By Jennifer Ward • February 24, 2010•Writers in Residence
This was my life before law school. I ran a piano studio. I taught oodles of lessons each week, mostly from my home studio. Occasionally I also played "ambassador of music" and travelled to my students’ homes to teach on their pianos. In the process I came into contact with dozens of different families. I watched, listened, and learned as they struggled with the same issues of balancing that I struggle with today.
With four girls, two ambitious parents, and guinea pigs, the family I just described was one of the busiest. Some weeks when I arrived for our regular appointment the family wouldn't even be there. Usually this meant that they had made other plans and forgotten to tell me. This family was happy. The children were well taken care of. Both parents had ambitious careers. In order for all of these things to happen, they were comfortable cutting corners on some of the details of home life. And sometimes things fell through the cracks.
Other families I worked for balanced their lives through meticulous organization. In one case, the parents were both successful professors and took turns being in charge of all the afternoon and evening activities. They established a schedule at the start of each semester and they stuck to it. One parent would handle pickup, after-school activities, dinner, and homework on Monday and Wednesday while the other parent had the freedom to be entirely absent those nights. Then they traded roles on Tuesday and Thursday. These parents were committed to having one of them involved in every aspect of their children's lives from 3:15 until bedtime. In order to do this they had to cut corners. They each made the most of their days when they were free to be absent from home, and they worked late into the night after the children went to bed.
A third family I worked with took more of a divide-and-conquer approach. The father commuted a long distance to work each day, and it was very important to the mom to be present at her children's after-school activities. In order to balance this with her busy realty business, she did much of her work by phone and email as she went with her kids from school to activities to homework to dinner. She was with her children every afternoon, but then she cut corners by working seven days a week and having her home life and work life constantly intertwined.
Each family I worked with made different choices about how to balance, delineate, and blend their home life and their work life. As I noticed the routines they adopted and the corners they chose to cut, I learned more about my own comfort with these lifestyle choices. Through this process my own personal balancing act began to take shape long before I started law school or gave birth to my daughter.
If you are curious or concerned about how to sculpt your own work-life balance, you might enjoy exploring the issue in the same way. Observe how others manage balance in their own lives. Then consider what corners you would be comfortable cutting. Are you a person who would be comfortable focusing undivided attention on your career by hiring help and letting go of some of the details of home life? Or are you somebody who won't be comfortable unless you are participating in after-school life some afternoons or evenings? Would you be comfortable staying in constant contact with either work or family via telephone and computer? Are you comfortable keeping a rigid and carefully prioritized calendar, knowing that it may mean you have to schedule your life weeks or months in advance with little room for spontaneity?
As you consider your own balancing act, my advice is to watch those corners. Notice the corners that other people cut and talk to them about why they make their choices. In the next twelve months I plan to do exactly that and to share some of my experiences along the way.
Now tell me, what would you like to hear more about from me? And what corners have you chosen to cut in your life? I would love to know, so I invite you to share comments freely.