The phrase “work-life balance” is surprisingly controversial, sparking heated debates among dedicated employees, hard-working parents and people who fall into both camps. Is it a goal worth striving for, an unrealistic and unattainable idea, or something entirely different?
In recognition of National Amazing Month, The Huffington Post spoke with Randi Zuckerberg — successful media entrepreneur, editor-in-chief of Dot Complicated, and proud mother — to find out how she thinks about and acts on the challenge of balance in her daily life. Her insights reveal that many of us struggle with the same task, offer ways to handle it, and acknowledge that ultimately everyone is responsible for finding a customized solution that works for them as an individual.
Read on to hear the ways Zuckerberg works to create a semblance of balance, as well as the passions that keep her energized and motivated.
What are your thoughts on the idea of “work-life balance?” Is it possible?
I think you can have a great work life and a great life life, but probably not at exactly the same time. A lot of people put pressure on themselves to do everything well every day — be a great friend, be great at their job, be a great spouse, be a great parent. For me, my philosophy has been more about giving myself permission to be “well-lopsided.” So some days being all in on my career, some days being all in on my family, and as long as it balances out in the long run, feeling okay with it and giving myself permission to live my life that way instead of feeling like I have to give half of myself to all of those things every day.
Are your coworkers and family members receptive to that philosophy?
Yes. You know, the nature of my career has been a little bit different because I have been in media. Pretty much every single year, I’ve had one big, marquee project that’s taken me on the road for about two months away from my family. At the end of 2013, I was on a multi-city book tour, last year I had the amazing opportunity to perform on Broadway, and this year I’m actually commuting back and forth to L.A. on a filming project. So I think my family has certainly gotten used to this where for a two or three-month period, I’m all in on my career, and then when I come home on the weekends or take time after that, I’m really all in on my family. I’ve trained the people around me that my career looks a bit different than a 9-to-5 desk job career, and for me, I really feel like I thrive when I can focus on one thing exclusively, be that my career or my family.
And that backs up the current science that explains how we aren’t actually capable of multitasking.
Totally. And there’s a lot of research that shows it makes us unhappy, too. I was reading research that said the single best thing you can do to be happier is to stop multitasking. For me, I know different people work in different ways, but I really need to focus on something for an extended period of time to unleash my creativity. If I’m constantly distracted by text messages and emails and jumping around to other things, there’s no room to go deeper. I’m much more of a one-project-at-a-time person.
You mention going “all in” for your work and your family. When do you go “all in” for yourself?
I think unfortunately, for a lot of working parents, that’s the first thing to fall by the wayside. For me it’s about lots of little things. I try to log my steps every day, so even sometimes when I’m on a call, I’ll do it while walking around the neighborhood. I try to sneak it in, but I could be a lot better about it. Quite frankly, that’s just the first thing that vanishes. There’s a lot of guilt that goes along with splitting your time, especially if you’re a working parent of two very young children. I do feel like any moment I’m not working, I should be focused on my family. I’m not sure if that mommy guilt ever goes away, but it certainly makes it harder to indulge in time for yourself.
How do you go about dealing with that “mommy guilt” in the short term?
I think it’s really about surrounding yourself with people who support you, and are encouraging and helpful. I’m so lucky to have my amazing husband, who, when I tell him I’m going away for these adventures, doesn’t even bat an eyelash. He says “Of course, I’ll step it up and be the primary child caregiver for those few months.” And times I express feelings of guilt, he’s like, “No, you’re doing great for our family, you’re setting a great example for our boys to look up to,” and I think having people that make you feel good about your choices and reinforce them rather than undermine you and make you feel guilty is just an amazing thing. I feel so grateful to have so many people like that in my life.
That level of communication and compromise can be tough to achieve in a marriage. How do you do it?
I think you kind of know what you’re getting into with someone when you first meet them. For us I think we’ve always appreciated that both of us are very ambitious and focused on our careers, and there’s just a little bit of a give and take. When I’m on these big projects, he’ll pull back a little from traveling or doing things for work like that, and then when I’m back, I’ll be the one who stays home a little more so he can push forward with his career initiative. It’s about balance in the long run. We both don’t have to have amazing things going on every single day and at the same time, but so long as we don’t look back over a 10-year period and think one of us comprised more than the other, I think that’s really the key to success.
You clearly have several priorities constantly trying to top your list. How do you manage them?
I have this mantra that I’ve been keeping with over the past few years. Every morning when I get up, I feel like there’s five categories that I choose from: work, sleep, family fitness and friends. And every day, I can pick three of those five categories to do that day. You can’t choose all five — a lot of parents feel that way, and it’s just not realistic or possible. You’re going to burn out. So pick three, and you can pick a different three every day. I always do work and family, and then when possible I try to pick sleep. Although with a six-month-old baby in the house, that can be a hard one. But I do try to sub them out sometimes so I’m not always neglecting my friends or I’m not always neglecting my fitness. As long as it balances out over the long run.
Do you have a favorite way to de-stress each day?
My most favorite thing to do is have FaceTime meals with my boys. It seems really silly, but sometimes I’ll just open up my computer and we’ll all have dinner together, even if we’re all in different parts of the world. Sometimes we aren’t even talking, but I feel like we’re a normal family sitting down and eating dinner together when we do that. And for me, I love to run. I am just starting to get back into it because most of last year I was pregnant, but the year before, I ran 1,000 miles in the calendar year, and I’m really hoping to get back to that place, averaging about three miles per day. Next year I’m going for 1,200 miles. It’s a goal that’s attainable, but it’s something you have to do and think about every single day.
How about meditation and gratitude?
In our family, we’ve always had a gratitude practice. On Friday nights, we are always together. While we eat dinner, we all go around and say two things we’re grateful for that happened that week. I do think it’s important to take that time to pause and feel grateful and appreciative of the stuff in your life. I’d love to start incorporating even more of that.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.