After more than ten years in private wealth management at Citibank and J.P. Morgan Chase in New York, I gave up my career when my husband’s job took us, along with our two-year old son, to Hong Kong. After the arrival of a second son in Hong Kong, I returned to the workforce in consulting, starting the day Lehman folded. Several years later, with the arrival of a third son and another global relocation on the horizon, I resigned yet again, this time to move our family to London. Not easily deterred from having a career, I joined the Credit Suisse returnship program in London where I spent two years contracting as a Project Manager in Merger & Acquisition integration. After two years at Credit Suisse, my entire division was eliminated and I found myself on my third break, this time not of my choosing. I spent a year enjoying my children and being a full-time mom for what I hoped would be the last time. I am incredibly fortunate to have been part of not one, but two returnships, having joined Redington’s program in January of this year.
– Lee Georgs
I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey in the 1970s and 80s, the daughter of two PhDs who attended graduate school in Washington, D.C. during the Vietnam war. My parents were participants in anti-war protests when they weren’t in the library researching and writing their doctoral theses. Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine graced our mailbox every month and my parents had as close to a truly 50/50 partnership in raising my brother and I and handling their professional lives as humanly possible. My mother would schedule teaching around our school day or afterschool programs, and could regularly be found in her study late into the night grading papers, writing articles and books and later, after becoming department chair, handling various administrative responsibilities. My father, who was on the research faculty, scheduled his laboratory time around scheduling gaps at home, which often left him at the lab until the wee hours of the morning.
According to Wikipedia, the term ‘Work-Life Balance’ was not introduced in the U.S. until 1986, the year I entered High School.
I don’t remember my parents ever discussing this as a concept; I think they were too focused on their marital balance, getting tenure and churning out their research to worry about much else. The first time I recall it coming into my vernacular was when I started working in the mid-1990s. Proudly in possession of my Bachelor’s degree and recently back from London where I completed a post-grad art connoisseurship master’s course, I landed my first job in the Public Programs office of a Manhattan-based graduate school for the decorative arts. Still living with my parents, my commute entailed a 20-minute drive to the train station, a 1-hour train ride and a 30-minute subway ride from Penn Station up to work at 86th street.
It amounted to nearly 4 hours a day of commuting, and that was when everything ran smoothly. I left my house before sunrise and returned home after dark. I didn’t have time to exercise, see my family or friends or eat properly.
After determining that a not-for-profit career was not-for-me, I left public programming for a big bank that had an art advisory department. Around the same time, my boyfriend proposed and promptly landed a job in Manhattan. Shortly thereafter, we moved into the city’s Upper West Side. Suddenly, I was able to commute in real, actual daylight. I could even walk to work through Central Park, past the sea lions in the zoo! Balance, at last, was in reach. I started running again and having a social life. At that time, the job market was booming and, having decided even the profitable side of the art world was not my thing, I decided to go into banking. In 1998 I got married and joined another bank’s international division, working with clients in Latin America and Spain (I speak Spanish, another nod to parents in academia – sabbaticals and summers spent in Madrid).
And the work-life pendulum swung again…
I had to work my tail off to come up to speed on banking (having never taken an econ, finance or accounting class in my life). My clients were located all over the world and when they came to New York, you dropped everything. I obtained my series 7 and 63 licenses. After a couple of years and a lot of hard work, I took on the Latin American team lead role and applied for the bank’s MBA sponsorship program.
After hours of GMAT prep, essay writing and completing applications, I received bank sponsorship and later, a spot at Columbia Business School. And I thought I had no life before….
In my role as Team Leader, I was tasked with caring for, developing and maximizing the time the bankers on my team spent with their clients (rather than servicing them), nearly doubling the size of the team and dealing with any client escalation issues. At Columbia, I attended lectures every other Friday and Saturday for 20 months, along with attending in-residence weeks that kicked off each term. And if I thought I needed to catch up on econ, finance and accounting knowledge before, I had not even scratched the surface on what I had to cover to get up to speed for business school. The struggle for school-work balance during this period was real and left no room for a life.
As I approached my graduation from Business School, I began to perform the reverse family planning calculation inevitable for any professional woman that also wants to be a mother. This involves assessing when you want to be done with having kids, how many children you want to have, how much time you’d optimally like to have between them and how much time friends around you have taken to get pregnant.
This gets you to a calculation that roughly looks like this:
(((done by 40 – current age)/2 kids) – 3 years between) * 10% probability of immediate pregnancy =
Holy shit, we should get this show on the road
Just when there was some light at the end of the work-school monopoly on my life, I got pregnant.
Sometime during business school (it’s all a bit of a blur) my boss offered me the opportunity to join his management team in a sales support role. This was shortly after 9/11 (that’s a blog entry for another day) and the subsequent implementation of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which had far-reaching implications for our cross-border client base.
I loved the role.
I had the opportunity to work on internal projects (rolling out a new CSM system, training and developing staff, hiring, streamlining ineffective procedures, enhancing our risk metrics, etc.). Plus, working with external clients; (representing our business when we merged with another large financial services firm, partnering with other areas of the bank to leverage the best products for our clients and working with external consultancies to re-paper and complete KYCs on our base and exiting riskier lines of business, to name a few.) Needless to say, with a lot on my plate (literally and figuratively, given my growing belly) work-life balance eluded me once more.
Leading up to the arrival of my first child, I became the most efficient, organized, completer-finisher possible. By my due date, I had finished all but the most essential work projects, the nursery was ready and my hospital bag packed. I then proceeded to return to the office for another two weeks as the bun in my oven evidently preferred to be well done rather than medium. My doctor finally decided on an induction the following Wednesday, 17 days after my due date. By then, I had finished every project on my desk, re-organized my rolodex (!) and purged obsolete files (not to mention laundered all the new-born clothing, painted the nursery and refinished a changing table – first child alert). I bid farewell to my colleagues and headed home on a Friday.
I can confidently say, during this period I think I may have glimpsed work-life balance, it was a beautiful three days. I lumbered to the movies, out to dinner and around my peaceful, leafy neighbourhood.
I was really getting the knack of this life balance thing when I went into labor. As any new mother will tell you, there’s no life balance in the first weeks of parenthood. My BlackBerry gathered dust on my dresser and the only time I wished I’d had it was just after the baby fell asleep on me, and I didn’t dare move a muscle for fear he would wake and start screaming again. In typical American style I returned to work 10 weeks later and can confidently say I have not experienced work-life balance since.
In subsequent years, I’ve added two more children to the family, relocated globally twice, re-launched my career three times and taken as many career breaks.
Throughout all of this, the only time I’ve ever achieved true work-life balance has been as the scales pass the point of equilibrium on their way to imbalance again. It has never been, nor will it ever be, a steady state.
Like any precision instrument, there are times when I have needed to step back and re-calibrate the whole machine. Other times, I have needed to de-weight when things get out of whack. If I can offer any advice on this topic, it is this…
Take care of your scales, oil them when necessary, take the time to zero them out on occasion and monitor them closely. If you do, you’ll end up passing that point of equilibrium more often, so that, at least on average, you’ll achieve the elusive work-life balance we’re all looking for.