By Susan Hitchcock
Founder & Host Emerita of Women in Leadership
First and foremost, I gave up long ago on pursuing a “work-life balance.” It’s a myth, and as a goal, it sets you up for failure and lots of guilt. In my early career in the corporate world, I experienced very little balance. While I truly had a passion for work, the demands were extremely high, and my personal life took a hit. Most women of my generation, especially in management and leadership roles, were competing for respect and responsibility on an un-level playing field. To achieve our ultimate career goals (cracking and breaking the glass ceiling), we felt like we had to give 200% to our jobs. Of course, that’s really impossible.
For me, the decision to change direction after almost 25 years in the professional world was totally transformative. Transitioning to a new company and role outside the corporate world opened an entirely new opportunity and perspective. Soon I discovered for myself what a difference work-life integration could be. I define it as the ability to pursue purpose and passion in your work and your personal life. I worked just as hard but my heart was completely in it, I loved what I did, and I felt much more a part of every result. And – my personal life improved significantly.
I also realized that finding time to volunteer in the community in various leadership roles not only met some of my personal needs to contribute but was often directly or indirectly related to helping grow the business I was a part of!
For every decision I made, I asked myself, “How does this align with my values, the things in life I truly care about, e.g., empowering women, helping them grow as leaders, and supporting those who need a hand up?” I started saying YES to those types of opportunities and politely saying NO to those that didn’t align. That for me helped to create a feeling of “a full life” – one that allowed me to be ME, to be present at work and home or in the community as ME, who I am.
And, as I found out, I achieved more than I ever had when I was trying to “balance” work and life.
I think the best thing leaders can do is to model work-life integration. Instead of never mentioning your interests outside of work, share the fact that you have purpose and passion not only for the business but for your family, the community, and society at large. As a leader, it’s ok to acknowledge the challenges that your employees – and even you – often have with childcare, health issues, or parental care, etc. It’s part of life. People are people with our strengths and our weaknesses, our aspirations, and our challenges.
A Work-life Integration Model
Here’s a suggestion. If you want to see a quintessential example of work-life integration, look up John Yates, attorney at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP. During his outstanding career, John has received at least ten awards, the latest being the 2023 Leaders in Corporate Citizenship Ann Cramer Lifetime Achievement Award from the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He not only is highly successful in his career, but he’s one of THE most highly respected individuals in ATL. “John has an outsized appetite for connecting people, especially if it’s for the betterment of Atlanta.” He knows how to integrate purpose and passion for work and life, and he does it seamlessly and with just the right amount of humility and confidence. You just can’t find a better role model than John Yates.
That’s also why he was honored with a Turknett Leadership Character Award in 2011!!