For many of us, balancing work and personal life is the central ingredient in the cake of life. The all in our 'having it all'. We are now able to respond to a work email on our phone as we cook dinner, or conversely to book a weekend away online while we're at work. We can choose to work from home or an office, and much of the time can arrange childcare to suit our needs.
I think it's essential to have such flexibility in the way we work - but what's the price we pay? Does constant contactability mean constant availability? If I strive to balance work and home, will the battle be as long and draining as my fight against the second helping of dessert? And if it is, am I up for the challenge?
It was in this puzzled frame of mind that I attended an industry event (hosted by SheSays), which added even more spice to the mix.
Six women led the conversation, with three for and three against the idea that we can have it all when it comes to work life balance. Each of them had different work and home situations, and had taken very different paths towards their ideas of success. It was reassuring to hear that they were facing the same dilemma as me.
These women were inspirational, provocative and convincing when it came to the ingredients for a good balance. It was great to challenge my ideas as part of a vibrant and intelligent debate. In the process of mixing with new connections, and of stretching my brain, I was reminded again that there is a big part of me that exists outside being a mum. There were things I wanted do with my career before I had a daughter, and they're still my goals now.
If I look back at my life to date, I feel I simply took the routes that seemed most appealing at the time. In my defence, they weren't always the easiest ones. But neither did I take an informed approach to choosing them - there was no writing of pros and cons lists, no detailed analysis of possible consequences.
Like many people, I focused first on my education, then on paying off my education debts in any job I could find. I dedicated equal time to work and play, meaning I met lots of new people and gained life experience. When we came traveling, I quite easily found a job in the industry I wanted to be in.
For a long time after that, work was challenging, but it didn't hold my heart. And that was fine. Because I was busy falling in love and getting married.Then I made my first careful decision. With my husband's support, I started a business designed to offer myself and my family flexibility and a second income, from something I've always enjoyed doing. I was building it to the level I'd hoped for, involved but not obsessed, leaving me enough time to see my husband and friends. But then I had my daughter and something shifted.
I'm no longer content being content. I feel the same love for my work that I always have. But I also want to be in a position to give my daughter my undivided attention when we're alone together. And that's not something being my own boss is doing for me right now. When I'm not writing, I'm chasing business, or organising timings on new projects. Mobile technology means I'm always contactable. And if I chose not to answer a call, I fee guilty for potentially missing out on experience, or money, or both.
When I'm flat out at work, I miss time with my husband, with my daughter and my friends. When I'm quiet at work I spend time with them, which I adore, but I'll admit to spending much of it planning where the next project will come from.
Sitting here now, I believe that ‘all’is whatever you want it to be.
At this point in my life I've weighed up the options and chosen to work in a way that allows me to spend time with my daughter, and to be around to do the little daily things that keep our home feeling homely. But that doesn’t mean it always works out like that - or that I don’t value my career. I've done this to build my writing experience and business acumen. These are both highly transferable skills which I hope will help me should I chose to go back to an office based role at a later date.
In my recipe, you can have it all; but not all at the same time. It's not defeatist; it’s simply the best way to stop us feeling like we're failing at both areas. I believe many of us acknowledge that.
To couch career versus life in terms of a balance, as we generally do, is to innately agree that you cannot achieve total, simultaneous success in both. My friend and I are examples of this - the more we focus on either life or work, the less time and energy we have to lavish on the other.
Perhaps the knack is to work out what ‘all’looks like to you. Once you've done that, you're in a better place to decide which part of it to focus on at which stage of your life. It seems the earlier in life we realise that, the more time we will have to make those informed decisions, to negotiate with ourselves and others to achieve the perfect recipe for our vision of success.