Ah, the elusive unicorn, the dream, the holy grail. What all women strive for: Work + Life = Balance.
When I’m speaking to a large group, I’m often asked the same question around how I manage work/life balance. My response is always simple, and usually not well received.
“I don’t,” I answer. “Work/life balance is a myth only asked of women, and we need to stop asking about it and stop striving for this unattainable goal.”
The audience predictably gasps here.
I stand by my statement. The image of the uber-mom, rolling up to soccer practice in her SUV, looking not only presentable but professional with a gym-fit body, running a meeting from her phone while handing sliced oranges and water bottles out the car window, groceries in the back seat, skillfully managing multiple children and deadlines, dinner, travel schedules, neighbors, the household and late-night emails — has got to go. I need a nap from just writing this description.
But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at someone who supposedly “has it all,” Beyoncé.
She’s a powerhouse, no doubt. One of the highest paid singers in the world and the gold standard of success for many women. There are even mugs espousing “you have as many hours in the day as Beyoncé.”
What many forget is that Beyoncé has a massive team of 200-plus employees. Her monthly expenses are in the millions, and include her vacation rental, jets, a live-in chef, publicist, business manager, bodyguard, dietician, personal trainer, hairstylist, and a maid.
All to be the Unicorn, to live the legend.
Let’s take this example to the corporate world and look at Jane Fraser, who recently became the first female CEO of a big bank, Citigroup. When recently asked about her “work/life balance,” she responded with, “it was the toughest thing I had to do” and that she felt “exhausted” and “guilty.” Fraser clearly doesn’t have as many hours in the day as Beyoncé, and neither do you.
Any male CEOs who are on record as saying they’re “exhausted” and “guilty”? Not one.
Men are unapologetically imbalanced in other areas of their lives because they have prioritized career success.
Fraser also mentions the support of a great partner. Great! What about the women who don’t have a great partner, or have partners who aren’t so great? What if their partner is working, too, unlike Mr. Fraser, who left his job to run the family?
Or, what if the female executive doesn’t have a partner at all? Then what? Who helps, the village? The nanny? Her mother? The Unicorn?
Fraser certainly needs and wisely chooses to get help because she can afford to with a CEO salary. Strike two for the illusion of work/life balance for the other 98 percent. How is a working mother, up-and-coming college graduate or senior-level executive with teenagers at home supposed to achieve it all?
Simple. Stop trying.
Instead, focus on what you DO have, the knowledge that work/life balance doesn’t exist, and the opportunity to make strategic decisions with your family, your partner or with yourself. These are choices and you have the right and the capacity to make these choices unapologetically. Just like men.
Easier said than done, I know. But here’s a start: Make the conscious decision now to draw clear boundaries around balance and stick to them. If you’re a leader, lead by example. Check your own expectations and forsake expediency for harmony. Simply recognizing that your life choices aren’t other people’s life choices is a very big first step.
As we come out of a tumultuous 15 months, and get ready to kick off summer with a little more joy and a little less anxiety, take a breath. Leaders, allow the women on your team some grace. Look back on your career and think about your struggles, then provide the resources and space for your team to experience this differently.
After all, that’s what Beyoncé would do.