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Becky Robinson

Steve,

This post hits very close to home for me. I agree with the paradigm you offer for making decisions about how to integrate work and life and I also applaud your wife for the choices she has made.

Yet as a mom who has returned to working after 7 plus years at home without working, this post stirs up a range of emotions and thoughts. The work I have chosen is flexible, and allows me to be with my children virtually all of the time, but not without personal sacrifices.

I don't think our society makes these decisions easy. Even close friends of mine have admitted that they value me more since I returned to work. Somehow, the fact that I am pursuing professional interests elevates me in their eyes. Although I am glad to have encouragement in my work, it speaks to the lack of esteem for mothers. Why am I more valuable now just because I work?

I'm not more valuable -- just more tired!

Mary Jo Asmus

Steve,

I've disliked the term "work-life balance" ever since I heard it (yes, I'm that old). As an executive with a family whose husband owned a small business, I never felt "balanced" at any point. It seemed I did best at one (or a select few) things at a time. It was a matter of setting (and resetting) priorities.

So, the term misses the point that work and life are truly one and the same. Its finding a way to "blend" or "synergize" (I like these terms best) them in a way that works best for all individuals involved, keeps you whole, and capitalizes on individual and group (or family) values.

I guess my husband and I did ok. His business remains successful after 30 years, I've had a great carrer, and both of our lovely daughters are successful and happy. Whew.

Subbu

Very nice post, Steve. I think the term 'Work-Life' balance is what makes us think in terms of silos. There is only one thing and that is life. Everything has to be worked around the life we want.

Steve Roesler

Becky, Mary Jo, and Subbu,

Please forgive the single response; am gearing up for a webcast tomorrow and am working at integrating my work and life:-)

For those of us who have been around a while, it is easy to recall a time when no one was bothered by "work-life" issues and the term didn't even exist. Indeed, it's all about "life" as Subbu suggests.

So what happened?

People were told they could "have it all" and encouraged to do so. This nonsense has been marketed with a vengeance to women, changing self-expectations and creating angst that doesn't need to exist.

What is "it" and more importantly, what is "all" of "it"?

I'm afraid that a generation has swallowed the kool-aid and now suffers from the psychological version of obesity: bloated expectations of a life that no one has ever lived.

peter vajda

I've worked with a number of dual-professional couples who are conflicted by confused and competing priorities.

One of the major issues that arises between the partners is a lack of shared values and vision, what's important, and why. Many couples have never have this conversation and then just sort of morph into a dual-professional relationship/couple and then it gets very uncomfortable, even ugly, when they see they're at loggerheads around how to live their life, having children, and other work-life household priorities that are often in conflict.

The collateral damage is that the couple often loses connection and begins to drift apart. A major concern and issue we work with is, "Can two full-time, fully-engaged-in-a-professional-life partners maintain a conscious, healthy, intimate relationship?"

When two professionals spend a great deal of, or an inordinate amount of time, pursuing their careers, is there time to pursue each other on a consistent basis, that is, to continue to see their relationship as “fresh” every day, to continue to ”work” on their relationship consistently, and actually “be” in a relationship on a true like- and love-level consistently?

Or, does something (read: someone) have to give? Does the relationship begin to evaporate to the degree that the two spouses or partners are more roommates, and ships passing in the night, than they are committed and intimate partners? Do the partners lose sight of “shared values” and the notion of a “we” and replace these relationship foundational supports with “my values” and “your values” and “I” and “you”?

Other signs that a dual-professional relationship might be in trouble are:

· The partners are becoming emotionally distant, where just talking to one another is a challenge, where one or both partners feel they are taken for granted, one feels the other doesn’t “know me”, or both are spending less and less time together
· Job-tension is interfering with the relationship; one or both partners are not concerned about the other’s professional stresses or listen with compassion or understanding about the other’s job stress-related issues; one partner takes out their job stress on the other
· The passion is seeping out of the relationship, touching infrequently, speaking less lovingly toward one another and rarely physically holding one another;
· Sex is an issue – less frequent, less satisfying, less discussion about, less loving
· Life changes (birth of a child, a relocation, a death of a loved one or an illness, etc.) become “elephants in the room” – where compromise is lacking, where partners grow distant instead of closer, where events trigger tension and conflict instead of closeness, where worry is a thread that permeates the relationship.
· One or both partners become too-socially-close with someone outside their relationship and/or one or both start to be come hyper-vigilant about, or jealous of, the other; where trust is fading; where feelings of betrayal and suspicion are rampant;
· Fighting becomes the norm; fights erupt over almost any issue or event - small or large; where anger and irritation seem to rule everyday emotions and feelings; where the partners engage in consistent nit-picking, bickering, and nagging in an attempt to hurt the other; where mutual appreciation and respect are lacking
· One or both partners begin to abuse chemical- and non-chemical drugs or engage in repulsive behaviors; where one or both feel they are not in the relationship they had “signed on” for; that one or both partners are disappointed by the relationship.
· The partner are no longer a team, but two disparate individuals; sharing chores and household duties is no longer the norm; the partners are growing apart, not together; there is an imbalance in assuming financial responsibility;
· The partners no longer share power and influence; one or both feel disempowered in decision-making; one partner becomes overbearing, a bully, or more dominating; one partner assumes a passive and submissive role;
· Fun is lacking; the partners have little to no real fun; the partners really don’t truly enjoy one another’s company; stress trumps fun; the partners have selfishly become absorbed in their own interests and activities, ignoring the other.
· There is a lack of spiritual connection; the partners no longer share once-held mutual beliefs; the partners cannot discuss new ideas or spiritual issues;

So, can two high-powered professional folks truly support one another emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and socially? Can a dual-profession relationship be a win-win relationship? Do high-powered couples more commonly grow apart than grow together?

With late night work/dinners, travel, children and their needs and wants, pet care, medical appointments, school meetings, work around the house/living space, shopping and all the rest, can a loving, caring, committed (in deed as well as thought) relationship between two fully-engaged professionals work? Does it work?

We explore questions such as: Where does “relationship” lie on your list of priorities? And do your actions (not just thoughts) reflect that priority? Or, does your relationship have to give and, if so, are the consequences? What compromises do you make; what non-negotiable issues exist vis-à-vis your relationship requirements, wants and needs? What choices are you making when it comes to your relationship? Are your choices conscious and healthy, or reactive and unhealthy? Is relationship failure a real or potential outcome? Are you growing together, or growing apart?

In our work, it begins with an open, conscious, healthy and self-responsible discussion of values, and more importantly, whose values are they (your core values, your ego-driven values, your parents' values, your neighbors' values, the media's values, reality TV values…) and what supports you or limits you from pursuing your core values?

I've also worked supporting a number of couples to separate b/c the values question came too late and the relationship is too broken to repair.

As you say so aptly, Steve, is it a journey. This delicate journey and balancing act requires strength, courage, openness, honesty, trust, love, compassion and a deep connection with one's True and Authentic Self.

Steve Roesler

Peter,

Appreciate the extended foray into the issue and related issues.

Without exaggeration, you may have spent more time on the comment than some spend at one sitting sorting out the relationship.

Janna Rust

Good thoughts, of which I wholeheartedly agree. I like to think of it as living authentically. If we are truly living out what we say we value according to who we are, then we can achieve that fully integrated whole.

Beth Robinson

Yes, I have to agree that I can't have it all right now. I've had different parts at different times and expect that will change again. Although, at least for me, that "life" definition is beyond just spending time with my family.

I work full-time, then go home, enjoy my 20-month old daughter (or sometimes not depending on the cranky level!), then write or learn for the rest of the evening as part of my efforts for professional advancement. I chose this and am happy with it but I MISS doing art/stitching and paying attention to the baseball games or movies that I would watch with my husband (instead of tuning them out like I often do now). I make time with my husband, but the part of my life that was just for me has shrank considerably to just enough to keep myself refreshed.

On the other hand, I spent three years thrilled with my job and creating up a storm in the evening while commenting back and forth with my husband regarding what we were watching.

And a couple years down the road, we'd like my profession to make it possible for him to be there when she gets home from school, even if I'm traveling, or I'll be able to do different types of things in her presence in my free time or we'll change things up completely and I'll be working from home, which would mean I wouldn't be doing other options.

I don't have enough time and energy for "having it all" but I think I'm doing okay at moving around what I do have while making sure the most important parts always have something.

Lisa Gates

Well now you're talking my language! Two things:

Thing one: In a post a while back I wrote about how bored we'd all be if we ever really achieved the mythical nirvana of balance. We'd go crazy if we had to watch a ballerina stand en pointe for 10 minutes.

Granted we could all use a little more breathing, presence and stillness, but it's being out of balance that gives us our lives most, because it's in these moments that we wake up. Our busyness tells us what to eliminate. Our avoidance tells us where to focus. Our worry and questioning show us what we value.

Thing two: Becky Robinson brings up a really important issue--how we deify certain kinds of work as a society, and how undervalued mothering is. And this leads women to join the pack thinking on "having it all." This is why knowing yourself and making choices from the inside out is so important.

2 cents...

Steve Roesler

Janna, Becky, and Lisa,

Thank you all for adding your personal experience to the conversation here. I'm sure it will be both encouraging and thought-provoking for many women.

Gotta put in my own two cents about the undervaluing motherhood thing, which I consider quite serious. In a society that likes to scream "Kids are our future", we see moms who aren't working agonizing about it because they are overtly or implicitly ridiculed in social situations and the various media.

Recently, I wrote about "Noticing". Which was good, because in between client visits I pulled into a Starbucks to grab a cup of coffee and congratulate myself on my mind-bending schedule and what a diligent worker I was. As I got out of the car, a van pulled in next to me. So I stopped to notice. A mom got out and went to both sides of the van, opening doors and unbuckling two under 4-year-old munchkins. Then she put one on each hip and waddled toward the door (yes, I opened the door. I may be self-absorbed sometimes but not a total slug. My mother would kill me). Then the mom had to place her order and navigate digging into her purse while gently placing the oldest on the floor. I thought: "What happens when she gets her coffee?!" Well, she had figured out a system that wore me out just watching.

So I had another thought after watching. Here is a woman who has two smiling kids, makes a series of decisions about how to safely manage them in order to enjoy a nice cup of coffee. She then sat the kids down and, without any adult conversation, had fun with the two little ones who both appeared to be thrilled at the adventure.

I hopped back in my car, exhausted at the thought of having to do that myself.

Want to build a society that gives real love instead of lip-service to kids? That mom would be at the top of my "Watch How She Does It" list.

Lisa Gates

Steve, may I post this last comment on my blog? It's perfect. Kinda funny how the comments are more juicy than the post itself. Guess that's what makes you a good writer/blogger.

marion

Oh la la!
Thank you Steve for starting this essential discussion: Can we have it all?
Reading Becky, Mary Jo, Janna, Beth and Lisa 's personal comments, as well as Peter's "meta position", it triggered some thoughts I'm burning to share with you (even if it's diner time very soon...)

1) This has been the story of my life ever since I graduated from Business School and chose to be pregnant at the same time (classicly with another graduate Student).
I chose to be both a student and a young mom of 23.I graduated, then married, then gave birth to a beautiful little girl (@ByronicWanderer for my Twitter friends)

2) I kept on studying (Psychology this time) , moved town and soon expected another child. I was still dreaming of my ideal job and had started studying theater at a good Drama School. My son was born in Aix-en-Provence and I was coaching my (ex) husband in his career. He succeeded very well in directing a consulting swiss firm (Krauthammer International) specialized in Leadership Trainings...

3 )I was clearly searching for myself and frustrated not to be interacting with adults and more important, not being independant. Our marriage was a failure, the separation very costly and painful and I moved back to my home town, Lyon.

4) Ever since that time, I have been working as a free- lance consultant in human Resources and teaching in business schools and corporate Universities.

5) I met my husband J.M., understood what a commited and loving relationship could be,I stopped working for 3 years after my third child was born.

6) I got back to work (after breast feeding my son 18 months and being the perfect "Domestic Goddess") and found it so relaxing and gratifying compared to some of my busy ectic days at home.

7) Last one, now need to go and join my tribe! I thought the age difference would be too big (12 and 10 years) between my eldest kids and my baby, so we decided to have another child... Surprise! We had marvelous Twins! A girl and a boy!
I am proud to say their pregnancy and birth was the happiest and most challenging times of my life, and I insisted (and succeeded) in breast feeding them both!

All these times, the relentless questions were struggling in my mind: Is Demeter preferable to Artemis (my two Greek Role Model Goddesses!!!)

Still struggling, happily, joyfully, courageously, thanks to the love I'm surrounded with, thanks to my wonderful family!

Wally Bock

As is so often the case, Steve, you've managed to spark amazing discussion. So many of the problems we have grow out of the language we use.

We talk about "work/life" as if they were separate. But they're not. Work is a part of life. And life includes an array of things besides work.

And we talk about "balance" is if there was such a thing. The language implies that there's some sort of "right answer" when all we really have are intelligent choices.

marion

Steve and Wally, can't help stepping back in after I had a long dinner on the terrace with my husband and 4 of our kids (we indeed have 7 all together).

What strikes me is the distinction between comments coming from men, taking a BIG perspective, speaking concepts, language and generalities; and comments coming from women, sharing their guts, feelings and very personal stories.
Both are as valuable of course...

I'd love to be able to take a step back, reflect and make a wise and brilliant comment.

Like Wally Bock just said, life is made of plenty of "intelligent choices".
My point is that these choices are tougher still for women and I see them more as challenging dilemnas.
We find ourselves raised with the belief that we can (and we should) have it all, that we can be independent, collect PhD's and be the perfect wife, mother and still get the time to have a career, write a book and design wonderful healthy meals daily...

Well, it's not that simple... We need to put it into a life's time perspective and , as a young woan, we hate to think of us when we're 50 or worse, more! :))

Another personal family story.

My mother was a brilliant doctor, she married my father, a surgeon.
She struggled to keep on working while raising my two sisters, eventually resigned and stayed at home to take care of her third daughter (me) and be " a better wife" (influenced greatly by her own mother and her in-laws)
She never recovered from this "quitting", became very depressed, and always repeated to us, girls, that we had first to make a life of our owns.
My aunt never married, never had children and became an Internationally recognised Professor and writer at Cambridge. She kept on travelling and lecturing and I envied her life very much.
I saw the dangers of giving up too quickly on one's dreams and "Great Expectations" and to live to please others.
Only conscious choices made with a clear vision of what we want, of our limits too and context, according to our believes and personal values, can build this integrated life.

Are all young women when they start building their family in their twenties or early thirties, able to develop this clear Vision and focus on their priorities?
Do they have support from their young, also struggling husband?
Support from their parents, mothers, grand mothers?
Support from the media and SuperWomen Elastic Girl Image?

I doubt.

We wake up from the dream and find the reality of tough choices to make and patiently learn to wait for new opportunities, other times in life...learn to accept the cards we're given and deal with them...Or rebel, or quit, divorce, break up...

I 'm not saying men have it easier...Well, yes, I am saying that to be honest.

By easier I mean in fact less choices, fewer role models to identify with and a clear sense of identity through work.
There were times in my life when nothing, nothing could be more important for me than to be 100% present for each breath , each meal, each new step of my children.(Especially when breast feeding...) I could picture myself perfectly happy and fulfilled being a "stay at home " mom. You really don't stay at home, you know! It's a 24hrs a day full time job which requires intrinsic motivation and multi tasking.
It requires such a strong character and the best Leadership talents...that you would never even dare required from the TOP Fortune Leaders

I ,like you Steve, often find myself observing people, especially women, young women (like you Steve !!!)in public places. I have a very sweet tenderness for overwhelmed mothers with toddlers and crying babies. Always wonder how I ever did cope myself...seems almost impossible to me: patience, humility, generosity, creativity, LOVE...and strong self esteem and identity not to break down !

The issue, like Becky said, is the status and representation of women as working mom at home that society has forged in our heads.
My aim is to coach Gen Y women , using my generosity, creativity and passion, to reconnect with their enthusiasm and achieve their goals, with a life long plan.
My dream would be to cooperate with women from different cultures, generations to provide on line support and encouragement!

Voilà!
Never thought I would write so much tonight!
My youngest daughter is asking for the computer now!
Her turn...
Hope to read more comments.

BTW, some one told me they could NOT comment on my typepad blog. has anyone had this kind of difficulty before?
What's the remedy, please?

AG

This could just be me being sensitive, but in both your examples the work-life balance thing was solved by the woman taking a step back in her career to stay home with the children. Do you have any examples of a man doing that and not feeling like he is missing out on something?

Steve Roesler

Wally & Marion,

Wonderful of you to stimulate and extend the conversation...Thanks to you both.

Steve Roesler

AG,

No, I don't. The post was the result of a specific story that came about for the reasons contained therein.

Chris Bonney

Steve- Great post and great ongoing discussion. The term "balance" implies somewhat of a static state when you think about it. No highs and lows. Imagine a balanced scale with both sides hanging motionless.

The term I prefer is "harmony". It implies ups and downs still being meshed into something beautiful. Food for thought.

AG -
Yes, I'm an example of a man taking a step back. After two and a half years of being home full time with our son, leaving an executive level advertising gig behind, my wife decided she needed her professional life back.

I left a upwardly mobile job to provide my wife an opportunity to go back to work full time. I was a stay-at-home dad for over a year while she did that. It turned out full-time wasn't the answer for her though. Over the years, we've now found a hybrid where she freelances mostly from home and I am back full time with 1 to 2 work from home days a week.

Without that sacrifice, as it turns out, neither of us would have found the harmony we have today. And, no, even being in technology I did not feel that I was missing out on something while I was at home making mac and cheese and changing diapers. I was too busy to worry about it. ;-)

Steve Roesler

Chris,

Super story--because it's real. And it's literally thrilling to hear how the decisions continued to grow into what was best and what was meaningful, in a loving way, for all concerned.

Since someone asked for a "guy story", would you mind if I used your real-life example in a future post?

Continued happiness and harmony to you and your family.

Feel free to email . . .

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