Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Highly Successful

I really am just an average working mom.  I’m not in management.  I don’t have hundreds of emails in my inbox every day.  I don't spend my days in back to back meetings.  I don't often find myself working late at night or travelling away from home.  But even as an average employee, finding balance with family life is hard. 

Like many, I've always been fascinated by the lives of the important and powerful.  Lately, with talk of surtaxes in Ontario for individuals who earn more than $500,000 a year, and the Ann Romney/Heidi Rosen-renewed mommy wars in the US, I've become even more intrigued with the career paths and daily lives of the highly successful.  The government officials, the top executives, the big wigs.  How do they get there?  How do they do it?  Do they have children? How on earth do they manage?  Can they really balance family and career?
I recognise that some very talented people excel in everything they do.  These exceptional people are highly respected at work, run marathons, chair volunteer committee, regularly make gourmet meals, decorate gorgeous cookies for hockey team fundraisers, and design elaborate costumes for Halloween parties and dance recitals.  So perhaps the highly successful CEOs, and political leaders with children are the type of highly intelligent, passionate, driven, and well-connected individuals who excel in everything.  Perhaps they can be both important and powerful at their jobs, and also be wonderful, caring and attentive parents.  They just probably never sleep.

However, I imagine that there must be more to being both a parent and highly successful in your career than simply being exceptional.  I mean, even the exceptional can't possibly be weighing big decisions which affect whole populations while watching their son chase a soccer ball, or deciding on the investment of millions of dollars while listening to their daughter whine about what skirt she wants to wear.  It isn't really possible to do it all, is it? 

I've heard two different answers when I ask the question:  "How do they do it?"  The first is, they don't.   The second is, they just do.

So if it isn't truly possible to do it all, these powerful executive parents must have amazing support networks.  Partners and families, for sure.  And I guess that once a certain pay-band is acquired en route to the top, live-in nannies, cleaning staff, cooks and chauffeurs are employed which allows additional focus on work and further career development.  Maybe then, they can sleep.

But if they really are doing it all, how well are they doing?  At some point, something's got to give.  Unfortunately, I suspect that for most highly successful moms, it's the me-time, the chance to relax, regroup and be herself that is lost.  And I'm sure they don't ever sleep.

Maybe the 'they do' and 'they don't' responses are just a matter of perspective.  In the pull between family and work, for the high-powered executives and leaders, the priority must be toward the job, right?  The work-life balance can't really be so balanced.  And I guess that's a decision that gets made somewhere along the career path.  Whether its made by or for them is probably another matter altogether.
Sheryl Sandeberg, COO of Facebook recently shared that she makes it a priority to leave the office at 5:30 each day in time to have dinner with her kids.   Although one has to believe that she also does a lot of work in the early morning and late at night to compensate.  However, she suggests that it is possible to have a highly successful career and a balanced family life.  She advises that a strong support system (i.e. a husband able to share the responsibilities) and having a well established job and career path before starting a family have enabled her to manage.  I'm still not convinced that she sleeps very much. 
Although I sometimes think about furthering my career, or 'getting ahead', I'm certain that I'll never be a highly successful, powerful executive.  And I'm certainly glad that as an average working mom, my biggest decision of the day is usually "What am I going to make for dinner?"  And usually, I manage to sleep.

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