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Global Leadership Speaker and Premier Work-Life Balance Speaker
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Archive for October 2009

The Work-Life Balance Mantra

Work. Life. Balance. Work. Life. Balance. We’ve all heard those words so much it’s as if they have merged together into a simple little mantra which, if repeated enough we will manifest. “Work. Life. Balance.” “Work. Life. Balance.” “Work. Life. Balance.”

Poof!

Look at her! See that career woman climb that company ladder! Look how happy her marriage is! My, aren’t her children beatuiful, successful and happy! She still has time to cook gourmet recipes, clean house and have great sex! Not only that, she still plays tennis, too!

It doesn’t work like that.

Years ago, when I was still married and working as a newspaper reporter, I was drowning in an investigative project that stretched for ten brutal months. It was the most challenging and important work I’d ever done, but as that series became more consuming, I kept moving the mail and my junk to the guest bedroom where it amassed itself into a giant pile of unresolved clutter. One evening, friends gathered at our home before we all went out to dinner. Imagine my horror when my then-husband opened the door to the guest bedroom and said, “Look at this!”  before exposing my secret mess.

In the midst of some of my greatest accomplishments as a journalist, I was exposed for the one failing that trumped everything. I’d failed in my traditional role of wife. I don’t think it was his intent to land that kind of blow on me, but I felt that, if I wasn’t a good housekeeper, I was not worthy. I was humiliated and I was crushed.

Of course, if you come by my house today, you will see that my office doesn’t look much better than the guest room did on that particular occasion. I’ve grown into my identity and balanced myself out by making decisions that let me define success and failure, rather than tradition or guilt. That is how you achieve life balance. You do it consciously and on your own terms.

Know your priorities and know where they rank. Years after that experience, I’ve got my priorities down. God, family, friends, community, recreation, work, and, if there is time, housekeeping and other details. Whatever. You’ve got to drop the ball somewhere, and I choose where mine drops. That is the first step in balancing your soul.

I get so amused by the importance people give to the notion of work life balance. Like, once we get it right, we all let out a nice, long Zen Ohm and all will be well. Balance implies some sort of time/effort equity that few ever achieve in life. I certainly don’t, and I don’t even have a husband or children to worry about.

A woman once told me she needed help juggling all the balls she’s got in the air and I said, “let some of the balls drop.”

I remember former cable television senior executive Gayle Greer showing me how she learned how to balance her soul. As  a working, single parent,  she traveled about 80 percent of the time when her son was growing up. He seldom came along. One day, he asked if he could schedule time for her to meet with a couple of coaches who wanted to talk to her about college scholarship possibilities for him. “It blew me away,” she said. “College? I hadn’t even thought about it. I wasn’t living in the present. I was so intensely holding on to whatever it was, keeping all the balls up in the air. Then it dawned on me, this kid is leaving.” That changed her forever. She never missed one of her son’s football games after that.

Our lives move so quickly that it seems like we are powerless over our schedules. But, we’re not. Truly, if you schedule a day off in your calendar, it doesn’t exist. And you may think you are too important or too busy or too stretched, but you have got to make time so you don’t lose your “self. “ If you think you can’t, or you can’t do it right now, you are wrong. Because, if someone you loved were suddenly in a life or death situation, your current schedule would screech to a halt and you would know what really matters.

Balance is about identity. It’s knowing who you are and what matters most so that you honor your priorities in the way youwant and need to honor them. We sacrifice so much of ourselves to things that don’t matter.

The mantra isn’t “Work life balance.” It’s, “I know what matters and I honor that truth.”

Stop Talking, Start Doing

If I had ten dollars for every time someone has come up to me after an event and said, “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” I could be retired. I’m serious.

It is a sad refrain because, almost every time someone says it, I can tell that the book will never be written.

If you really want to write your book, you write your book. If you truly want to go back to school, you go back to school. If you want to take off a year and travel, you take off a year and travel. Whatever. You shut up and find a way. I’m one of those people who believes that, if you really want to do something, you make up your mind and do it. One of my mentors was a single parent who, when left with two small children, drove a taxi to get herself through law school and went on to become a much-admired judge.

We are capable of accomplishing so much if we just dare to commit and get started. When I hear the “I really want to write a book” line, I tell people of Rick Light, the service manager at my local Goodyear store. Rick once saw a box of books in the back of my car and mentioned he was writing a novel. Every time I see him, he tells me how it’s going. He spends every single lunch hour in the public library. He takes index cards and writes several paragraphs or phrases and perhaps sketches out a scene. Then, he goes home and types it all into his computer. He’s been doing this for a few years now, and I’ve always known he’d finish his book, which he did. Unfortunately, a break-in by vandals left him with no original and no backup. Did he give up? No. He started all over and will not stop until he has a new, better draft. He bolsters his vision with the kind of determination needed to create success.

This is an era where millions of people are rethinking what they will do with their careers. If you’ve been pushed to the edge by a layoff, you probably feel like you are staring into the abyss. But, how you rise out of this adversity depends entirely on whether you can do what Rick did.  Figure out what you want to do, make up your mind to do it, and persevere — through anything by doing it one small step at a time.

I know it is easier said than done — and that’s the point. If it is worth doing, and if your success is worth having, you’ve got to suffer the pain to earn your reward. Don’t judge your success by what comes easy — judge it by what comes hard. My motto is “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” It comes from a Chinese proverb that so simply sets the course that one must take in life because the obstacles are inevitable. They just are. When I started writing my first book, I hoped I could have written, sold and published it in six short months before it exploded onto the best-seller list and made me rich and famous. Things didn’t play out that way at all. I suffered humiliating rejections and obstacles that repeatedly tested whether I had the mettle to earn my success. Getting up every time I fell down required me to find strength when I had none.

Fortunately, I had a support group that kept cheering for me when I couldn’t cheer for myself. Count on your friends to keep you moving forward. There were so many key moments when I felt like giving up, but others inspired me to stay in the game. If you don’t seek out that kind of positive energy, you’ll get stuck in the defeatism that destroys dreams. If you’ve been stopped along the way, don’t give in to bitterness. Reach out to your friends and tell them what you need in order to continue toward a positive outcome.

I recognize that many of us feel like we are stuck in the 2009 vortex of negativity that makes it impossible to break through to do what we really want to do. The old notion that we should do what we love seems to be a luxury in a time when people are worried how they are even going to pay their electric bills. But, I still believe that we can do what we are meant to do — if we really want to do it. The challenges of this hard economic year may mean our steps are smaller and our progress slowed. Still, we can do what we truly want to do.

I always tell the aspiring authors the same thing. “If you write a page a day, you’ll be done in a year. You’ve just got to start it and finish it.”

The question is the same for them as it is for you. Do you really want to do it? And if so, what’s stopping you from getting started?

As Women’s Leadership Evolves, So Do We

I was 17 years old and a guppy reporter for The Bradenton Herald when my editor sent me on my first assignment in the field.

“You’re going to interview Gloria Steinem,” she told me.

It was 1978 and the normally gruff woman boss I worked for was as strong and courageous as any that would follow. The Steinem assignment? Looking back on it, I think Grace Allen gave it to me in order to introduce a young woman into the world of women’s leadership. She could have sent a real reporter, but she sent the kid.

I spent most of my reporting years exposing things that crooked politicians wanted hidden, writing about difficult social issues and covering politics. I once spent a year digging into the death of a baby that the coroner’s office had written off as the result of an ear infection – rather than the result of a beating from the child’s mother’s boyfriend. In the end, that man was sent to prison for life without parole, and the spinoff investigative stories led to the demise of five senior people in local government.

I never felt the slightest bit discriminated against as a woman. If a story was a great story, it made the front page – whether it was written by a woman or a man.

At least, not until the day I was assigned to do a series on domestic violence. Accompanying the story was a front page photo of a woman with two black eyes. Our top editor went ballistic when he came back from vacation and saw that on his front page. He demanded that the series be killed, but I fought back by finding so many newsworthy stories that he couldn’t bail on the project. When the Colorado Secretary of State and a member of city council both admitted to having been battered, it was news. But, I was suddenly persona non grata at work for having written it.
It was the first time I had ever experienced anything that told me the rules were different for women than they were for men. But, they were. It was a hard lesson I had to learn before I could understand the triumph of the women’s leadership movement in the corporate world.

I look at my audiences now and see young women who can’t even conceive of a time when women couldn’t get charge cards in their own names, or could be fired if they got pregnant or wouldn’t get hired because they might get pregnant. The notion that there would be two sets of classified ads – one for men and one for women – seems preposterous. That some bosses would demand sexual favors in exchange for promotions? Implausible.

And yet, ask a woman in her 50s, 60s or 70s and she’ll respond with a knowing nod. “Yep, hard to believe – but true. That’s the way it was.”

They had to fight so hard just to get in the game. Now, so many of us are making the rules. It’s amazing.

I do get discouraged by the lack of women working as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (just 15) or the scarcity of women on boards of those companies (less than 15 percent). But every time I do a speech at a women’s leadership event, I come out invigorated. The notion of a woman vice president, senior vice president or executive vice president is not one that raises too many hackles at most companies these days. They are there. Many – if not most – are working hard to mentor others so there will be more success to spread around.

Kind of like Grace did for me, way back when Steinem came to town.