Creating a perfect path

A guest post by Annette Gregg CMP, CMM, MBA.

One topic that has plagued working women is the elusive work-life balance. We have seen it come in and out of fashion, with each new generation of meeting professionals debating its relevance and interpretation.

While established figures such as Sheryl Sandberg have encouraged us to “Lean In” and take steps to become successful within existing conditions, Millennials are said to lead with their personal needs before business: “The younger they are, the more your employees view their jobs as something to do between the weekends. For most, early employment has nothing to do with a career path; it is a way to earn money to have fun in their free time” (Cam Marston, Generational Insights). Does any generation have a mastery of work-life balance that everyone has been searching for?

Dealing with guilt and accepting the tension

In the meeting and hospitality industry, travel as well as weekends and nights on the job are common. This makes it even harder to “leave work at work” like a regular 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m., Monday-through-Friday position. If friends and family aren’t used to these irregular shifts, that can add tension to the relationships and make it hard for workers to balance priorities, especially causing women to feel guilty about their loyalties. A 2008 study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology said a larger proportion of women (versus men) felt they did not meet their own very high standards for work and family commitments. What you can be sure of is that there is no secret formula that any of us has mastered. Like Susan Ivey, former CEO of Reynolds American, stated, “The equation to solve for is happiness with the least amount of guilt. There are no right answers here.”

For high achievers (or type-A performers), accepting the tension between the conflicting priorities of work and personal life is tough. There is a desire to solve it or control it. We don’t want to believe that there may be impossibilities with staying in the fast lane for a career and still pouring ourselves wholeheartedly into a personal life. Meanwhile, as we run around trying to be top salesperson and still president of the PTA or adopting another rescue dog, we leave little time for our own health and needs. My dear friend and mentor Terri Breining, CMP, CMM (MPI San Diego Chapter), once told me that I could have it all, just not all at the same time. The reality is, we all have limitations, no matter what superwoman cape we wear.

Embracing the gray: Integration

As a Gen Xer, I thought that the key to work-life balance was keeping my personal and professional lives separate. What we may be finally realizing as women continue to advance in business is that there is no work-life balance, it’s work-life integration—one big, dynamic, challenging experience. It’s all part of a quilt that makes us who we are. 

In fact, the thought that we can compartmentalize different roles we play is a myth. The social theory of Intersectionality proposes that we should think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one’s identity. If we have a bad day at work, it’s tough not to bring that home, and vice versa. 

I began to realize that I wanted to show up fully authentic in every setting, and the more we can all do that, the more successful we will be. If I wanted to create meaningful relationships at work, I had to let them in to what I cared about outside the office. And in my personal life, it is ok that I really enjoy working and building a career. It doesn’t make us any less dedicated to either effort.

Redefine success

In Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women do Differently, author Marcus Buckingham discusses that better education, better jobs and better pay have simply not left women feeling more fulfilled in the past few decades. Instead, he believes that women should stop looking for the perfect balance and instead focus on whatever specific things make them happiest. Flynn Heath and Holt say it another way in Break Your Own Rules: “Set priorities around what makes you feel most fulfilled and have realistic goals that you can build on along the way.” 

The sole author of your success is you—it’s for no one else to judge. To create a path perfect for you, try these four key steps.

1. Know what success looks like, what you really want personally and professionally. Not everything matters the same, so be clear on what matters most. Flexibility? Title? Team management? Be honest if your present position or work culture will or will not support your priorities. Staying in a no-win situation causes frustration for both parties.

2. Be innovative and creative to get what you need. Propose a solution that works for you and still meets the needs of the company.

3. Let go and get over it. Getting over a negative situation quickly is critical to professional success; don’t let it derail your next project or job move. In the end, we are the ones solely responsible for our choices and tradeoffs. And every situation presents us with a choice.

4. Find your voice and support. Learn to say no—or not right now—when needed. Accept that timing may not be right for every opportunity and the door may be open at a better time. A trusted advisor or group at work can help support your efforts and create a culture to support other women as they navigate these issues.

About Annette

Annette, vice president-West for AlliedPRA and a member of the MPI International Board of Directors, has taught at several universities since 1995 and is program advisor for San Diego State University’s meetings and event certificate program. She has also delivered hundreds of keynotes and workshops, and works with companies to create internal programs that increase diversity and develop their female employees.