In this article, the first in a series, Archana Raghuram____ talks about role modelling and the value of time in balancing your work with your personal life
Having worked in the IT industry for nearly 25 years, I am often invited to speak on work-life balance. Are there some universal rules that we can follow to balance a career and a family? The more I thought about it and the more I interacted with women from different backgrounds, I came to realise that it is very difficult to come up with a road map for work-life balance. Every person’s life is different, and so are the challenges. What each of us requires is not a map but a compass. Sometimes, you have to change course because of bad weather, but as long as you have got your compass with you, you know whether you are heading in the right direction. Given that each of our lives is singular and unique, it is impossible for anyone to give you a map. No one but you yourself can decide the best course of action for your life.
What I want to share with you today is the compass I use to navigate the choppy and unknown ocean called work-life. It is a set of seven paradigms that I use for making life decisions. I will share two of them with you today.
Becoming a mother is by far the most disruptive event in any woman’s life. It doesn’t just disrupt your career but shakes up your whole life. When I had my first child, I was probably the only working woman in my immediate circle. I started believing that I could not be a good mother since I had a demanding career.
I remember being riddled with guilt. I felt inadequate every day. In my mind, the best way to compensate was to spend all the time I could with my son. I used to come back late from the office and then sit with him and help him do his homework, which used to be very unpleasant and stressful for both of us. I kept pushing him to achieve. I felt if he failed or under-achieved, it would reflect on me as a mother.
As you can imagine, our relationship became stressful. Many people spoke about the joy of motherhood; I don’t remember experiencing it. I was always stressed, worried, and tightly wound. Then something happened when he was five years old. His teacher had given his class an assignment. They had to use two words to describe every member of their family. Can you guess what words he used to describe me? ‘Angry’ and ‘busy.’
I was devastated. Here was a person whom I loved more than anything or anyone. Here was a person for whom I would gladly give up my life. And the only two words he could find to describe me were ‘angry’ and ‘busy.’ I asked him why he chose those words. He said those are the words I use often: “Don’t make me angry.” “I am busy; don’t disturb me now.” He never meant it as an insult. As a five-year-old child, he could only associate these words with me because I used them so often. I felt I had hit rock bottom in my motherhood journey.
There are moments in your life when you look back and know that these are the turning points. This was one such moment. I paused from my ‘busy’ and ‘angry’ routine to look at myself. I knew I had it in me to be better than this. I decided to learn how to be a good mother. I observed the mothers all around me to see how they were succeeding in this seemingly impossible journey. I looked at working women and stay-at-home moms. I found busy, working mothers who were raising well-rounded and secure children. And then there were stay-at-home mothers who were raising spoilt brats. It occurred to me that being a good mother has little to do with whether you are working or at home; some other factors resulted in raising good children.
I looked at my own parents. What can I learn from how they raised my sister and me? My mom and dad are two very different people. My mom is a postgraduate in chemistry and a gold medallist from her university. Yet, she chose to be a stay-at-home mom. I owe so much to her. She inculcated in me a love for reading and an appreciation of philosophy. I am what I am because of my mom.
What about my dad? If somebody had asked me to use two words to describe my dad when I was a kid, I would have used the exact same words: ‘angry’ and ‘busy.’ My dad was a busy doctor. I don’t remember sitting and having long conversations with my dad. However, if I look back at my life, I learnt equally from my dad. He taught us by being a great role model. I learnt from him the power of honesty and living a life of principles. I learnt work ethic from him. By watching him, I learnt what it means to be passionate about your work.
I then had an epiphany about myself. I realised that I had it in me to be a parent like my dad. I could be a good role model for my children. I could be the kind of person I want my children to become.
I made a rule for myself. I will not expect from my children what I cannot do myself. I started working on myself, slowly changing all the things which I did not want my children to emulate. I wanted them to learn from my example: how to treat people with dignity and fairness, how to deal with success gracefully, and the importance of discipline and other values.
This is my paradigm for parenting. To me, being a good mother means being a good role model for my children.
Once I realised that it is possible to be a good mother without being available for your children all the time, it freed me of my guilt. And this resulted in improving my relationship with my children. I have discovered the joy of motherhood. I am able to watch my children grow and appreciate their unique qualities. I am able to accept their shortcomings because I don’t see them as my personal failure.
Learning to deal with motherhood has been the toughest challenge of my life. Like all life’s challenges, it has helped me grow and made me a better person.
“How many of you think time is priceless?” I ask this question in every session I take on work-life balance. Almost 100 per cent of the audience raises their hands. In theory, we all understand that time is priceless. So, let us ask ourselves a different question. How many times have we bargained with auto drivers and street vendors to save a few rupees? Have we ever thought if the time we spend bargaining is worth the amount of money we save? How many times have we gone shopping for hours looking for the perfect outfit for an occasion? When we do find the outfit, we see the price and stop to consider if it is worth the price. Has it ever occurred to us to think if the time we spent looking for the perfect outfit was worth it? This is because we have internalised the value of money, but we have not internalised the value of time. It is not possible to achieve a work-life balance without thoroughly internalising the value of time.
This is the thumb rule I apply for managing my time; I ask myself these questions before committing my time: Will it add value to me? Will it help me make progress in my life or career or relationships? Certain tasks help us grow either personally, professionally, or spiritually. Let’s say, I spend time exercising every day. It is going to improve my health and appearance. If I spend quality time with my children every day, it is going to strengthen my bond with them. If I spend time learning a new skill, it’s going to help in my personal or professional growth. These are what I call value-adding activities. On the other hand, there are many non-value-adding activities. For example, if I cook all three meals every day or clean my house with my own two hands, it does not add any value to me. I know this is controversial. I know many women who work so hard at home, making the perfect meal and keeping the house spotlessly clean. They have no energy for more meaningful things like spending quality time with loved ones or taking care of themselves. The majority of our time should be spent on value-adding activities.
Don’t hesitate to exchange your money for time. Whenever you can afford to delegate non-value-adding tasks, don’t hesitate to do it. Do it without guilt. When I started working, my pay was a few thousand rupees. Over the course of a 25-year career, my salary grew exponentially. My responsibilities both at work and home also grew exponentially. But the time that is available for me remains exactly the same. That is how precious time is. That’s how important it is to manage it effectively.
Learning to manage time is the foundational skill required for achieving a work-life balance.
These are the two paradigms that I want to share with you today. In the coming months, I will share the other five paradigms.
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