A Work Life Balance Must: Always Have a Plan B

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Last week I was lounging comfortably on a couch in Starbucks, drinking coffee with Dr. Heidi Chumley Executive Dean of the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. During our conversation, Dean Chumley said something so brilliant I had to share it.

I asked Dean Chumley about the what she feels she has done right on her ascension to upper administration and her plunge into motherhood. Not only is Chumley dean of a medical school and an Executive MBA student, she also has five children. Her husband holds an equally weighty job as vice president of education for Broward Health.

Chumley didn't skip a beat with her answer:  "I always have a Plan B."

Oh, how I have learned that to be true!  If there's one safety net that can keep a working parent from a deep plunge into work life disaster, it's having a Plan B.  "Time time to figure out your Plan B is not when you're having a crisis," Chumley told me. She's so right!

I recently read an interview with Ilene Gordon, CEO of Ingredion who talked about having a Plan B in business. Her comments apply to home life as well. Gordon said:  "We need to always be prepared for the possibility that things may not go according to plan. You should always have something to fall back on when things go wrong, or you'll have a hard time making it to the top. "

Gordon took it a step further: "Don't just have a Plan B, have other people readily available to help you execute it when the time comes."  

I have learned that a Plan B looks different at various stages of parenthood, work and life. But I completely agree with both women that having a Plan B is absolutely critical for work life balance. Here is what it involves:

Assembling your village: Before I had children, my desk was situated near a new mother who recently had given birth to her third child. At least once a week, the woman was called by the daycare to pick up her sick baby. She had no one else to pitch in and never asked her spouse to take a turn. After two months, the women, a really talented reporter, quit. The experience was enough to make me aware that I needed to create my village before giving birth. I lined up family members, and backup babysitters to ensure that I was prepared for childcare emergencies. Throughout years of balancing work and family, I added to my village by courting neighbors and other parents to pitch in with childcare when work emergencies cropped up.

Exercising flexibility: This crucial component of having a Plan B comes after proving yourself a hard worker. Even jobs like elementary school teacher can provide the flexibility to come in late or leave early if you have a good reputation and an understanding boss. More jobs than ever can be done at different hours, or from home. You need to figure out how you can use flexibility before a work life conflict arises.

Trading favors: My best advice to working parents is stockpile favors. When your boss calls a last minute meeting and your child is waiting to be picked up from dance class, you may need to ask another parent whose daughter is in the same class to help out. Being a parent who does favors for others goes a long way when you need one back. 

Including your children: As soon as your children are old enough to walk and talk, they are ready to be part of your Plan B. An older child can help out with a younger child, especially when the older child starts to drive. A middle schooler can call friends and ask for a ride to soccer practice when a parent runs late. The key is to include your children in helping you prepare by empowering them to find solutions in advance.

Being okay with delegating: To be successful at juggling, you need to identify people at work who have your back when you need it. Simply put: You can’t be the micro manager. You have to be able to get things done through others, particularly when you can't be there to do them yourself. Decide ahead of time who those people are and establish a give and take relationship.

Do you have your Plan B in place? If not, now's a great time to figure it out. 

The Work/Life Balancing Act

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