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Friday, May 4, 2012

Work-Life Balance

I spent the last four days in Dallas at the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual convention. I was a junior in college the first time I attended a United Convention (in 1976) and I have seen a huge increase in the number of women attending and, more importantly, employed in significant roles in our industry. In 2003, I was honored to be the first woman chairman of United Fresh in 100 years.

On the last day of the convention, there was a brand new workshop called “Women in Produce: Inspiring the Next Generation.”

The panel was lead by an executive from Costco Wholesale Corporation, Heather Shavey, and included three major women leaders: Dan’l Mackey Almy, owner of DMA Solutions; Steffanie Smith, board member and former CEO of River Point Farms; and Cuban native Mayda Satomayor, CEO of Seald Sweet International.

Heather masterfully asked how each woman navigated through their careers, used mentors to grow professionally and faced challenges. The discussion ended with a question about work-life balance.

That seems to be the common question I am asked by young women getting into business: How do you balance the demands of professional growth while wanting a happy and satisfying personal life? I never seem to have the perfect answer and, frankly, it is something I struggle with on a regular basis.

Read how these four women create a work-life balance:

“Balancing my entire life is just too much. I try to take it a week at a time. This week I will be balanced in this way. Next week I will have a different strategy.” I thought this was the most brilliant approach ever: Break it down into manageable parts.

“Marry the right guy. Meaning – you need to marry someone who understands the pressures and responsibilities of a career and is supportive, understanding and is willing to help.” I agree and feel that I am so lucky to have such a supportive husband.

“Be present, wherever you are. When you are at work – be fully at work, and not feeling like you are missing things at home. And when you are at home, have no regrets about being fully present and involved with your family." I call this compartmentalizing – and I have found it to be my secret to maintaining my sanity!

When I was heading to the airport to go back home to Orange County, this panel was still top of mind. As I settled into my seat, I struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me.

Will, only a few years younger than me, is the managing editor of over 40 editorial offices across the country, holds 3-hour daily conference calls with all his writers AND actually edits columns for The Huffington Post! He and his wife, a graphic artist, have two teenage kids.

Of course, I brought up the workshop and he almost jumped out of his seat when he said, “Work-life balance is a challenge for men, too!” He feels both men and women struggle with the pressures that double income households face, as compared to older times when the man worked and the woman was home to take care of the children and household duties.

Will told me that it’s difficult for him and his wife to come home after a full work day and figure out who will make dinner, interact with the kids, pack lunches and do laundry. Who wants to even talk about the day they just had?

That’s when it dawned on me. Work-life balance is now a universal issue, not just a women’s issue.

If you are struggling with this, realize you cannot do it all 100% of the time, and that it’s okay to ask for help. Take a break, admit you’re human and take a few things off your plate, or you will be relegated to a stressful life that will frustrate you and those around you.

One thing not mentioned in the panel was the importance of communication with all of your partners. Whether it’s at work or at home, we all have partners and sometimes need to talk with them about our needs in the area of work-life balance.

Being Superwoman or Superman is not reality, nor is it necessary.

Fortunately, there are more and more companies who do value the importance of work-life balance. As an employee, sometimes it’s a little scary to speak up and let your boss know what your needs are. But, as demonstrated above, today’s leaders recognize that there are many ways to have work-life balance.

So, don’t be afraid to ask for it…

Karen

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