Author Archive

Balance

The Elusive Work-Life Balance

We all crave the elusive work-life balance. It comes up again and again in the events I’ve hosted for WTS’s Mentoring Program. It’s always interesting to see how panelists and speakers respond, because a lot of them haven’t figured it out either. I remember the first career panel I hosted as co-chair of WTS’s Mentoring Program, someone asked how to achieve this balance and the first panelist answered, “if you figure it out, let me know”. Over the years, however, I have been able to piece together some helpful advice. I gave a brief synopsis in my last blog post, Lessons from WTS-DC’s Mentoring Program, but there was too much to say so I’m breaking it out into a separate post.

Hearing stories from numerous panelists and working with my mentors, my approach to work-life balance is continuously evolving. I used to think there were specific jobs that offered work-life balance and I just had to find them. While it’s true that some jobs are more or less conducive to work-life balance than others, I’ve learned that in almost any job in any sector, you can fall prey to working way too many hours and burning out. When my Mentoring Program co-chairs and I brainstorm people to invite to the panels, we make sure we have a representative from each sector. For example, this year’s panel included someone from the Federal government, local government, non-profit, and someone who currently works for a transportation agency but has worked for private consulting firms in the past. They all have the same challenges when it comes to work load – in every single sector, in almost every position they’ve been in.

So how do you find work-life balance? To sum everything up in one sentence: you have to set the boundaries to achieve work-life balance – it won’t fall into your lap. No one is going to know how much you can handle except for you. You need to be your own advocate. Sure, but how do you turn down additional work? While these of course won’t work for everyone, our panelists had the following tips:

Focusing on the Essentials
What can you take off your plate? What is not essential? If you take too much on, your work will suffer (not to mention your physical and mental health). Instead, figure out which tasks at work and at home are most important and stop doing anything else that isn’t absolutely necessary. If you are able, delegate to a coworker, ask your boss for an intern, outsource household chores, etc. You can then excel at whatever you choose to focus on and that is what makes people want to work with you.

Alternative to Saying ‘No’
On a related note, instead of just saying ‘no’ when asked to take something else on, provide alternative options. At work, instead of telling your boss you can’t take on a new task, say you can do it but you need help. You and your boss can work together to figure out how your team can get the work done so that it’s not all piled on you. This can Work-Life-Balance-Signsimilarly be used for extra-curricular activities. For example, if you’re asked to speak on a panel, join a board, or volunteer at an event, and you just don’t have the time, recommend someone else who can take your place.

Get Out of the Office
Your time outside of work is important. If you have a flexible schedule and worked more at the beginning of the week, make sure you actually leave work early at the end the week. People make this mistake with vacation too when they don’t use all of their PTO. Taking time off makes you more productive and will improve the quality of your work. And when you take time off, truly be out of the office (i.e. no answering emails or work calls).

Self-Care
Take care of yourself, know your limits, and trust that you are appreciated and respected enough to take a step back without impeding your career. In fact, easing up when necessary will probably improve your career in the long run.

Again, some jobs and professions (and some bosses) are more conducive to these techniques than others and sometimes this advice just isn’t possible. But I think a lot of people would be surprised about what is possible when you ask for it, as long as it’s a well-thought-out, reasonable request.

successahead

Lessons from WTS-DC’s Mentoring Program

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been co-chair of WTS-DC’s Mentoring Program for 4 ½ years. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience watching people in the program learn and grow and I myself have learned so much from it.

Every year we begin our group event series with a career panel where we invite four or five industry members to speak about how they got to where they are, triumphs and challenges they’ve had along the way, and advice they may have for the group. It is my favorite mentoring event of the year, because we leave it unstructured and allow the panelists and attendees to take it in whichever direction they choose. We give the panelists five minutes at the beginning to say anything about themselves and their careers that they’d like, then use the rest of the time for Q&A.

It is important to us to have a diverse panel with representatives from varying sectors and stages in their career because everyone always has different advice depending on what perspective they bring. However, certain pieces of advice have been brought up consistently by almost every panelist since I’ve been part of the program. I’d like to use this blog post to share some of the main lessons I’ve learned from these events over the years.

  1. Have a plan, but be flexible. Though this may seem like conflicting advice, these two suggestions do not need to be mutually exclusive. It is important to have a plan for the varying stages of your career to ensure that you stay on track, do not become complacent, and set the groundwork that will allow for your success in the future (for example, knowing that you need to get your graduate degree for a job you eventually want). However, no one can predict the future. The industry changes, your priorities change, and life can throw you curveballs. Make sure you say yes to opportunities that will challenge you and your abilities, whether it’s a new project at work or a job offer across the country. One of my favorite sayings is “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”. Your plan helps you prepare for when opportunities come your way and gives you the confidence to take them.
  2. You are responsible for making sure you have a work-life balance – it won’t fall into your lap. You will continuously be given more work unless you learn to set boundaries. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean saying ‘no’. Instead, say that in order to complete the work, you will need help. This has been a heavily-discussed topic during our panels, so I could write an entire blog post on this one. Look out for it in a month or so!
  3. Get involved in industry associations and/or outside organizations. Industry associations will help you keep up-to-date and continue learning throughout your career. This is also a perfect way to improve your leadership skills. Most of my leadership experience has been through volunteer work, but it has directly tied into the skills I need in my professional life. Also, don’t forget about volunteering for organizations outside the industry that address something you’re passionate about. Giving back in this manner helps you grow personal relationships and a sense of accomplishment that will help you maintain perspective, keep grounded, and give your mind a break.
  4. Relationships are key. Always grow and foster your network. I already wrote my last blog post on this, so I won’t say much more, but I actually met one of this year’s panelists because of networking. I was interested in how he got to where he was in his career and asked a common connection to put us in touch. During that meeting, he mentioned how much he enjoys mentoring and helping people with career development, so I asked him to be on the panel. You never know what conversations you’ll end up having!

I’ve learned so much from the Mentoring Program throughout the years and am sure I’ll continue to do so. Mentoring is a valuable tool that everyone should utilize. You can read more about the importance of mentoring from two of Veronica Davis’s previous blog posts: Finding a Professional Mentor and Cultivating a Relationship with your Mentor. And if you live in the D.C. area and are interested in participating in the Mentoring Program next year (or getting involved with WTS in general at any time), please let me know at sweisfeld[at]nspiregreen.com.

Stacy Weisfeld is a community and transportation planner whose career has been driven by her passion for environmental sustainability. She is adept at engaging the public, bringing together unlikely allies, and finding innovative solutions to unexpected problems. She serves as a board member for Women’s Transportation Seminar, is certified with ISI Envision Sustainability, and is a graduate of American Public Transportation Association’s national Emerging Leaders Program.





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