One fine, slightly windy day in August this year, I found myself in hospital in labor and very close to meeting a freshly minted baby girl. Fast forward approximately 11 weeks, and I'm sitting at my work laptop tapping out emails (and procrastinating via this blog), and waiting for the little squawk that signals wake up time for the divine Little Miss.
While I would prefer not to be at work so soon, I am lucky for now in that I get to work from home. While I have ventured into the concrete jungle of the city a number of times for meetings and half days in an office to test out how I'll go working away from Little Miss as well as juggling my laptop, work phone and a breast pump, I am doing the bulk of my work from home. In a few short weeks, I'll be back down south and back on site: donning PPE and full throttle back in to project life. A very large part of me is dreading the return to work.
I adore hanging out with my baby. I think I have totally scored (so far) in that she is calm much of the time, doles out the most gratifying of smiles, and sleeps through the night, meaning my tiredness is not as bad as I had expected. Breastfeeding has been a breeze, and during those hours spent feeding her not only is there the joy of moments spent entirely together as one happy unit, I have been churning through books and TV series with gusto. Those few weeks of not working actually felt like a rather pleasant little holiday (albeit housebound and with good heapings of domestic chores). But the weeks were numbered, and I have been back at work in some capacity for several weeks. This week has marked a fuller return to work, and in a few weeks once I'm back at site, I will be 110% there. As the project ramps up, I know the expectations of the workplace will be high (as it is for everyone in our team).
As I extremely tearfully waved goodbye to my mum this week after she helped me out with trialing me working back in the office, it all felt a bit much. Missing the lovely days spent together with Little Miss, and feeling the pressure of my job and the demands of a stressful workplace, I wondered what the hell I was doing. Just as I asked, the Universe delivered an answer.
Back in September, I wheeled Little Miss in her pram to a Brisbane Writers' Festival event featuring Kirstine Stewart. Kirstine Stewart - VP Media for Twitter and named one of Canadian Business's Power 50 of 2016 - had recently released Our Turn, a book that joins the ranks of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. A passage that I read last night really resonated with me (thanks, Universe):
...along with the elusive "have-it-all" brass ring we've been primed to capture, the other concept that does a disservice to parents everywhere is the idea that you should strive for work-life balance. You may as well hunt unicorns. The very word "balance" suggests that somehow you can give equal importance and time to all corners of your life at the same time. The person who loses most in that equation is you; if exhaustion doesn't get to you, the guilt will.
The idea of balance doesn't reflect how the world works, or how we truly spend our time. It's not about achieving balance, it's about flow. We swing from one priority to the next, pushing hard at work and then pulling back to be with family. How hard you push and pull depends entirely on the moment. There are high-pressure times on the job when deadlines loom, trips need to be taken, or tough decisions have to be made, and you work flat out for a long stretch without making it home for dinner. But there are other times when a sick child or parent or spouse, say, or simply a much-needed vacation, takes precedence over any job. The key is to aim for a career in which you can earn the freedom to achieve work-life flow.
While the pursuit of freedom can sometimes be a trap in itself, I think we are now in an environment where many workplaces are more flexible than ever. As I work from home, I realise I needn't tie myself up in knots ensuring the green light of "available and working" is blinking on my Outlook profile at all times. As long as my work gets done, I should be taking this window of time and the enormous luxury I have of these remaining weeks of workplace freedom to spend time with Little Miss. While dealing with perceptions once I'm back in the workplace will be another challenge in itself, it is not the challenge for this moment. For the next few weeks, I have earned the freedom to focus on Little Miss as well as still contributing to my Project team - so I might as well just enjoy it rather than fretting about something that is probably all just in my own head anyway.
Perspective is everything. What do you think of Kirstine's words?