you will be feeling guilty about something.” Yet all the panelists agreed that the best way they had found for managing their constantly shifting and often competing priorities came from establishing guideposts: setting clear, strong boundaries – both at work and at home – and relentlessly protecting their time. Equally important? Asking for help from a support network of friends and family. As one panelist put it, “No one can do it alone.”

The overarching message was, to quote one panelist: “Be 100 percent devoted to where you are. If you’re with your kid, you are not at work” – and vice versa. One of the panelists, a top government official with what could be a 24-7 schedule, does not answer her phone for family when she’s at work, and does not answer her phone for anyone from work when she’s at home with her family. She has clearly communicated these expectations to her family, her superiors, and her staff, and does not compromise them. “It’s a matter of actively managing your life and protecting your time so you can give all of yourself to the moment that you’re in.”

How do you manage your own work-life balance? What are your priorities? What sort of permission have you given yourself to define and defend your own guideposts around your time and energy? And if you haven’t, what’s stopping you?