When we’re juggling work and family life, we’re bound to experience moments of pressure or exhaustion. If anyone had told me as a teenager that I would have 9 children and a big job in finance, I would have laughed – nervously. It’s all too easy to feel inadequate at both home and work – as if we’re always in the wrong place. A lot of that pressure comes from ourselves and the first step to managing it is to see that. We can’t be in two places at once – all we can do is to try to be completely focused on those we are with and what we are doing at each moment. Here's 6 important things I have learned over the years about work-life balance.
1. Create your own definition of success
Take time to consciously work out what’s really important to you – not anyone else, just you. Write those priorities down, in order, if that helps! Ask yourself, honestly and independently, what really makes you feel happy and fulfilled – now and as you envision the future. Are you living your life consistent with those goals and priorities? If not, it’s time to make some adjustments.
2. Ask for help when you need it
None of us have all the answers, so asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength – it shows confidence. In my experience, people love to be asked! And that includes practical help as well as advice. If you are struggling, tell someone (ideally your partner, but if that’s not possible, try to find a friend or neighbor to talk to). And help others where you can, too – it’s incredibly empowering, as well as so important to pay it forward.
3. Find a mentor
You may not be at a particular "cross roads" but it’s important to have advisors and allies in good times as well as those more challenging moments. I have had several great mentors in my career who I turn to again and again – and others who’ve reached out at particular junctures. The late Dame Helen Alexander, a champion of women in business in the UK, spent a precious afternoon with me while knowing that her time was limited (she died a few months later). Helen gave me quite stern and very valuable advice as I contemplated different career options after leaving a long-time employer. That afternoon proved a turning point for me and I shall never forget her generosity.
4. Learn to listen
I am often in a rush and my biggest regrets are when I don’t spot that someone really wanted to talk. School plays and sports days are important but if you have to miss one because it clashes with something essential at work, it will be ok. The missed moments for important conversations are another matter. I’ve learned, through making mistakes, to specifically ask. When one of my children is unusually quiet or seems stressed, I simply say ‘Do you want to talk?’ Then I drop everything and listen.
5. Don’t beat yourself up! And stop wishing for more time
If you’re doing your best, make a conscious effort not to beat yourself up. A mother of grown-up twins, then one of the most senior female bankers in America, gave me some great advice. She told me that she had learned not to waste her life contemplating how things might have been if she’d made different decisions when her children were young. She had learned that everyone – including her children - were happier when she made the best of the life she was living, enjoying her time at home, rather than wishing there was more of it.
6. Remember what you do may inspire your children
My eldest daughter Florence is a musician and now also a mother of a five-month old boy. A journalist from a national newspaper probed her about growing up with me as her mother. She said "When women give themselves over to their children it is amazing but it can also be inspiring for the children when women can juggle working and family. My mum …has shown me anyone can do it."
Helena Morrissey is the head of personal investing at Legal & General Investment Management and the author of A Good Time To be a Girl: Don't Lean In, Change the System, out June 5th.