Embrace Choice

This is the 11th post in our Women of HR series focusing on career. Read along, consider the advice and we invite you to comment with insights of your own.

“How can I find time to attend this networking event when I am already spread too thin between work, my 2 year old, and my graduate studies?” asked one thirty-something overwhelmed professional/student in my office a few months ago.

Great question.  And one I didn’t have the perfect, fix- it solution for. If I did, I would perhaps be better at my daily juggling act as well.

A typical morning for me often involves acquiescing to my 3-year-old’s desire for a little Yo Gabba Gabba before preschool, chasing my 18-month-old who has found diaper cream and proceeded to spread it all over her cherubic cheeks, and hopefully catching a quick glance in the mirror to ensure my ensemble is professional enough to greet the recruiters looking to hire the MBA students I work with.

As a career coach working with graduate business students, I have found that more and more students are coming to me with similar questions about balancing motherhood, professional careers and aspirations, and graduate studies.  No small feat.

I have taken to reading many expert opinions on the subject in hopes of gleaning tidbits of advice that will provide solace and practical solutions for the students I work with. There seems to be a general consensus among career experts and life coaches on this topic of work life balance. The advice given is, stop trying to balance it all because you can’t, seems contrary to what we, in corporate America, have been focusing on for the past few decades since women came into the workforce in numbers.

Think about it.  Giving up the goal of a perfect balance of equal parts time, passion, and energy in all aspects of life actually takes a huge weight off of a working student mother’s shoulders.Rather than continually beating yourself up because you couldn’t give your children the same amount of time and energy as you did your work that day, instead focus on the time you do have with your kids.

Productively managing multiple roles in life can be accomplished through making choices that match your values.  Working overtime is a necessity if your boss comes to you with a last minute deadline. When your child has a lunch concert you make a choice to put that obligation first.  If your Organizational Behavior professor piles on the number of papers due in a week, you might have to block out weekend time to study at the library.  All choices are valid and none of them makes you a bad mom, worker, or student.  Instead, it is an incredible exercise in prioritizing.

Making choices that match your priorities takes away guilt, provides confidence in your lifestyle, and helps you focus on the positive.  Give yourself the freedom to give yourself a break and stop aiming for balance.

Aim for choice and embrace the fact that we as women have one.

At least focus on that when you are lamenting the fact that you are headed home from work at 5:30pm and you still have a night of dinner making, bath time rituals, and paper writing ahead of you!

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

Maggie Tomas

Maggie Tomas works at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota as Associate Director and Career Coach in the Graduate Business Career Services office. Her background includes teaching and career counseling at the college level, namely at the University of St. Thomas, University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), and Brooks Institute, a well-known film, photography, and design school where she served as Director of Career and Student Services. She is a contributing writer to several blogs and publications including Opus Magnum, Women of HR, and Job Dig.


Judy Lindenberger

I am reading an interesting book right now, A Million Miles in A Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, and the author makes a few points that I think apply … somehow. The first is that most people who are abused go back to the abuser because it is familiar. In other words, we don’t like change … we like familiarity. The second point that I think applies is that, in order to change your life, you need to change how you think of yourself. For example, a friend of the author decided to put money he did not have into building an orphanage. His wife and daughter thought he was crazy but a day later the wife came to the husband and told him how proud she was of him and soon afterwards the daughter broke up with her loser boyfriend (because she now saw herself as a hero and that did not go with dating a guy who was not nice to her). I like the idea of rewriting your life and living as the character you want to be … whether that be supermom, a person who lives in the moment, or a marathon runner or whatever ….

Maggie Tomas

I completely agree that ebbs and flows is the perfect way to approach the wonderful chaos that comes with being a working mom!

Andrea Ballard

Instead of balance, I embrace ebbs and flows. Sometimes my family is going to get more of my attention, because they need it. Sometimes my business will. Acknowledging the ebbs and flows, and not trying to make everything balance perfectly, is a whole lot easier. I love the idea of embracing choice rather than balance!


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