Thursday, September 22, 2011

I Don't Do It Alone - And That's OK

Last week, while millions flocked to movie theaters to see Hollywood’s interpretation of a career woman trying to balance the often-times competing demands of work and family in “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” I was addressing the same topic in a more reality-based setting at a meeting of professional women in downtown Philadelphia. While we were all at different stages in our personal and professionals lives, we were seeking answers to the same questions. “How do I make my life what I want it to be?” “How do I ‘stay present’ in a frantic world?” “How do I set boundaries and priorities – and stick to them?”

I want to thank the Philadelphia Business Journal and its publisher Lyn Kremer, for hosting this wonderful event – and for the selection of venue. It seemed so appropriate to be talking about this topic at this place given that the present – and first female – president of the Union League Club, Joan Carter, was also a speaker.

As a full-time working mother of three sons, I ask myself the same questions our speakers and attendees were, and none of us claimed to have all the answers. But I do know this. Trying to balance your work and personal lives is a dynamic process requiring life-long adjustment, and you can’t do it alone.

My “aha” moment happened in a parking lot. Needing to work late, as I transferred my first two boys from my car to my husband’s, I received a wonderful chocolate pudding-mixed-with-goldfish crackers kiss from my six-year old. I asked myself “What am I doing?”

As sweet (literally and figuratively) as that kiss was, I thought, this craziness is not how it is supposed to be. After that, my husband and I decided that he would be a stay-at-home dad – and he is great! And, as a result, I was able to build my consulting work, and we were able to have our third child.

It was that experience, along with other changes I’ve implemented and mistakes I’ve made that have helped me keep work from overturning the “life boat." I'd like to share with you some key elements that have made my life-career balance possible.

Be intentional. Frequently ask yourself – “am I going in the right direction to make my life the way I want it to be?” If not, changes are in order.

Be honest. I was so busy trying to be Wonder Woman that I wasn’t being true to myself or anyone else. Remember, you don’t have all the answers and you can’t do it all – and that’s okay. Create a set of realistic priorities against which you compare all opportunities. At UnitedHealthcare, we call this our “Blue Chip Test” – whatever we have planned must stand up against this, or we don’t do it.

Be present. Take a few minutes before the end of each work day to quiet your mind, and just focus on breathing, counting backwards from 10. Then, when it’s time to go home, you’ll truly be present for your family. As part of our corporate culture at UnitedHealthcare, we ask our employees to be “Be Here Now,” requiring that individuals shut off cell phones, pagers, laptops and iPads to be mentally, as well as physically, present at meetings. And we encourage employees to apply such boundaries in their personal lives too.

It's hard to prescribe what "balance" is to each person. The solutions that worked for me may not be right for someone who gets her greatest joy and satisfaction from working 24/7. The most important thing is to find fulfilling work where flexibility is welcome. Don't be afraid to talk to your manager, your spouse and your children about your needs, and keep the conversation going about expectations of everyone involved in your life.

My best advice is to make whatever you define as balance work for you. What have you done to find your balance?

            - Kenneth Frieson, Photographic & Media Arts

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