For many career-driven women, myself included, nothing can prepare you to become a parent. While we may know that going back to work after maternity leave is going to be tough, many of us find ourselves overwhelmed, unprepared, and often at a crossroads. Between having children and handling work, with only 24 hours in the day, how do we make it work?
Women everywhere still manage to hold significant positions across different industries; we simultaneously grow businesses and families. Whether you’re a married or single mother, whether you go into the office or take care of your kids for the day, we are all working moms who make daily compromises, walking the proverbial tightrope in the quest for balance.
My two incredible daughters, Natalie and Christina, are my biggest achievements. They give me constant perspective and are my biggest teachers. With them, I have learnt to adapt to change and the importance of managing how present I am at work and at home. I encourage my daughters to believe in themselves, to dream big and to know that they have unlimited career opportunities and the freedom to create the life they desire. They both love to play dress-up. Some days they wear my stilettos and handbags and other days they are very busy playing with doctor sets. When I was their age, I would play dress-up, too. I would picture my future self in high heels, walking into a boardroom and presenting to large crowds, making my impact. I’ve always envisioned myself as a leader and mentor. This is the role I have worked towards as an associate director at Accounting and Financial Advisory (AFA).
When I started out my career at Deloitte, I was sure I wanted to be a CEO. During my years at Deloitte, I considered what I could do to create opportunities for myself and invest in my future. I took my career in my hands and took charge of my own development, which has worked in my favour. I had the opportunity to work with brilliant mentors who stood up to recommend me for positions I hadn’t thought about. Becoming a senior manager at Deloitte was a milestone for me. It was a moment where I felt the recognition of the commitment I had made to my dream. When Natalie was born and I became a new mom, my ambition didn’t change, but my driver as a measure for success changed from working towards a title and earning power, to prioritising flexibility, exposure and impact. Flexibility is the key enabler that has helped me to thrive as a working mom. It doesn’t amount to less commitment, but instead is a gateway to establishing trust for women in business.
The balance I have created for myself has been hugely satisfying. I have defined what being a mother means to me. I’ll hold client and team meetings, arrange flowers around our home, make it to play dates, spend an afternoon at activities with my daughters and whip up dinner for my family. I am a scheduling fiend. There are days where I’m running between client meetings and moms and babies’ classes, pausing between breaks to check and update my calendar or sitting down for a blow-dry with my laptop open working on a proposal. I am intentional and give myself permission not to experience guilt. It has taken time and has been an intentional process to allow myself to be present as a mom and in my career – there is room for both. It helps, too, that my clients have ‘dress your day’ policies, so I have the choice to do all this in my trainers. I also give myself permission to entrust my children to their amazing teachers and focus on my clients and teams while they are in their care. It can certainly be a challenge on some days, but I’m not ashamed to ask for help.
I am led by the purpose: to make an impact that matters. This has been deeply entrenched in my core, both personally and professionally. I weigh the amount of time I have in a day to the number of tasks I have to get through. I have learnt to use my time meaningfully and consider the purpose in everything I am involved in. Another one of my mottos is, ‘You can have it all, but you can’t do it all.’ Trying to do it all may be an impossible scenario, so stepping back, taking the time to understand what’s important for your own happiness and being brave enough to ask for what you want are a good first step toward setting goals and objectively formulating the right aspirations for your future.
Julia’s advice to find better balance in your life
- In the perpetual rush to tick off our never-ending to-do lists and be all things to all people, it’s easy to lose sight of what we might need to get by. If you’re looking to find a better balance, here’s some of my advice:
- Become a scheduling guru and be intentional with your time. If you want to work flexibly, you need to work smart.
- Single-task. Do one task well and move onto the next.
- Act now for what you want in the future. You don’t need permission to step up and live the life you envisioned.
- Find mentors and mould the best you from a combination of different characteristics learnt from a host of mentors. There is immense value in having someone who believes in you in your corner professionally.
- Do not strive for perfection. Be comfortable with having days where you’ll feel like you’re drowning and days where you’ll be leading synchronised swimming. The quest for perfection is misplaced in the fragile attempt to balance a career and motherhood – it leads to an unfulfilled and disappointed woman with burnout and a lack of balance.
- Use every opportunity to meet new people and build your network. ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’ is not a popular saying for no reason.
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable in relationships, whether it is your boss, fellow moms, or juniors. It is only in being vulnerable that we can be authentic, and we can grow a strong connection to others. The most important relationship I have is with my husband. We work as a team to determine what process works for us so that we are on the same page in life, and I benefit greatly from his support as a partner.
- Learn to be intentional in the management of the guilt emotion so that you can be present both in your career and as a mom.
- Make your health a priority and give time to your wellbeing. You will be better off for it and will be an amazing example to your children.
At some point we have all felt as though we are walking the tightrope, high in the sky, family in one hand and career in the other, striving for balance. It sometimes feels like we may fall, but when equipped with the right tools, like single-tasking, being present and managing our guilt, we moms can look up confidently without being engulfed by the fear of falling because the view up here couldn’t be more beautiful.
AUTHOR | Julia Christelis is an associate director at Accounting and Financial Advisory