Sure, You Can Have It All!
We are not brain surgeons; no one will die on our watch (thank God). Yet many of us conduct our professional lives as if everything in this crazy industry is a medical emergency. Phone calls need to be returned within the hour; email arriving on your portable device must be answered in minutes; texts demand lightning fast, instant responses – as if you intuited someone’s desire to reach you.
I am a mom. For a good portion of my life I was a single parent. There is a “You Can Have It All” myth regarding professional women and parenting. When my beloved son was 4 years old, I went to work as the audio buyer for a $100 million retail company. My share of the consumer electronics “pie” was roughly a third of the business - $33 million. Everything regarding the audio category was my responsibility: buying, merchandising, store planograms, newsletters, marketing and advertising, sell through, etc. The company knew I was a single parent and permitted me to have a computer in my home. My internet connection to the company was “dial up” via my phone line, we printed massive paper buying reports – a stack 8”-12” high to track our inventory, an incoming fax could create instant priorities. Yes, I walked the earth with Peter Tribeman.
At times, life/work balance is simply a survival test comprised of unexpected business trips, long days, short nights, looming deadlines and a child with a bad case of pink eye. The pressure of this job was overwhelming and my having a “Type A” personality created a particularly stressful scenario. Like many women professionals, I was under the impression that I could “Have It All”, i.e., have the big job and still be a nurturing parent with Little League, Karate and swimming obligations on weekends. Sound familiar?
Reality was weekends spent in the cavernous corporate offices with a sea of Legos on my office floor and staying up until 2 or 3 AM to complete an ad plan. Morning would arrive and “Having it All” would start again: strapping my kid into his car seat, giving him a frozen waffle (calling it breakfast) and driving him to the Montessori school I lovingly chose. One year a vendor actually held its line show on Halloween! I sewed my boy a costume; my sister-in-law took him Trick-or-Treating.
This went on for two years – and then the position at PARA materialized. I am very grateful for my years at PARA; I learned that one way to achieve life/work balance is to take a 20% cut in pay and work out of a home office. Unfortunately, this step did not leave me the necessary funds to hire a nanny, housekeeper nor even a gardener. Life/work balance would be so much easier if you have buckets of money.
This is not a “pity party” story, but rather a “You Can Have It All” article. A male friend of mine owns a store and was president of an industry association. By taking on the role of president, he found himself on endless road trips attending to association business. Back home, his company was suffering due to his frequent absences. He would return from travels, put on his fire chief hat, douse the fires and then buckle down to run his business. There were sleepless nights regarding payroll, a wife who legitimately felt widowed, customers to be satisfied - and oh, he had three kids. His “aha” moment came at a parent/teacher conference (he happened to be in town). His son had colored a picture of the family and Daddy wasn’t in it. Fido and Spot were in the picture, but Daddy was missing. My friend asked his boy why Daddy wasn’t in the picture. His son’s response was, “You’re never home.” From that day forward, family was his priority.
A few years ago I had dinner with an industry acquaintance - a mover and a shaker for decades - I regaled him with stories of my Audio Buyer days and my earnest attempts to master the big job while being super mom for my beloved son. I always choke up when I talk about that time of my life. I suddenly noticed he was welling up; there were tears in his eyes too. I asked what was wrong. He said that his kids were grown and out of the house – and he never got to know them. He gave up raising his kids to launch a Japanese consumer electronics line in the US. Unfortunately, his story is not an uncommon one in this industry,
Thankfully, for me anyway, my story has a happy ending. My son is now 25 years old and because I didn’t have buckets of money, I had the amazing and life-altering experience of raising him myself.
No one can “Have It All.” Not woman nor man. Each of us makes our own choices, our own decisions, some of which do come with costs.
It’s summer! Take a vacation!
(Peter Tribeman is President/CEO of Atlantic Technology - a treasured friend - and he wants you to know that he has never shed a tear while with me.)