On Work-Life Being

This piece originally appeared in the Spring edition of Inside Memphis Business

Last night, near the end of his nighttime routine, my young son asked me to sit on his bed. “Mom, I’m the happiest kid I know. I have a super-long hug for you.” Time stood still as he embraced me with pure love.

After lingering for some time with the emotions of his words and expressions, I unpacked my “work-box” (having abandoned the briefcase years ago for lack of functionality) and began my nighttime routine. It generally consists of completing outstanding projects from the day, responding to emails, and planning for the coming days.

I’m often asked about my take on managing a life as a woman business owner and lawyer, sole parent, and communitarian with many interests and inspirations and drive. Having ruminated about these issues personal to me and in a broader social, economic and spiritual framework, I’d like to coin a new phrase for discussion around the personal and professional satisfaction. For me, the notion of “Having it All” has never been the measurement of success. The idea of “Work-Life Balance” is an illusion and can’t serve as the standard for happiness. Consider instead “Work-Life Being,” my personal mantra, as a path to identifying the choices and meeting the challenges of professional achievement, committed parenting, and self-care in a political and social climate that still needs changes for women.

I am not a loud voice in advocating for universal daycare, better schools, a higher minimum wage, and other equalities. I hope I am, however, serving a role in helping other women envision the possibility that ambition and achievement and a satisfying personal and family life (and fashion and beauty, of course) all can co-exist.

The idea of “Work-Life Being” is to reject the stress, guilt, and anxiety of the expectations (your own and others) and cultivate the ability to be present at work, at home, on the soccer field, packing lunch, paying bills ... so that whatever your choices are, you are increasing your chances of feeling fulfilled, happy, and content because you are alive in the moment and not distracted by the past or future.

I have two partners who motivate me with their intelligence, expertise, professionalism, and ethical approach to the changing norms for women in the workplace. One of my partners challenged the social and political norms of Southern women as she pursued degrees and positions of influence and leadership paving the professional path for other women in the law and beyond.

The other partner has experienced the evolution of women in law and generally in the workplace through the last decades. He has adapted, promoted, and invested in women in the workplace. I am proud that our partnership places the needs of working mothers high on our priority list offering benefits and schedules that allow security and flexibility.

Women are not alone in having to evaluate if and when to advance their careers, to have children, and define themselves as a professional and a parent. Men also want to be more active parents and move away from a one-dimensional work life. They understand that more hours aren’t necessarily more value either at your job or with your children. We all want to have not only integrated lives but satisfying ones.

Perhaps when considering how to achieve work success and prosperity and a meaningful family life, the direction to go isn’t upward but inward. Being on the top shouldn’t be the goal; rather, being in the center is the right place. By moving inward, we can discover what we really want and need and can identify the obstacles to contentment. There are times when work needs all my attention and intention. Other times, my son and I need me more than any client. There’s no chance for balance. It’s in the “off-balance” where the real lessons can be found and where we experience the truth of our character and the values we hold closest.

When I’m with my son doing homework or cheering at a game, “Work-Life Being” reminds me to put the iPhone away, forget about what I need to do when I get home, and to just be a parent and engage in the energy of my son. As I’m boarding a plane for business travel, preparing for a presentation, or up all night with a project, “Work-Life Being” is my way to let go of any guilt or worry for missing a play, serving take-out, or rescheduling time with a friend and to focus on service excellence.

Needless to add, there are people who face great daily challenges and are struggling to hold on to what they have. The inequalities in their daily lives need attention and solutions. Perhaps living the life you want and helping others live the lives they want, will make a difference that can be felt everywhere. Don’t strive for “balance.” Celebrate “being.” May we all share my son’s feeling and “be the happiest kid I know”.

Rebecca Adelman