The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on working women across the globe, who were disproportionately affected in terms of home, health, work and economic well-being. The research on the negative consequences is anything but sparse. According to a recent survey study by Deloitte on the pandemic’s impact on working women, “Forty percent of working women who experienced negative shifts in their daily routine say they’re unable to balance their work and life commitments, and nearly 40% cite significant consequences to their physical and mental well-being.” As the primary caregiver to their children or elderly relatives, many working women found themselves scrambling to learn how to virtual school their children (and navigate Zoom), grocery shop for two households and maintain their normal daily routines, while still being productive at their day jobs. In sectors of the economy where women have historically outnumbered men (think: hospitality, teaching, retail and education), many women were forced to reduce their working hours or were forced out of the workforce altogether. Now, with society pretty much back open, working women are still suffering from the devastation caused by the pandemic. Whether they are in new professional roles, entering back into the office, or simply trying to stay relevant and indispensable at their jobs, they are struggling to gain some semblance of work life balance. The challenges are real, but it is possible to find that inner Zen if you have the right mindset.
Work life balance is more than just divvying up your time equally between your professional and personal lives. It’s about finding that sweet spot that allows YOU to be the best version of yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually. As women, it’s hard to turn “it” off – and you know what I’m talking about – the mental load that plagues us all. The constant “to do” list that always sits in the back of our minds. The second-guessing on whether we could’ve performed better, how to be better, how to do more and how to be present. The mystical creature that is “work life balance” really is more about accepting the fact that our brains aren’t wired to just “turn it off,” but rather what defines us as women is the fact that every aspect of our lives overlaps. Every aspect. So it’s no surprise that those who claim to have a stellar work life balance embrace the fact that there is no off switch. Instead, it’s about harmonizing all aspects of one’s life. Rather than segmenting your life into various buckets – be it your work bucket, family bucket, or “me” bucket – think of achieving a healthy work life balance as a way of life. Who needs another “to do” list anyway? Finding your sweet spot is attainable and the secret in doing so is no secret at all.
When I was a teenager I can remember having so much anxiety about what major to choose in college. I can remember my mother, a Korean immigrant who never had the opportunity to pursue a college education, let alone complete her primary education in South Korea, stressing to me that no matter what major I chose, the real decision worthy of contemplating was what did I want to do with my life? Did I want a career? Did I want a family, and if so, what kind of mother and wife did I envision myself as? Was it important for me to attend every little league game and cheer competition? Did I want a bougie lifestyle with a big house? Or a quaint home with a white picket fence? You get my point. Big decisions for such an immature and inexperienced young woman. I remember telling my mother, “Mom, I’ll figure it out as life happens” to which my mom would always respond, “I know you will. Just remember, work so you can live…not the other way around.”
It took years for me to truly understand what my mom meant. I mean sure, we work to make money so we can afford the lifestyle we want. But a lifestyle is more than just having material things. Too often I talk with my friends who labor away, day after day, in a job that sucks all the energy out of them and weighs on them so heavily that they come home angry, fatigued, spent. Too often when my girlfriends and I get together does someone complain that they are being forced to make a decision between missing their kid’s dance recital or skipping participation in a big work project (and hence risk being overlooked for a coveted promotion). It’s awful. We shouldn’t be forced to make these kinds of decisions. It’s the 2020s and working women and dual income households are the norm. The similarity between the 1960s and now, however, is that women are primarily still wired to be the backbone of our families. Whether it’s being a caregiver to our aging parents, being called upon to help out a sibling, having the dog fed, our kids bathed, dinner on the table and our social calendars filled – simply having the expectation that we are to always be put together, have everything orderly and planned, and quite frankly, do it all, is the bulk of our mental load. (Don’t get me wrong – men contribute significantly more, domestically speaking, than they did in the Baby Boomer Generation and have stepped it up, but that’s another blog topic; and, truth be told, the disparities still exist).
I started out my career as an attorney and worked my way up the corporate ladder to become the first woman and first Asian American law partner in 2009 in a firm that was established in 1952. I put in the hours, enjoyed a generous salary, but wasn’t fulfilled. I was a litigator so I literally argued for a living. It was fun and a little thrilling, sure. But for me, it was emotionally draining. And it affected my ability to enjoy life…especially after the birth of my first child (I now have three little bears!). My job demanded a lot of my time and what little time I had left was directed to my son (and that wasn’t enough!). I neglected my husband, even my dogs, and, more importantly, myself. Among the postponed hair and nail appointments, missed milestones during my son’s first few years, and overdue quality time with my husband, I also decreased the amount of time I spent volunteering with several local charities – something I was passionate about. My attention was focused on a hefty caseload and generating those billable hours because I mistakenly thought that the more I worked, the more money I would make and the more accomplished I would be; and with more money and increased stature, I could afford more of life’s luxuries and be happier. I naively thought that the end-result would be fulfillment in all aspects of my life. However, the inverse was true. By working more and succumbing to the pressure to prove myself professionally, I didn’t even have the time to enjoy the increased wealth, and my personal life started to crumble. I had less time for my family and for myself. And let’s be real – you can’t buy more time. I was tethered to my job and my sanity was dwindling. It felt as if my existence was to work…I was literally living to work.
This definitely wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.
Having volunteered with, and served on boards of, several nonprofits, a good friend of mine introduced the concept of making a living in the nonprofit sector by helping others leave a legacy to a cause that was meaningful not only to them, but to me. I took the bait and at 34 years old, I changed career paths. I was nervous, apprehensive, frightened…but I needed to do something to help me in my journey into the mythical Enchanted Forest to unearth a healthy work life balance. Let me tell you – I am so grateful I took that leap of faith. I found my niche…and I was good at it. I could take my skillset and my love of the law and apply them to an area I was passionate about and get paid for it. I felt accomplished and proud. Quite naturally I didn’t feel a need to force myself to “turn it off” – any of it. Work didn’t seem like “work.” My mental load became lighter because a lot of my “have to dos” turned into “want to dos” and just magically, my segmented life came together like a woven tapestry.
I get to work for an organization that celebrates its workers and truly makes a difference in the community. As the Director of Planned Giving for Memorial and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundations, which provide philanthropic support to Memorial Healthcare System, I am blessed to work with people and corporations every day whose generosity provides a little light to the patients and families served during some of their darkest times. I am afforded the opportunity to see the fruits of our team’s efforts each day when I see our pediatric patients smiling each time they visit with our resident clown, Lotsy Dotsy; see worried families find comfort when they cuddle one of our pet therapy dogs; hear our rehab patients and families breathe a sigh of relief when they learn that some of the costs of our adaptive driving program are covered, helping them gain back some independence after a life-changing injury; see the anxiety of a family in need wanting to be near their terminally ill child, but worrying about how to stay close by, ease just enough when they learn they can stay, free of charge, at the Conine Clubhouse, adjacent to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, enabling them to shift all of their focus onto what matters the most: their child; witness the confidence of a breast cancer patient come back full force when she receives a makeover in our Image Recovery Center, or a pediatric oncology patient who has undergone chemo get a wig at The Real Me at Joe D… The dollars our Foundation team raises do so much more than just cover many of the things health insurance doesn’t – they help lift spirits and heal hearts. And it doesn’t stop there.
Every day I am awestruck by the community – our South Florida community – and the selfless desire of so many people and corporations that want to help. And there are so many opportunities to help that are beyond giving monetarily. From toy, food and PPE donations to volunteering with any of our auxiliary or event committees, there are a multitude of ways to give back and truly make an impact. We have a prom for hospitalized kids who can’t make it to their school proms, adult and junior wheelchair basketball teams, a culinary cook-off among Memorial Cancer Institute physicians to raise cancer awareness and funds, and even a Tour de Broward open to the entire community to promote exercise and raise philanthropic dollars for Joe D. During non-pandemic times when our hospitals are open for visitors, there are troves of volunteers who cuddle with babies born with drug addictions and other infants in our neonatal unit, read to hospice care patients, visit with senior residents at Memorial Manor, knit blankets for our patients, and help cheer on the athletes in our adaptive sports program (basketball, fishing, bowling, cycling). With all of the chaos and horrendous things going on in the world, the community involvement restores my faith in humanity on the daily.
Getting to apply my expertise and skills to something so meaningful and that I care deeply about has been both rewarding and empowering.
This, coupled with Memorial’s culture, has been life-changing for me. Memorial promotes the mental well-being of its team and encourages professional and personal development. Our Organizational Development Department insists on it by providing courses to help us grow, connect, learn; and it challenges us to rise up by empowering us with the tools and resources to do so. Memorial Healthcare System recognizes “family first” and supports taking the time needed to tend to familial and personal needs. I don’t feel ostracized for being a working mom. My employer understands that a happy person is more productive and fulfilled both in and outside of work.
One of the things that resonated with me most when I first came to Memorial was Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital’s philosophy of “The Power of Play.” From the whimsically-decorated walls to the fun activities that Child Life Specialists provide throughout the day, a large part of every pediatric patient’s “prescription” is play. In fact, each of the four floors of the children’s hospital is actually individually play-themed (sports, arts, games, dreams), and, as we grow up an additional four floors, we are adding more fun themes (imagine, rhythm, adventure, grow). And that’s because playing is powerful. It brings smiles and laughter. It heals the heart and spirit. This philosophy is actually felt throughout not just Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, but our adult hospitals (Memorial Regional Hospital, Memorial Regional Hospital South, Memorial Hospital West, Memorial Hospital Pembroke and Memorial Hospital Miramar), urgent care and specialty centers as well. While officially, the theme of the children’s hospital to me, The Power of Play, is a big part of Memorial’s culture and has played (pun intended) a big part in helping me ease the mental load and maintain a healthy way of life.
I enjoy what I do, why I do what I do, and see, first-hand, the results of my team’s hard work every day. I can honestly say no one within our organization is jaded or forgets our purpose. Our work environment is fun and uplifting. (Ever hear of Tutu Tuesdays?) And it is caring. Not just for our patients and families served, but for every single caregiver (Memorial’s synonym for its employees). I remember March of 2020 when we were all thrust into the unknown and the world shut down. I’ll be honest, for a moment, I panicked. I thought, “How am I going to be able to take care of my 18 month old, 5 year old and 7 year old, school them all, maintain the household and work?” Before the mandate for non-clinical staff to work remotely when possible, I approached my supervisor and asked if I could work from home. Without skipping a beat, the answer was yes, no questions asked. The flexibility and compassion I received was overwhelming. Memorial cared about me and wanted me (and all of its caregivers) to succeed. So while those early days of the pandemic were quite stressful for me, the fact that my employer supported my doing what needed to be done to take care of my family’s needs truly mattered. Pandemic or not, Memorial’s culture promotes values that align with mine.
Now I’m not saying quit your day job and become a professional fundraiser. What I am saying is go find your sweet spot. Ask yourself, “What do I want to do with my life?” Apply your skillset in an area that makes you feel good going to work every day and that doesn’t make you feel guilty for (insert predicate: being a mom, having a dog, taking care of your elderly family, pursuing your next degree or certification). Work for an organization whose culture celebrates and supports you as a person.
I finally understand what my mom meant when she told me, “Remember, work so you can live, not the other way around.” It means doing something you love that keeps your emotional well-being intact so that those benefits trickle over into your personal life; it means being satisfied and fulfilled in your personal life so that your internal gratification flows over into your professional life; they are interconnected. In other words, life is really not segmented in black and white; professional vs. personal; mom vs. worker bee; but it is one life that we have and one life that we need to live. All aspects need to be in sync. All aspects need to harmonize. It’s no secret – by defining the life you want, applying your skillset to something you are passionate about, within a corporate culture that aligns with your values, the mental load isn’t a constant nagging but more of a checklist, and achieving and maintaining a healthy work life balance can be a reality…a sweet one.