Published April 04, 2014
Millions of women strive every day to achieve the coveted idea of "balance" -- perfectly positioning work with their personal lives, and attempting to make sure there isn’t any spillover.
But try as they might, many fail. Fail at work, at being a mother, at trying to live both of their lives at exactly the same time.
Teresa Taylor, a former C-suite executive at Fortune 200 telecommunications company Qwest Communications, is telling women all over America to throw away that mindset because “balance” is a myth, and impossible to achieve.
The Realization: No Such Thing as Balance
During her career climbing the corporate ladder, Taylor always knew she wanted to be a mother, but she also knew she wanted a high-powered career to go with it.
In an attempt at balance, she recalls a particular day when her son asked her to come for lunch at school. She obliged, moving meetings and appointments around on her calendar to free up an hour to sit down with her son. When she finally made it to the school, weaved her way through the lunch line with her son, and sat down at an all-too-small kids’ table, she had just started to gnaw on the food in front of her when her son's recess began -- just seven minutes after Taylor arrived at school. Her son thanked her for coming and promptly left the table to get on with his school day with his friends.
It left Taylor with a sudden range of emotions, but most of all wondering if her son appreciated the work she’d done to make it to lunch that day.
That’s when she decided there really is no such thing as balance.
Struggling to define her life as a mother and a career woman, when Qwest merged with Century Link in 2010, Taylor was faced with a question: Continue in her career with the company she led from the COO position, or transition into another phase in her life.
She chose the latter.
She said the decision was difficult because she loved her job, but to be as impactful, she would have had to move her family to Los Angeles to be near the company headquarters, and it just wasn’t in the cards.
“I decided that was the time to change it up,” she said. “I joined three public company boards and that was my next step to becoming a woman on the board and have an impact that way."
But she wasn’t done there; she decided to write a book to help dispel the balance myth – the philosophy that became the title of her book – and try to help other women live free of the chains of the mythical idea.
Merge, Don't Balance
Early in her life, Taylor experienced a great deal of turbulence within her family. Her parents married at an early age, and decided to have a family with two kids. But it wasn’t long until her father, who suffered from mental illness, left the family, leaving Taylor’s mother to raise two young children. Several years later, shortly after beginning her college career, Taylor’s brother committed suicide, an event that forever changed her life and her outlook
For strength and guidance, she looked to her mother, a figure who was always at her side and proved to be a role model for Taylor’s life.
“She taught me that you need to pick yourself up and move forward as much as you can,” she said. “She taught me to keep searching, keep learning, keep looking.”
Taylor went on to be the first in her family to graduate from college, the first to hold a corporate job, and eventually she married and had two children.
Watching her mother try to find balance in her life pushed Taylor to also work to find balance, but it didn’t take long to figure out that idea so many women hold on to in their lives simply didn’t exist.
“There’s no such thing as balance,” she said. “Stop searching for it. When you continue to look for it, you become frustrated, disappointed, and typically step out of the workforce completely.”
Her solution: Combine your lives, don’t balance them. And most importantly, focus on your personal life before your professional one.
What she means is, instead of trying to keep one calendar with all of your life’s events, keep two separate ones: One for your personal life and one for your professional life.
About mid-career, Taylor found herself wondering whether she was making the right decisions for her family. She was travelling a lot for work and always wondered whether it would put a strain on her relationship (she’s still married to the same guy, by the way), or if she was short-changing her kids. That’s when she decided instead of dedicating a time for work and a time for home, she would throw them both together. Frequently, she brought her kids to work, and took her work home.
“I’m one of those people who had strategy meetings in my living room. I had all my stuff spread out throughout the kitchen. And once I got past the combining thing, and really integrating my lives, things went much better on both ends – both at home and at the office,” Taylor said.
So what’s her best piece of advice for other women who find themselves in similar situations? Just lighten up on yourself.
“Society and others have created these expectations that we have to be a perfect mom, a perfect wife, a perfect daughter, and that’s not possible. No one can humanly do that. So, let that go. Do what you want to do, what makes you feel good every day, and you will perform the best you can at the office when your personal life is in place."