Work Life Balance – Journey or Destination?

Work-Life-Balance-Sign-post-by-Stuart-MilesThat elusive lifestyle where we devote equal amounts of energy on career and all of the other important areas of our lives – health, family, faith – is the balance that we women continually strive to strike. Imagine what our lives would look like if we actually found that balance? What would your day look like? Here is how I envision my balanced day:

Sleep: 8 hours; Work: 8 hours; Family: 3 hours; Self: 2 hours; Spirituality: 1 hour; Key relationships: 2 hours

It’s fun to fantasize about having a day like this! The fact that I might only get 6 hours of sleep, 1 hour with my husband and the rest is swallowed up by work and my commute does not discourage me from trying to carve time to exercise, to spend time with family or to meditate some time during the week. I learned to adjust my expectations knowing that what I have to deal with every day does not stay in discreet buckets. Work seeps into home time and home issues seep into work time. Allowing that interplay has helped me feel more balanced.

One of my colleagues is a master time manager. Her schedule is quite intimidating. She will admit that her calendar makes her unavailable for the random conversation at work. But, it is her way of achieving work-life balance. I share that to say that there is no right formula for how we try to achieve balance. We try different tactics until we find the one that works for us.

To better navigate the journey towards work-life balance, I found it’s best to leave behind all of that baggage! You know, the guilt baggage about not meeting our own unrealistic expectations of being super-Woman to all. The destination of work-life balance is not the utopia we believe it to be. I think work-life balance is a moving target and the state we seek changes according to our goals and priorities, which change at different stages of our lives. So, work-life balance is not a destination but rather a never ending journey of awareness of how we spend our time. Over a lifetime, the search for work-life balance is our way of questioning, testing and discovering our life’s purpose.

If you’re frustrated because you are feeling your life is unbalanced, try different tactics until you are devoting time to priority areas in your life. But then, let go of the guilt and the belief in a final destination. Focus on the journey you are on to discover your life’s purpose.

If you’re life were more balanced, what would it look like? I look forward to your comments!

Much Love,

Running for Office Politics

Campaign_buttonFor most of us, tomorrow marks the beginning of our first full week at work and we might be thinking about how we plan to exceed our career goals this year. Will 2013 be the year for that promotion you’ve been waiting for? Perhaps you see an opportunity for a more visible role at your job and want to put your hat in the ring? You might have a solid plan that includes putting in extra effort, working longer hours, taking on new a project, anticipating your boss’s every need. But, if your plan does not include navigating office politics and running your own campaign, your plan may not get you to your ultimate goal.

The definition of ‘Politics’ (in its non-government form) is the aggregate of relationships of people in society, especially those relationships involving authority or power (www.dictionary.com). My career started in a large company and as my tenure progressed, I began to understand the importance of office politics. I didn’t like it because there were “rules” that, though unofficial, carried a lot of weight. I learned quickly that I could not predict how things would go because it often depended on who was involved, and their relationship to the project, to a team or a team member. Sometimes the real decision makers were people I never would have expected. Power, I found, was not always wielded by a person with the highest position but by someone with a larger sphere of influence. When I transitioned to the nonprofit sector, I was naïve in believing that office politics were out of my life for good. The truth is that politics play a part in every organization.

As important as it is for us to understand how the “game is played”, we won’t find a playbook anywhere in our organizations. Politics often dictate the direction and culture an organization will follow and have, this is why it is imperative that we piece together the hints and clues that are woven into the organizational culture in order to figure out how politics work where we work.

So how do we figure it out? We need two skills. The first is intelligence – of the emotional kind. EQ, or emotional intelligence, is our ability to perceive and interpret people’s emotional and nonverbal expressions. You already have EQ if you are a mother, spouse, or if you have a family. Our families are our training grounds for our abilities to sense how someone is feeling or reacting to what we have said or done. But at work, we need to utilize this skill much more, and beyond the small group of people that we work with. In meetings, you will perceive when some of those “rules” are at play by observing how emotions and reactions drive the agenda and stall or propel decisions. The second is people skills.  We need to get to know people and figure out how they are connected. Those connections sometimes reveal how things get done. Strive to develop relationships with people in different areas of your organization, and at different levels. Be genuinely interested and curious about how things work, why they work the way they do, and ask questions. Have fun sharing a lunch or coffee with people outside your work group and simply get to know them and their history with the organization. The more people know, the more you will learn about how politics work, and the larger your sphere of influence.

The next step is to become a politician (please stop screaming, I promise, you will be okay). Imagine that your office is a community where you are running for a political seat and ask yourself, what would it take for a majority of the people here to vote for me? How could I earn an overwhelming win? You know that people vote for people they like and who they feel are trustworthy, reliable, honest and care about the things that are important to them. For the people in your office community to vote for you, they have to know you. Share with people you meet what you do, your achievements and your aspirations. To win their votes you must build a glaring (and lasting) reputation for being reliable, trustworthy and honest. This requires discipline to steer clear of office gossip, keep your word and meet deadlines, and collaborate and help others to be successful. To win their votes you must be honest. Strive to be a master of communications by being clear and direct, and not leaving anything to assumption. Don’t avoid difficult conversations and always seek clarity and understanding. Of course you cannot befriend or get to know every person in the organization. But, your deeper understanding about the politics in your office will inform you about who are the key people you need to know and who need to know you. They may not necessarily be the person with the highest position.

To reach your career goals you must go beyond working harder. Navigating office politics and running your own campaign as a politician within your organization should be part of your career strategy.  Be social and use your EQ and intuition to read people’s social cues. Become genuinely interested and curious about the relationships and connections in your organization, learn who are the real decisions-makers, make connections and build good relationships with people outside your work group, and win the vote of others by earning a glaring reputation for being trustworthy, reliable, honest and caring.

You have my vote!

Much Love,

The Value of Women Mentors

“Will you mentor me?” is a question that women of this generation are very comfortable asking. But, women of my generation, generation X, we learned to put up a tough exterior. We worked as hard as we could, hoping that no one would catch on that we were unsure of what we were doing. I was fortunate to have good mentors, but they did it purely by chance. My mentors have been my male colleagues or bosses

 

Mentoring is not a new concept, but is a new word in the career vernacular and how mentoring happens is more structured than it used to be. In the infancy of my career, mentoring happened for me in the day-to-day of my job. My boss, Carl (not his real name) allowed me to take on as much as I wanted, and his feedback was constant. He would explain the why’s and how’s of corporate culture, and would invite me to meetings so that I could learn how to behave (and how NOT to behave) and interact with other teams.  Carl was a character and how I manage is a result of the lessons I learned from him.

 

But, I feel that I missed out by not having a woman’s perspective. There are issues that affect women in the workforce that only another woman can understand and provide feedback on. The time a male team mate pulled on the shoulder straps that held up my skirt, I didn’t know what to do. It did not seem to be sexual harassment, but a line had been crossed that made me uncomfortable. No other woman worked on my team. Should I keep quiet? Should I say something and possibly ruin the team dynamic while bringing more attention to the fact that I was the only female in the group? I wished I had another woman to talk to about the inappropriate jokes at the office, being passed up for a raise while a male colleague was promoted, or the pros and cons of putting off pregnancy to focus on career. 

 

Young women today seem to understand the importance of having women mentors, and they’re not afraid to ask. But, those of us who have another 15 to 20 years in the workforce are struggling to make a connection. Some of us feel isolated and still operate under the old system of tough-it-out and don’t let them see your vulnerability. We may believe that we’re too experienced to have a mentor at this stage, or that there simply aren’t any women in our environs that are wiser than us. Let’s face it, mid to late-career women are just pulled in every direction and have crazy schedules. Adding mentoring or seeking a mentor is not an appealing proposition.

 

How do we get ourselves the support we need, at the stage of our careers? I wish I could tell you that it is simple. I wish I could give you a link, or a phone number that you could call. Seeking a mentor that is appropriate for where you are in your career is going to take time and effort. And then, it’s going to take commitment.

 

First, we need time to reflect on what area of our career we would like help with; to set goals for this area of our lives; and to talk to lots of people about what we’re looking for. For me, my friends were a great source of ideas and connections. We have to make the effort to meet with friends and acquaintances who are potential mentors or who can make an introduction. We will have to make the effort to share our story and our goals with our would-be mentor and ultimately make the ask, if the person fits what we’re looking for. Finally, we have to commit to follow up, and maintain the connection with our mentor. Remember, if a mentor doesn’t call you back right away don’t assume that it is because she is not interested in mentoring you. It is our responsibility to follow up and keep the communication going. Of course, if she continually ignores you, then move on.

 

One final word. As structured as mentoring is supposed to be, you never know what valuable lesson you will receive from, or give to your mentor. The beauty and value of having a woman mentor is that women can relate at a deeper, more emotional level and we are more open to discuss the life experiences that affect our lives and careers. There is no minimum time limit for mentoring to have an effect on you. You may meet with someone only once and receive the most wonderful wisdom you needed to hear. But, if a long-term friendship develops, all the better!

 

Much Love,

 

PS. Sorry no graphics today – I only found photographs of women gossiping, chillaxing with friends, or talking about birth, birth control or tampons. WHAT’s UP WITH THAT?!