At the time of writing this post, google index had 90,20,000 results when searched for "work life balance". My post will be the proud 90,20,001st article.
I am sure I am not going to say something so new that has not been said in those 90,20,000 articles but, since I have to have a say in this topic that is so close to my heart, my life and my head, I am going ahead with it (Narcissism and all)
For the rest of us, who are truly fortunate enough where the need is not so pressing, are we complicating the situation because we want to have our cake and eat it too? There are just few current realities (harsh maybe) that I think we need to just accept and figure out how to deal with them instead of fighting them:
- Careers in any industry have become increasingly demanding. Very few professions can truly boast of a 9-5 working hours.. at this point I can only think of teaching (not always) and banking (maybe) and some other blue collared jobs governed by strict union rules. Even with all the benefits companies offer towards family friendly work environments and policies that the government mandates, for an executive who is trying to compete in a global market with fierce financial targets, our day to day work-life balance issues like daycare timings and such don't necessarily feature as top of mind items.. so, if he/she calls an important meeting at 6:30 PM and is forced to do so 3 times a week, there is nothing much we can do about it.
- If double income is a must for your family's financial commitments, then you will just have to figure out a way to do it. And, most families seem to somehow figure it all out and with the right attitude and some give and take, most families seem to come out fine with few battle scars to show. Ofcourse, in each country, society and culture they manage differently. For example, the childcare and support system in the US is more organized and professional while it is lot more dependent on family, extended family, friends, neighbors and maids here in India.
- If double income is not an absolute need, then it just means you are blessed and can actually afford to pause, evaluate the reasons why you want to work outside of the home and accordingly have a setup that you are most comfortable with to handle work and family. It is still important to keep remembering that you cannot have your cake and eat it too and so it is important to set realistic goals and expectations of yourself (remember, nobody can have it all).
If we correlate this to corporate jobs and careers, this is how consultants in any industry work. They get valued and paid purely for their expertise and experience and in most cases they get to choose how many hours they want to/can work and generally have better control on their timings. Yes, they may not have the career growth in terms of corporate titles and such but, their value in the market doesn't diminish as long they do good work and keep updating their skills as per the market needs. Other than the pure domain skills, to be successful as a consultant there are quite a few other skills we need to learn and acquire like PR/networking and the ability to sell and market ourselves so we always have enough work in hand to keep us as busy as we want to be.
Hindsight is always 20/20, I wish I had this epiphany many many years ago to build the necessary skills and consciously move towards becoming an independent consultant for few years. So, my current mantra that I would give to any young professionals (especially women) regarding work-life balance would be - invest time and energy during the initial part of your professional life in becoming really good at whatever you do, at this time go the extra mile, burn the midnight oil if needed to become truly top-notch, don't be shy to lean-in, promote your skills and strengths, take time to build a professional network that knows and values your worth and when there comes a time when you want to lean-out a bit and have better control of your work hours which you may not get in your corporate setting, then explore consulting gigs. Consulting lifestyle also has its ups and downs, one of which is an unpredictable monthly income (unless u are very good in managing a steady flow of assignments) and so be ready for that.
These consulting assignments help you be in touch with the industry, will force you to keep updating your skills as per the market needs and whenever ready, you can still go back to pursue a corporate career path.
To close, with some clear goal setting and realistic expectations and good time management, I think most of us can sail through those peak professional years which happen to also be the most demanding family years and can hope to get to the other side with a healthy body and sane mind to enjoy our retirement (is there still such a thing?... well, we will figure out when we get there).