By Lauren Crain*
When you hear the phrase “work-life balance,” the image that comes to mind for many is women juggling baby bottles and Blackberries. However, the speakers at the Emerging Leaders Network’s Making Life Work for You panel on April 30 challenged the audience to see how the concept of work-life balance applies to all professionals: men and women, entry level and senior leadership.
Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc. and author of the book, Tweak It: Make What Matters To You Happen Every Day, would take issue with the last paragraph’s use of the “B” word: balance. Yost argues instead for the use of the phrase, “work-life fit.” Balance, as she explained, is a deficit model, implying a zero-sum equation where work and personal life are competing forces. Fit, on the other hand, is a flexible model where the ratio can change from day to day or week to week.
Whatever you call it, one important thing to remember is that the work-life fit conversation does not start in your boss’s office. Toni A. Harris, Director of Career Services and Alumni Relations at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, emphasized that professionals should be proactive in managing their commitments, and not wait until a crisis arises to address the issue.
However, even the most proactive individuals can find themselves overwhelmed at times. In these moments, it is important to enforce boundaries you have already put in place. According to Dr. Brittney Cooper, an assistant professor of Women's Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, saying “no” is a skill you have to learn and practice. While it does not come naturally to all people, it is something everyone needs to do because, as Dr. Cooper noted, intellectual energy is a finite resource.
Following up on this point, Kamilah Aisha Moon, author of She Has A Name, emphasized that you teach people how to treat you, recalling a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., “A man can't ride your back unless it's bent." “So don’t bend,” she added. However, you can enforce boundaries while also maintaining a positive attitude in the workplace by highlighting what you can do, offering to be flexible and work with your organization so that all parties’ needs are met.
In addition to these broad perspectives, the panelists also offered specific tips on how to achieve a better work-life fit, including: keep one calendar with work and personal appointments, do not let other people set your priorities, engage in self-care, do not isolate yourself, have a passion outside your vocation, and celebrate small successes.
Throughout the wide-ranging conversation, one theme was constant: work-life fit should be important for everyone. Whether it is your first day on the job or whether you are a CEO, work-life fit is an essential component in promoting healthy organizations and healthy individuals.
* Lauren Crain is Co-Chair of NCRW’s Emerging Leaders Network, and a Program Officer at Scholars at Risk.