Posts Tagged ‘career planning’

I was a bit surprised to see an article about working and parenting in the Openers Section of this Sunday’s NYT Business section. I’ll admit, I thought there would be more pressing things to write about. But I appreciate the coverage of a topic that is, of course, close to my heart. There are three key issues that the article brought up for me.

1) Being highly involved with your kids and your career means that you sometimes have to temper your ambitions.
I read Baby Makes Three (and Book Makes Four), the story of Alexandra Levit’s joyful birth of her first baby and her latest book in the same month, with interest and empathy. I freqently find myself in situations were I feel I need to temper my career ambitions so that I can protect my time with my monkeys. And I’m frequently unsure if I’m doing the right thing. But, like Levit, most of the time I feel lucky to have a career I enjoy and a pair of loving monkeys who I get to raise. 

2) It is possible to create a good situation for juggling family and work before you have kids. But it’s about demonstrating your value, not setting a schedule.
Levit writes that the advice from her mentors was to not worry about juggling family and work until her children were born. Only then, according to the advice, would she know what she wanted. She ignored that advice and is grateful that she did. I think that the advice was partly right and that ignoring it was partly right.

It is true that you don’t really know how you’ll feel about working vs. staying at home until you’re a parent. I’d even go as far as to say that even once your kids are born, you may change your mind a few times over the course of several years.

Which is why it is good to partially ignore that advice. Clearly establishing your value to employers, clients, or anyone else who who matters before you have children will most likely buy you the flexibility you need to figure things out after you have kids. It doesn’t mean you’ll know what works. It just means you’ll be more likely to be able to figure out an arrangement that works.

3) It’s easy to focus all your energy on your work and your kids. But if you don’t spend time on yourself, you won’t be the only one to suffer.
I did start to get a little worried about Levit, though, as I finished the article. She writes that with limited time to spend with her son and limited time to work, she has to maximize every moment. That includes not going to the gym or grabbing a coffee. This worries me because what I’m reading between the lines is that Levit is making time for work and for her family, but not for herself. I think that’s an unsustainable bargain, and one that’s likely to leave her depleted. Instead, I’d recommend that she make time to also do things just for herself. And I’d bet that they’ll somehow end up energizing her work and her interactions with her son.


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I finally had the chance to chat with a fellow preschool mom who I’ve been wanting to get to know better. We’ve talked about work a couple of times at pick-up and drop-off, and have been trying to have coffee for oh, about a year. Her work schedule makes mine look like, well, a part-timer who works from home most of the time. But today, on a fluke, because she missed her flight to China, she had a few extra hours. So we had coffee.

We talked about the usual stuff: kids, husbands, office politics, the juggle. And then she brought up one of my favorite theories ‘the big job theory.’ The idea is that even when two parents work outside the home, and even with a great nanny, it’s difficult for both spouses to have big jobs. If one partner has a demanding job, the other needs to cut back, or pursue promotions less aggressively, so that he/she can pick up the slack at home. If both partners are career oriented, what seems to happen is that the big job shifts, from person to person, as each partner’s career develops. Sometimes couples do this on purpose. And sometimes it just seems to happen over time. But I can’t think of one family I know where both partners have a ‘big job’.

So, my friend was telling me that her prior job, the one where she had line responsibility for a very big and very public part of a public company, was such a big job that she can’t believe she did it for so long with small children. And she did it with her husband’s support, because his job was less demanding. Now, she’s shifted to what she calls a ‘less demanding role.’ No P&L. Just a bit of travel: 10 days in Asia this month, 10 days in South America next month, 5 days of travel in January and February. And her husband is free to pursue his career goals more aggressively. At the time, I agreed, and we discussed how nice it was to be able to trade that role back and forth. But later, as I thought about it, I almost laughed out loud.

Most people, who hadn’t had her prior job, would think of my friend’s current job as a big job. And her former job, well, I don’t know how they would think of it. Impossible? I think of her current job as a big job. But that doesn’t really matter, because it’s all relative. And if it feels manageable to her, well then, it’s managable.  Secretly, though, I’m still impressed.

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I read Marci Alboher’s Shifting Careers blog in the New York Times on Saturday, and have been thinking about her Friday post it all weekend.

She pointed to Marc Andreessen’s posts about creating a successful career.  He makes some interesting points in the entries. I especially like what he has to say about making sure that you expose yourself to opportunities to fail, so that you can learn how to handle tough situations.

He also says that his advice is “aimed at high-potential people who want to excel throughout their careers and make a significant impact on their fields and in the world. These posts are not (emphasis in original) appropriate for people for whom work/life balance is a high priority or for whom lifestyle is particularly important.”

This is the part that Marci takes issue with, writing “I believe that it is possible to make a significant impact in one’s field and in the world while also having at least some modicum of work/life balance, even if it may not feel like that every day.”

Now if you’re reading my blog, you know that I tend to agree with Marci that you shouldn’t have to choose career achievement orsatisfaction in other parts of your life. You should be able to have both. But Andreessen’s advice is directed at young people – people starting out in their careers, even folks who are still deciding where to go to college and what to major in. I wonder if the advice is appropriate for people in that stage of life.

To excel and make significant impact, don’t you need experience, skills, expertise and even wisdom? And to excel and make significant impact that before you’re 50, don’t you have to give your career your all during some part of your life, so that you have something to offer when you want to dial it down a bit?

Here’s where I’m coming from: There are some things that I’m really good at. I can do them better than almost anyone in my company, which is why I can do my intense, exciting and gratifying job only four days a week –  sometimes I do it so well that I do it better in four days than most other people would be able to do in five days. But I wasn’t always so good at all of these things. It took time, dedication, and commitment. In fact, it took almost all of my time for many years of my life.  

I work with a lot of young people, Millennials, who feel like they should be able to quickly rise in the working world without sacrificing other parts of their lives. Is it wrong to ask them to give up that belief? Is there really another way to excellence and impact than working your butt off?

One answer to these questions is to encourage young people to choose a career that they like doing enough that it doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice when they give their jobs a lot of their time. That way it feels fun and good and compelling even when it does “take over your life” for a period of time. But is that a cop out? Is there, in fact, another approach, that you can take from the beginning of your career, that I and my generational cohort didn’t know about?

I’m not sure. I’d love to hear some other folks’ opinions.

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