Two months into the pandemic, I wrote an article about the evolving juggling (and struggling) act that parents—and especially working mothers—are expected to take on. Two years later, employees are still grappling with whether they’ll ever find that elusive balance or continue to adhere to hustle culture.
Would you rather be available for your kids or have a big job?
It’s a weeknight, I’m trying to wind down before bed by scrolling the socials and come across a friend posing the question: “Work, health, family, or friends—pick three.” The obvious implication of the question is that you can’t do them all. Something’s got to give in a life full of critical priorities. It caught my attention and I began to scan the comments, fascinated by the sacrifices people are willing to make, and even brag about.
The answer for me is simple: I’m not willing to sacrifice any one for the other. While I acknowledge it’s a balancing act, I resent the implication that having all of the core pillars in life is impossible. More so, I wish we had more public examples of people who refuse to make those choices.
Find the balance
Since day one on my first job, career has been a passion pursuit. The notion that I would take an extended pause from my career after having kids never factored into my thinking. And as a college athlete, regular exercise has always been a de facto part of my weekly routine. Kids and marriage came later in life for me, but being a present parent and spouse is absolutely nonnegotiable, no matter how ambitious I am on the job. Perhaps I see my friends a little less than in my pre-kids days, but I will never let go of those key people in my life.
Fitting it all in is not an easy task—I’m busy from morning till night and make sacrifices in each area daily. Some days work is incredibly busy and I may have less time for family or those coveted longer workouts. And others, I’m spending more time away from work to coach my girls’ soccer teams or enjoy a hike with friends. For me, balance is a long game, but I’ve managed to make it work and hope I can help others find a way to do so, too.
When my daughter was young, I couldn’t stand the thought of her being the last one picked up from daycare. This meant catching up on work after she went to bed, but it was important to me to have that time with her. I would sneak out the office backdoor to get her before 5 p.m. I’m embarrassed to say, sometimes I would try to make my desk look like I was out getting a coffee so colleagues wouldn’t question my work ethic.
Looking back, I’m frustrated that I felt I had to sneak out. Why shouldn’t I be loud and proud about how important being a parent is for me? Of course, if I’m not getting my job done or leaving extra work for others by leaving early, then maybe I’d have a reason to hide my priorities from colleagues. In hindsight, I realize I was reinforcing the notion that you had to pick between being a hard worker or a present parent.
Today I am proud to say that I make no apologies for calendar blocks to spend time with my kids, husband, friends, or Peloton. I’m open with my team about the other priorities in my life, and how I balance my time outside of work. I also ask them about their nonwork passions and encourage them to prioritize them. I feel lucky to work at a company that encourages balance. Unfortunately this is not the norm for all companies today.
Lead by example
Recently I was interviewed for a story and the topic of gender diversity in the workforce arose. I mentioned that in my early career days there were few female role models in tech. Leadership teams were primarily male, which made it a bit harder to picture myself in a C-level position. We’ve come a long way, and today I know countless successful females in executive positions across the industry. They are celebrated frequently, and I’m personally thrilled about it.
But a reader reached out to me on LinkedIn and posited: “I feel we are surrounded with women execs and in good high-paying jobs even. With that said, I feel women need the opposite role models—women who show that nurturing their home and family is the highest form of investment and will ultimately make us and the world a better and happier place. These kids are tomorrow’s adults.”
Though I wouldn’t attempt to rate anyone else’s highest form of investment, I agree that in business circles we glorify the hustle of big careers and often neglect to celebrate those working hard at home.
Change the dynamic
According to a poll by Comparably, more than 500 individuals across all industries showed that when it came to priorities, family came first, career second, and health third. Relationships and fun fell way down the list. My friend’s social post found the same results—people actively choosing to eliminate one or even two of these things from their lives. To each their own, but it doesn’t have to be like that!
I hope you’ll join me and choose to change the dynamic more broadly and shift away from hustle culture. Sacrifices are part of life, but rather than sneaking out the backdoor of the office, I resolve to leave through the front proudly and unapologetically to pursue my life’s passions.
Let’s show that a balanced and healthy employee is a more productive employee and, perhaps more important, a better human at large.
Stacey Epstein is the chief marketing officer at Freshworks.