As I finish this series on professional growth, I’ve shared thoughts around mentorship, developing your resume, public speaking and preparing for the interview. Each of these are important in developing ourselves as leaders. But I can’t leave this series without talking about caring for ourselves as wives and husbands; moms and dads; as friends; as humans.
There are a lot of ideas out there around work/life balance – from mantras around minimal work weeks to encouraging all-in. What I’ve come to believe is that there is no easy answer or solution to balance nor is it something that can be “achieved” and be done with. Rather, balance is an ever-present struggle to attain and maintain because our life and work circumstances are constantly in flux. It is something I grapple with regularly. And honestly – if I wasn’t grappling with it regularly, I probably wouldn’t be a very good superintendent or a very good mom / wife / daughter / friend, right?
I’ll be honest – this was a hard post to write. Comically, it was scheduled to be written/released the last week of school and the weekend of graduation 🤦🏻♀️ (that didn’t happen). And I think it was hard because it is something I work hard at, but also struggle with. I am sure that there are some readers who would look at my life and say that I have absolutely no balance or that my level of balance is unacceptable to them. I would also say that I think it is difficult for anyone to speak about work / life balance while in the midst of it. I am acutely aware that I may look back at my life in 20 years and wish I had lived differently. I hope that’s not the case. But I am certainly self-aware enough to know that it is a possibility. Having shared those disclaimers I will share a few thoughts on how I live this life of being a wife and a mom along with being a superintendent of a stellar school district, an adjunct professor, frequent speaker, and aspiring writer.
The first thing that I would share is that Balance Does Not Happen In a Day.
I would love to say that every day is balanced – that I wake up and spend an hour by myself, in nature, getting grounding for the day and then have a vigorous workout, have a deep conversation with my spouse, make breakfast for my kids, walk them to school, have a meaningful day at work, prepare dinner for the family, attend the kid’s practices, play a board game before bed and then read a story together as they blissfully fall asleep. I’m going to be honest – most Mondays (or Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays. Okay, let’s be honest, Saturdays or Sundays either) do not look like that in my world… While striving for daily balance is great, I tend to look at balance in larger segments:
- I know Tuesday is going to be crazy with a 7am Education Foundation meeting, 4pm District Advisory Meeting and 6pm Board Meeting – but I also know that I have nothing on my calendar past 4:30pm on Wednesday.
- I know that October and April and May look like a catastrophic event hit my calendar but I also know that June and July and November and December look barren in comparison with regard to night-time events.
- I know that I am taking this new position (ie, when I became Supt in Gunter) and that my first 6 months are going to be crazy (as there is no substitution for visibility and building relationships in a new position), but that those six months are not reflective of what that job look like two years down the road.
- I know I work year-round and my job is kind of 24/7 in nature, but I also know that as an executive leader, I have six weeks of vacation built into my calendar (a week at Thanksgiving; 2 at Christmas; 1 at spring break and 2 in the summer) – and that is pretty incredible.
I try to keep a 30,000 foot view of balance and remember that while every day is not going to be perfectly balanced, you can still achieve balance over time.
I would also say that balance isn’t always about physical location as much as it is emotional preoccupation. Sometimes balance is less about the amount of hours that you work and more about the amount of hours that you dwell on work-related things. There are many days where I might be physically home and doing “life” but my mind is elsewhere and my stress level is high.
So knowing those truths about balance, what are some tips for keeping a balanced life?
- Remember Your Why. I love Simon Sinek’s TedTalk on this subject but it is critically important to finding balance. When we’re talking about managing our our emotional preoccupation, remembering your why is crucial. Jon Gordon also adds that “We don’t get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it.” When I feel like I am getting overwhelmed, I take a step back and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. I visit a campus and talk with kids and teachers about the incredible things they are doing and it centers my thinking and my work around my purpose!
- Be Intentional About Turning it Off. Part of the balance is being intentional about how we work at home. In our lives as leaders that is not always avoidable. But I will say that as I have become more cognizant of this issue I will say that it starts with the leader. I find myself asking quite often “do I absolutely have to do this at this moment?” It’s one thing to send an email which is going to be in their inbox and next day versus sending a text which is going to require immediate action. Sometimes I email myself to remind myself to follow up the next day or send an email to the person about whatever it is I need to discuss but there just isn’t that same level of urgency in an email. The bottom line is that the leader drives the culture. If you begin to back off working after hours, your people will too. And everyone will be happier.
- Find an Outlet. There are so many things that we can do to keep our minds (and lives) balanced. I still swim with a team 3 days a week and it is critical for my sanity. I love to read, write, hang with the kids, play guitar, and watch movies… It doesn’t matter the “what” – just ensure you have an outlet to work through the stress that inevitably comes with the job.
- Open the Lines of Communication with Your Family. My family and I talk regularly about our schedules. When they know that this week/month is going to be particularly busy but know that easier weeks/months are ahead, it helps. Help them understand the cycles of the job. I also bring them into my decision-making. When I was asked to speak at a conference in Houston earlier this spring, I presented our spring calendar to my family at dinner and we talked about whether we could make it work and how we felt about it. Giving your loved ones a voice in how/when we lead can be powerful.
- Give Yourself Grace. It is important to give yourself grace. As school leaders, the hours are long and the work is hard. So when I need to take some time here or there, I do and I don’t stress over it. Sometimes that means taking an extra 30 minutes at lunch on a day where I know I have meetings and events that run well into the evening so that I can start the dishes and run a load of laundry before I leave the house. Sometimes that means creating a schedule where you are supporting students at their events but not feeling like you have to be physically present for every moment of every event.
- Make Moves that Make Sense. I mentioned that I am sure some people would look at my life and feel that there isn’t balance. How could a young mom of 2 young kids (at the time) go and become a superintendent? Whereas I looked at that juncture in my life as: God has blessed me with these incredible gifts of leadership and a love for kids and working with teachers and leaders – how can I make a move that makes sense that allows me to put these gifts to use for others? For me, part of finding balance as a young mom was becoming a superintendent of a small district vs. a large district. Sometimes balance isn’t about whether or not you can or should do the job; it’s about finding the right job in the right context that will work for your family
- Build Your Network of Support. I have a great support network and if I didn’t, I couldn’t do this work. My husband works long hours but we share responsibilities with our kids and around the house. My parents were willing to relocate to our area and that has been a huge blessing for us as well, especially when the kids were young. I also have great friends who I call on when I need help with transporting or keeping kids.
- Learn to Say No. This is so important (and something I need to improve in). Not only is it important to learn how to say “no” to some things to make room for the things we want to say “yes” to; it is important for our sanity. I love this quote by Joelle Jay in her book on Personal Leadership: “The real trick isn’t to figure out how to become a master juggler, but to realize that you can only gracefully manage so much before your life feels like a circus.” I have had seasons in my life where I volunteered at church, and seasons where I haven’t. I’ve had years where I’ve volunteered for specific charity organizations and years where I haven’t. I’ve said yes to certain speaking engagements and no to others. We have to look at every decision, not only understanding the positive impact we could have in that situation, but also understanding the other impacts it could have while keeping the big picture of balance in mind.
- Take Respite. As I write this segment of this blog, I’m looking out at Mount Werner in Steamboat Springs, CO (see my view in the quote pic below). We love to travel and do so creatively and inexpensively (road trips, pack groceries, stay in our timeshare, etc.). For our family, it is a game changer. It removes us from our house; our work; our busy lives (and sometimes our cell phones) when we need it the most. We hike. We swim. We watch movies. We play games. We spend time together. As leaders, sometimes we need to step away to better see how to move ourselves and our districts forward.
- Find an Organization that Cares About Your Balance. One of the things I love the most about working in Gunter is that the district (and the community) truly care about my well-being and the well-being of my family. That is priceless. And thus, my charge is to care for the well-being and balance of the people I work with.
At the end of the day, I always worry that I will have regrets about how I lived my life (if we’re honest with ourselves, I am sure we all do). But I also know that my family is super proud of me. My family is my first priority and we cherish our time together every day. And we LOVE the weeks we spend together when we’re off. It may not be a perfect life, but it is our life – and it is full of love, meaningful work and incredible memories (with many more to come!).
As you reflect on these thoughts, I’d encourage you to reflect on areas where you could grow (I know I have plenty!) – but also give yourself some grace and realize that the reason you are plagued with doubts of whether you are balancing your life well is because you care so deeply about those whom you serve and love – in your work and in life!