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Lessons for Life

The balance myth

Expert advice on how to rethink your work-life formula

Jen Weigel

Lessons for life

October 22, 2013

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Work-life balance is the water cooler topic that just won't go away. (If one more talk show host brings it up, I'm going to throw my remote control out the window — OK, maybe I won't but I'll definitely change the channel.) And according author Teresa Taylor, there is no such thing as "balance" when it comes to juggling work and life at home.

"I think it implies equilibrium and I don't think that's how life is," said Taylor, the former COO of the telecommunications company Qwest and author of "The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success." "I think there can be integration, but life is not a math equation that has to have an answer at the end that is so buttoned up."

Taylor said searching for that balance is what causes many professionals to be frustrated, disappointed and angry, causing a disruption at home.

"Typically when I talk with women who are struggling at work, eventually it comes out that there's something wrong at home," she said. "Whatever 'home' is for you, if it's not what you want it to be then work will never be either. That is the cornerstone and it's what you come back to whether it's physically at the end of each day or mentally. So I always encourage people to recognize that's what is driving it and to address it."

Here are some of Taylor's tips for creating harmony both at home and at work.

Make a choice, and stick to it.

"One thing I figured out the hard way was I need to be present wherever I was because I was always in conflict," she said. "I was supposed to be at a soccer game or be in a meeting at the same time. But you need to consciously choose one and say 'This is what I chose so I'm going to really give this 100 percent and not feel guilty and not try to do both.' If you try to do both, you do them both halfway. You can't give your best to both places."

You don't have to be the smartest person in the room.

"It's like a puzzle," she said. "Especially when you are in a leadership position. Everybody has a part and everybody is shaped differently and your job is to put the puzzle together. You don't have to be every single part. You have to delegate. When you give people the chance to show up generally they do."

Stop being so hard on yourself.

"One light-bulb moment for me was when I was rushing to go to lunch with my son when he was in third grade," she said. "I'd been there seven minutes and he said 'Thanks mom. Bye,' because he wanted to go out and play with his friends. And it took me 45 minutes to get there ... That was a moment when I realized I can't be perfect. I can't be in all places. Seven minutes for Jack in that time was all he wanted. He wanted to sit down and have lunch, show me his friends and he was off and running. He still remembers it. And I was all twirled up in that it wasn't what I wanted or expected, but it was just what he needed."

Set time limits.

"One thing that totally helped me get organized was to set time restrictions on things...Otherwise you are never done," she said. "The first 40 minutes is probably your best, so limit what you are doing to 40-minute periods and you will be more focused."

When the going gets tough, don't throw in the towel.

"I noticed something mid-career with a lot of women who have high-pressure careers where, after they have kids, they quit," she said. "Either they physically leave and try part-time or they don't engage to try to get that promotion. But what they don't realize is if they get to that next level they could have an influence and as they move up the chain, have more flexibility and be involved to make decisions to change the culture, and do all the things they dream about if they got over the hump. I truly believe the best-run companies are men and women together making decisions at the top, because we both look at things differently. A guy's glasses are different than mine. But together it's pretty powerful."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel