Rebalance - How Women Thrive

Rebalance - How Women Thrive
It has never been easy to manage a demanding career while also prioritising self and family. And for many women, this challenge is compounded by a persistent pull to meet everyone’s needs. We are trying to be mothers, wives, bosses and managers without neglecting any of these roles: an approach that can quickly overwhelm and often lead to burnout.

This is a frequent discussion for many working women, whether they choose to become doctors, lawyers or academics, in whichever part of the world they may reside. I was at a retreat recently to help celebrate the book launch of three friends who spent COVID weekends walking and talking their way through this conundrum and published their experiences in a new book called Rebalance, on how women can have it all or at least try. I felt fortunate to be in their midst – having experienced many of the struggles myself over the last two decades. We want to excel in our careers, particularly if one is purpose-driven but consumed by guilt, shame and fear at not being available to everyone all the time. And we find ourselves bottom of the list – available to others but not to ourselves.

Their experience seems universal to many working women, whether in the US or abroad, and fittingly captured by Maya Angelou: “I come as one but stand as 10,000.”

The glass ceiling has been broken in many professions and fortunately women no longer need to choose between work and the nursery; they can maintain a satisfying presence in both, but need to know from the outset that navigating their demands requires commitment and organization. The book offers practical life experiences as they navigated their own way through challenging corporate jobs in the US – whether in development banking, corporate strategy or fintech and have come out still standing – and parenting with grace and presence throughout.

I have recently taken on a leadership role that has involved intense transition and each time one does, the overwhelm is real. Great leaders are usually capable of handling multiple responsibilities, conceptualising goals for different departments and leading a variety of personalities. They don’t get all this done by spreading energy all over the place, however, but by setting boundaries on their time and space: harnessing energy to be used on one thing at a time. Boundaries are important – whether for self-care and setting time aside for oneself or whether to say no.

In our cultural milieu, the pressure seems ever on to take care of employers, employees, families and friends, all of which draw energy, and can end in exhaustion and burnout. One of the cases in the book profiles the importance of self-care into one’s life, no matter who or what is calling for attention. It is akin to wearing your own oxygen mask before being available to others. This is tough to do in reality but one has to understand that without well-being, no other action is possible. By taking personal time to that end —whether a walk or yoga after long meetings, meditating, a weekly trip to a spa or joining a support group with other women at work — they are actually making it possible to becoming more available to others.

Tools and self-awareness are key. In thrive sessions and the book, they choose to do so using a tool called the wheel which allows you to essentially pivot and refine where you are at any given point. Anyone can draw a circle – at any point in time – and conduct this simple exercise and choose different aspects to be able to determine where we are spending time and how that aligns with priorities. The exercise is not focused on having it all – we are unable to do so – but it does show that one can shape one’s life in an intentional or innovative way to focus on the right thing at the right time – whether its aging parents, spending time with children and balancing different dimensions of life.

The book highlights different aspects of defining our own wheel of life – whether through boundaries, developing conscious networks of support (sharing experiences and finding means of support) as well as exercising one’s own voice. I find two aspects of this interesting – agency and intentionality are interesting to explore.

We often complain that we are at the mercy of others in terms of managing time. A satisfying life balance is about prioritising, which means that you are consciously choosing what to do next, as opposed to just letting things happen. There are very real limitations on how much work a person can do — when it can be done and for how long – based on the needs of the family or whatever else one comes our way. When sorting tasks in this way, you’ll start to feel less pointlessly busy and spend time doing what’s truly important to you – delegating and focusing on what matters to you. I have spent time with coaches in this process – one is reminded time and time again that we are human beings and not doings. That being human matters and the trials and tribulations it brings –  whether dealing with family or work. We are tasked with compasses through education but not a map so navigating life with grace and presence is difficult.

It is quite a complicated concept to think of: it is not that we try to find balance, but we need to create it ourselves. We have the choice for if we don’t control our time, who else should? Books like this remind us of the need to slow down, be intentional of how we want to align the time we spend on things versus the value that is created as a result.

Having seen these three working mothers up close their dreams, hopes and intentions has been inspirational for me to see, and in some ways shows that one can actually improve the way things are for each of us by being more intentional about our lives and continue to be guided by our own voices, rather than what society dictates. So go ahead – draw your own wheel, mark your aims and see which direction you go! You may find it is the right one for you.