It's the big question that no one seems to have the answer to: How do you raise a happy family, keep your marriage strong and still propel your career forward?
Well, why not ask someone who did it?
Teresa Taylor was the first member of her family to attend college. She rose in record time through the ranks at the Fortune 200 telecommunications company Qwest to become the chief operating officer, where she successfully led her company through a $22 billion merger.
And she did all this while raising two sons with her husband of 25 years.
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Get started with a free financial assessment.
Fortunately, she's sharing some of her hard-fought wisdom with us. In her new book, "The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success," out now, she describes her strategies and advice for
balancing excelling at both your career and family life. We had a lot of questions for this Wonderwoman, which she was nice enough to answer.
Why did you decide to write this book?
One issue that holds women back is that women are searching for balance. And it’s not there, so women get frustrated or leave [work], or they step back. They don’t take a promotion or they leave the workforce completely. I was hoping to inspire women to stay in the workforce and to be successful in both their work and home life.
What advice do you have for women who feel guilty that they're not doing enough?
Stay in the moment. When you’re at work in in a meeting, be there. When you're at home, be there. If you’re in a business meeting, don’t be wishing to be somewhere else. Be present where you are, and don’t feel guilty.
Why do you say women should make their home life a priority?
When I struggled at work, it was a relief to go home. I looked forward to it. So if there is something wrong at home, you need to work it out. It will always be nagging at you at the office. At the end of the day, work is work. You might change jobs, companies, you may not even work at all. But your cornerstone is your home life. It’s a grounding point you can always come back to.
So do you talk about your kids at work?
When I was coming up in my career in the early 80s, I thought you should keep work and family separate. You certainly don’t bring up kids in business meetings. When I reached the vice president level, it was a disaster. I was missing deadlines, life at home was a mess and I was missing my kids’ things. I was keeping two different Blackberries and two different calendars—one for home and one for work. So I put them together.
Once I put them together, it caused me to start talking about my family at work and integrating my two lives. It's one life, one calendar. I wasn’t above asking someone to help me, and I would help them, too. I would even ask my administrative assistant to help pick up the kids after work.
People didn't think that was odd or unprofessional?
I think people had more respect for me, because I was a human being. Other people have families too, so it opened up a conversation. I started inviting people over for a team meeting to my house instead of meeting at a café. I made work events on Saturday afternoon where everyone could bring their kids. That was a clear turning point. The performance of the teams was stronger and things at were home were better. I shared my work with my kids, too. I was working on some ads, so I would show the story boards to my kids. And when the commercials came on they would say, "Mom, Mom! Your cartoons are on TV!"
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What is your strategy for managing your time more efficiently?
I’m a time freak, really. I have my list of things to do, and I'll assign time slots to it. If I have one hour to work on a presentation at work, I do the best I can on that presentation for one hour. It’s the same at home—if I say I’m going to clean the toilets for one hour, it’s just that one hour. It allows you to be present in what you’re doing, finish it and move on. I do that for meetings too. We have one hour, and I ask what are we going to do in that hour and what decisions are we making. I give warnings that we have 15 minutes left, then 10 minutes left.
My biggest pet peeve is people who create reports. I tell people, "Try not creating it this week and see if anyone calls you."
When you're looking at how long everything on your to-do list takes, do you ever realize that you have too much?
You know what? Some things are not going to happen. But there are usually multiple ways to get things done, if you just pause to think about it. Can you do it differently? Can you task it out to someone else? Does this really need to get done at all? Sometimes we create work for ourselves. My biggest pet peeve is people who create reports. I tell people, "Try not creating it this week and see if anyone calls you."
With both you and your husband working, how did you deal with childcare?
I tried everything. I tried someone else’s home, the daycare center, and someone coming to my home. I took my kids to someone else’s home for a little while also. I tried them all because each one was beneficial at different times in their lives. My husband and I didn't want our children to be in daycare every single day. He works in law enforcement, so he went to his boss and said, "I’ll work Saturday and Sunday, if I can have a couple days off in the week." His boss was thrilled. So we only had childcare three days a week.
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And you worked on the weekends. Why?
I just had to do it to survive. Saturdays were errands and sports, but Sunday was my catch-up day. Everyone else was going to church—I took my kids to the office instead. Nobody was there, so I could get twice as much work done. I would try to make it fun for them—I would pack lunch and bring things to entertain them. One time they colored my wall, and put Pokemon stickers on the printer. But it worked out. They didn’t know any different. I never had problems with them saying, "Why can''t you be like someone else," or "So-and-so's mom isn't doing this."
But didn't that diminish your quality of life?
It did for a period of time, but that’s just it. It was a period of time, for five years. We put more effort into making vacations fun and memorable. My kids had the best vacations. And on the weekends we had evenings. We decided that that was the trade off that worked for us, versus five days in the daycare center. But other people might choose something else.
It sounds like you’re saying there’s no one way to be a mom.
Yeah, just do what is best for you. And feel good about it! I didn’t bake the cupcakes. I went and bought them, unpackaged them and put them on a plate. Who cares? The kids didn’t care where the cupcakes came from. Other moms didn’t talk about me. Maybe they did, but I don’t care. I never did the field trips. My youngest asked me why, but I said I just couldn’t do that. He got over it. I don’t need to do the field trips because there are plenty of moms who do and they enjoy it. Let them have it. It’s their values. My message is, you can do it, just do it the way that works for you.
How much do you ask of your husband in helping with chores and child care? Have you ever felt like you’re doing more?
At the beginning with babies, I was absolutely doing more. But as they got older he did more. It went back in forth, and I tried not to keep score. The key to it all is talking a lot. For example, if I was offered a promotion, I would come home and talk to him and tell him what it would entail. Because after promotions you work like a dog for the first four months as you catch up.
Do you think it's important to pick the right partner in order to have a successful career?
I would like to say I picked my husband for this, but I was 24—too young for thinking about it. He knew I would work, we did have that conversation. I got lucky, I picked a good solid partner. Deep in my heart I knew he would be a good person. That’s why I married him.
Sheryl Sandberg has been charged with talking from a privileged position about career success. Do you think that’s fair?
If she wasn’t in that privileged position, the New York Times wouldn’t be writing about it. She’s taking that privilege and leveraging it to get that message to the public, which is a good thing. She’s breaking through something, and hopefully others will follow. When famous businessmen write, nobody says, "Oh, they’re not talking about the guy who fixes cars." Any attention on the subject is good. It keeps the conversation going. It’s been going on for a few weeks now!
You were incredibly open in your book about your personal life, including the suicide of your brother and your challenge with infertility. That was brave.
Some women have said to me, "It’s easy for you, you don’t have the problems I have." And to that I say, "Well, what problems did you have? Because I could one-up you." It’s the easy way out to say, "You have it easy." (Without knowing me, by the way.) I shared that to show I did not have an easy life, and was still able to get through it. You make your own ending. You can let it affect you, or you can get through it.