I was invited, along with others, by Rosa Sheng, Equity by Design (the missing32percent.com) to contribute a blog about a day in the life of #Archimoms (http://bit.ly/1G44hon) –Stories and advice from women in architecture who are managing career and family.
In total, I have raised or partially raised 6 children over the last 30 years. A chunk of that time was spent as a single parent. All of that time was spent working full time in AEC and trying to find balance between work and family.
While I am not an architect, I started working at my first architecture firm when I was 20 years old. During the course of my 23 years with that firm, I went from receptionist to managing the firm at all levels. The only thing I did not do was actually draw. I now work for an MEP Engineering firm and just sent my youngest off to college in September.
I think it is fair to say that women have a unique set of circumstances when it comes to managing career and family. While this is changing with each passing year, traditionally women have been the primary caregivers of their children. If you are a single parent, you are the only caregiver for your child. For me, having done both, this has presented its challenges over the years.
During the course of my career, I have worked with some incredible, empowering mentors – almost all men – who have taught, inspired and guided me. I have also encountered discrimination and being treated like I was “less” because I was a woman or with the attitude that I was not fully invested in my career because I was a mom. I feel very fortunate that the latter was the exception and not the rule.
Now having an empty nest (which will someday be a blog of its own), I can’t really contribute what a day in the life of #Archimoms looks like anymore. What I can offer, after 30 years of navigating family and a career in AEC is some perspective and lessons learned. Mind you, I learned some of these lessons early and some of them the hard way but all have been valuable.
Lesson #1: Find a company that believes work/life balance is a priority and offers some flexibility.
This is crucial and they are out there. If you are not working for one now, leave. You really can’t give your job 100% if you have an issue at home that needs your attention and you have a less than understanding employer.
My former architecture firm was amazing. I am not sure I could have navigated the early years, the years as a single parent and then the years with four busy kids without their support. My current firm is the same way and for that I will be forever grateful.
Lesson #2: Work very, very hard.
The three Partners in my first firm were much older than me and pretty traditional in what was then an environment of “get me a coffee” if you were the only woman in the office, which I was for a majority of the 23 years with that firm.
I did not change those perceptions, rise in my firm or gain their respect by accident. I worked my tail off. When I was at work I was engaged, focused and giving it 150%. When I needed flexibility due to family, which was often over the years, they knew they could count on me to make sure the bases were covered. As a result, they stood behind me through those difficult times.
Lesson #3: Make time for yourself.
Honestly, this is a lesson that I have been learning only over the last couple of years and that has been a huge mistake. I have spent my entire adult life focused on my career and family, sometimes putting in 20 hour days to make sure everything got done and my kids had an active involved mom in their myriad of activities.
I have sometimes neglected my own heart, soul and well-being in the process. You do not have to volunteer for everything and it is OK to say no. I don’t care how you fit it in or what it is you need to keep your center but find it and make time for it. Everyone around you, work and family alike, will benefit and you will be recharged to take on the next day.
Lesson #4: Never stop learning.
It is easy to get into a rut at work when you are trying to juggle so many things. Sometimes, going to work can feel like a vacation when home life gets crazy. That can be a dangerous rut that results in slow forward movement in your career.
There are always ways to keep learning and growing as a professional as part of your regular day. You have to be proactive, ask for new opportunities and most importantly, look for the mentors. With my busy life, I didn’t have time to take classes or join industry organizations until just recently. My best and most valuable resource for learning and moving ahead were the mentors I found in my place of work. It is incredible the knowledge people will share if you just ask. I was never afraid to ask.
Lesson #5: Find good childcare.
This is a big one. You absolutely cannot be invested and focused in your work unless your children are in a consistent childcare environment in which you have complete confidence.
This can be difficult but well worth the time and effort to find just the right fit. I found all kinds of creative ways to get quality childcare that I could afford for four children which made it much easier to do the work I needed to do.
Final Lesson: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
This is another one that took me years to learn. I am just a tad bit Type A. This is not always a good thing. I spent incredible amounts of wasted time trying to be the perfect employee, the perfect wife and the perfect mother. The house had to be spotless, I thought I needed to run every activity my kids ever signed up for, throw the best parties and be the highest performing employee. This attitude took its toll in more ways than one.
In the end, it does not matter if those dirty dishes wait until tomorrow, whether or not you are team mom instead of just being a spectator or whether you volunteer to take on one extra project at work that you really don’t have to take on. Nobody really remembers that stuff.
What matters is that you have some sanity, focus and balance in your life so you can be the best that you are to your family, your employer and yourself.
While I could probably write a book on my experiences and lessons learned, these few are some of the more important ones for me. Every family is unique and has different needs. If this blog eases the path of even one #Archimom, then I have accomplished my goal for today.