Global Leadership Speaker and Premier Work-Life Balance Speaker
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Stop feeling selfish. All About Balance, Part VII

There is sometimes an assumption that women who climb to the highest reaches of the professional world have hardened into being selfish, not selfless, in their quest for power. The stereotype is that the professional woman thinks she can “have it all” – but can’t—and willingly swaps mommy time to keep moving up.

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But the stereotype is wrong. I am convinced of that because of the way everything stops when I bring up the subject of family in the interviews. If you wonder what matters most to these women, ask about their passion for their work. Then ask if they have children. The tone of voice always changes. It softens. The women open up. Maybe they can’t always be with their family in body, but they are always there in heart. They have felt their share of guilt for not being around every minute of the day, but you can just see that they really have been there, just the same.

I hope their children feel that.

These mothers function in a hard-driving, often-unforgiving level of the business world that constantly foists expectations on them. What is so interesting is that those expectations seem so insignificant when you contrast them to what these women expect of themselves—as mothers. They truly want to do right by their children.

Finally, these serious questions of balance don’t apply solely to women with family obligations. I interviewed  Sara Lee executive Kim Feil who showed how easy it is for those of us who don’t have children to become so consumed by work that all other signs of personal identity are lost. The demands that children and family make of mothers are so immediate that balance decisions are always right there in full view. But when you are not being pulled on by outside priorities that so obviously need and deserve your attention, it can be easy to slip into the self-neglect that Feil experienced. Life becomes work, work, work. You don’t have much else to talk about with outsiders. Or to think about when you go home. The good news is that you can wake up to the fact that there is a full, exciting, colorful world out there, just waiting for you to make the decision to embrace it.

I get perspective on this when I think of one of the newspapers where I worked as a reporter. I worked very hard as a reporter, but I noticed something about my job.

If I took a long lunch hour, the paper still came out. If I went on vacation, the paper still came out. If I switched jobs and moved away, the paper still came out. It came out every day, whether I was there—or not. So many of us delude ourselves into thinking we are so indispensable that we must make great personal sacrifice to save the institution. But there aren’t a lot of situations in which the business will sink because we take some time to ourselves.

And, forgive the heresy here, but it is only business. Life—in all of its glory—is far more important than the immediate task at hand.

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books and speaks to corporations and organizations about courageous and creative leadership strategies.

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