I have two options, both fantastic: I can attend a business conference dedicated to empowering women in advertising… or my daughter’s school presentation. It’s an age-old case of conflicting work and family events.
At first glance, it was a no-brainer. I would go to my daughter’s performance. But then I started researching the conference. It was dedicated to women in leadership and covered topics I’m incredibly passionate about. I could listen to others who have been in my shoes, discuss how to rise through the ranks, and learn more about supporting diversity both in advertising and the world around me. It looked awesome.
Suddenly, the choice felt impossible. I could spend time learning from other empowered women in my industry and advancing my career, or I could choose to celebrate my daughter and support her on her own journey to becoming a strong woman. Both were important celebrations of women, but ultimately, I still had to decide between doing something for my career or being there for my family. While it was important for me to celebrate women in my industry, I had the feeling that in my daughter’s eyes, if one person needed to be at her performance, it was me.
I’m not alone in this struggle. Working parents have been trying to balance professional and personal demands for decades. Do you choose to stay late and miss family dinner? Do you get to the office early and miss doing morning drop-off? Or do you stretch your timeline at work?
Instead of letting these decisions eat away at us, we should allow them to empower us. After all, just having, and owning, the ability to make these decisions is empowering in itself. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you have to weigh your personal versus professional priorities:
Go with your gut when choosing between work and family events
You usually know the right answer. What feels right is usually just that. But if your gut isn’t talking, take a beat. Find a quiet space and think. What will make you happiest and most fulfilled? Go with that one. And if that means family comes first, so be it. Or if you choose to stay for a presentation with your team, so be that, too. As long as your co-workers feel supported and encouraged and your family members know that they are number one, it will all pan out.
While you can’t be in two places at once, your support can. In fact, your resourcefulness is probably one of the reasons you are where you are today. Use technology to help you be present when you can’t be. Or tap into the best resource of all: your support group. Work or family, there are people with whom you share a mutual trust and respect. Who better to ask for help?
It’s all too easy to tell yourself that having to choose between work and family in the first place means you’re failing. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to shine in both places — just in different ways. And sometimes, at different times.
Don’t waste time feeling guilty
Make your decision and stick with it. Feeling guilty will only prevent you from benefiting from the decision you laboured so hard over. Don’t spoil it. You make the choice to be somewhere, and you make the choice to enjoy it.
If you choose work, you’re not saying work is more important than family. If you choose your family, it doesn’t mean your career suddenly doesn’t matter. Those are extreme labels people might like to impose on you, but it’s more complicated than that. You’ll have the opportunity to make another choice in another situation, and if you find some semblance of balance in your choices, you’ll find balance overall.
Separate and conquer conflicting work and family events
Wherever you choose to be, be there 100%. Dedicate work hours to work and family hours to family. For example, let’s say you chose to go to your kid’s basketball game and leave work two hours early. So what? Deadlines are met, and the team knows you’ll be there to support them the very next day. And if you have to be absent at home one night, your family will rest easy knowing that the time you spend at home is dedicated to them.
Carve out time just for you
Ah, that impossible task of finding me time. The reality is, if you don’t invest in self-care, these decisions will be way harder than they need to be. Rather than approaching them with a calm, clear mind, your fears may take the lead, making it difficult to stay on task or be totally present with your family.
Just remember, your decision doesn’t mean one aspect of life is more important than the other. Make sure your family knows they always come out on top. They may lose a few battles, but they win the war. Meanwhile, you may find that these decisions make you a stronger leader at work by building empathy and time-management skills. If you can successfully balance family and work life, at least most of the time, you’re probably a much better leader, personally and professionally, than you’re giving yourself credit for.
So back to the original dilemma: You’ve got two options, both centred on empowering and supporting the women in your world. Which one do you choose?
About the author
Lexi Harper, associate creative director at RAPP, embraces her passion for fusing ultimate precision, relevant tonality and an intimately understood target to craft break-through creative and lasting, memorable experiences.