Thursday, June 6, 2013

Young Professionals Corner: Work-Life Balance and My Experience as a Working Mother

By Marian Millikan, CPA
Senior Tax Accountant, Cherry Bekaert LLP

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of guest posts from young VSCPA members dealing with topics of interest to young professionals. If you have a topic you'd like a future blogger to cover, please email VSCPA Academic & Career Development Coordinator Tracey Zink.

At the start of my public accountant career, I remember learning in an orientation class how important a “work-life balance” was in allowing an individual to experience perfect harmony between their work and home lives. This lasting impression left me eager to figure out the secret formula so I could obtain the perfect balance of happiness.

Two years later, I was happy with my job and home life, but moments that I felt completely balanced were rare. I had considered giving up on my search for the secret formula, but then I realized how you interpret “balance” is essential. There doesn’t have to be a 50/50 split all the time. Sometimes work can take priority (tax season comes to mind), and other times, like vacations, family and friends should be your main focus. The perfect work-life formula is never constant, and will almost never be balanced 50/50.

Although balance can be different for each individual, the key to my work-life “balance” formula is two things: organization and prioritization. For instance, I need a calendar to track my work projects, social events, family appointments, and everything else. Once everything is on the calendar, I prioritize conflicting tasks to determine which is most important and must be accomplished at the expense of the other. Proactively making this choice helps me avoid making last-minute decisions that cause tons of stress, regardless of whether or not the “correct” choice was made. Any working parent can relate to a time when they found out about a party at their child’s school (or God forbid an early release from school) the day before, and had already scheduled an important client meeting for that afternoon. Whenever double bookings occur, it always seems Murphy’s Law is in full effect, and your spouse is out of town or the babysitter is sick. It only took a few instances for me to learn to put my child’s monthly “schedule of events” on the calendar as soon as I got it. Prioritizing these events has saved countless hours of guilt and apologies.

If you have a smartphone, a great resource is using a calendar app that allows you to share calendar updates with family members the instant they’re added. I can see all of my husband’s events, and he can see mine. This has proven to be a great tool for my family, as everyone knows when events are planned, when critical personnel are out of town, and who has been assigned to pick up which kid at what time.  I use Cozi (, but there other great tools out there, too.

Another valuable lesson I learned about prioritizing work and life tasks happened in my first few months as a working mother. I had just committed to completing a tax research and analysis project by the week’s end when I got the dreaded call from daycare: my daughter had a fever. Not only did she need to come home immediately, but my daughter wasn’t allowed back at school for a minimum of 24 hours! Even though this meant two work days turned into two unexpected days out of the office, I was determined to complete that project as promised. I worked through the night and every second she napped. Despite feeling exhausted, I turned the project in on Friday, and was proud of myself for doing it all! I felt like super woman, super employee, and super mom all wrapped up into one. When I gloated about my time management skills to my manager and how I accomplished this herculean task despite the odds. He looked at me a little puzzled and simply replied that I could have had another week to complete the project without a problem. Apparently, all I had to do was ask. So I learned another important work-life balance lesson: if you feel overwhelmed with either work or family, get yourself out of the “I can do it all” mindset and ask for help. More often than not, work and life can be flexible!

There will be times where you have to increase your effort towards family, and there are times that extra effort goes towards your job. It isn’t sacrificing one for the other, but managing the priorities of everything simultaneously. This approach makes me happy, fulfilled, and most importantly, keeps me sane. I feel like a better employee, coworker, wife, and mom. Work-life balance can’t get any better than that.

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