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Managing the tips of the proverbial work-life balance scale

October 29, 2015
Most women can relate to the struggle of trying to balance their professional responsibilities and aspirations with their personal and family needs. So can a mom have it all at home and at the office? Jean Lydon-Rodgers, VP and General Manager, Military Systems at GE Aviation, believes the secret to success... and sanity... is to understand that you can have it all, just not in the same moment. And yes, her philosophy applies to men too.

How have you achieved your current level of success at GE while still balancing your family and personal needs?
It isn’t easy, but with strong support, whether it’s from a spouse or a partner, a relative or child care provider, you can make it work. When my children turned five-years old and two-years old, my husband and I decided together that I would continue with my career and my husband would take care of our children. It has been 14 years since then, and I still believe that it was the right decision.

What do you mean when you say you can have it all but not at the same time?
I think there are times when work wins, and there are times when home has to win. You have to be willing to accept that. It’s not easy to do because we all want to achieve it all. We all want to have it all. We want to excel at our jobs while simultaneously being super moms or super dads. But you can only do one of those things at any given moment. I really do subscribe to striving to be the best you can be where you are at that time. When I’m at work, I understand the realities of my schedule and the demands for my undivided time and attention to get things done. Honestly, it's a bit harder when I am at home to not let work creep in because in today’s world, we’re constantly connected. It's too easy to check an email or answer a call or text message. And there are always ideas brewing in the back of your mind. I recommend, whenever possible, to find that space in your life to reserve as a work-free zone. Your family sometimes deserves your undivided attention too. You need to make time for those things outside of work that are important to you. And sometimes those things involve just taking care of yourself because it’s vitally important that you recharge your batteries every so often. Even with my husband’s full support and his ability to fill in for me, I feel the guilt when I can’t make it to every event that my children would like me to attend. It’s important to remember during such struggles that when you gain one thing, you may miss another. That really is ok as long as your long term gains outweigh the short term losses when you look back at how you prioritized your time.

If someone were to ask you if there is such a thing as work-life balance, what would you say?
I would say there is no such thing. I would say that in a heartbeat. Work-life integration is a more practical approach. Thinking about it in terms of integrating all of the priorities in your life in a way that works for you is a good way to do it, rather than thinking ‘I’m going to spend 50% of my time doing this and spend the other 50% of my time doing that.’ That so-called balanced plan will do nothing but create a great deal of stress for you.

How does work-life integration look in your life?
It really starts with working together as a family and having the support of the team at home so that they recognize you’re doing something with a great purpose when you are not or cannot be with them. My children know I have important responsibilities at work. They understand that a job leading a military engine business involves ensuring that our products perform for the uniformed men and women that defend our country and those of allied nations. They know the story of US Army Staff Sergeant Paul Brondhaver and how a BlackHawk helicopter powered by our T700 engine played a role in saving his life. They are proud of that. I’ve talked to other working mothers and fathers about this topic. Many agree that their work outside of the home allows their children to understand what it is to be an important part of society. From that standpoint, you are being a good role model for your children. But that very concept brings me back to the importance of successfully managing your work-life integration. I have learned that you have to lead by example in the office too. I strive to be accountable for all that I do, and I know that my team appreciates when I make things outside of work a priority. In doing so, they know they can do the same. While there is no recipe for success 100% of the time, the integration of work and life is largely within your control based on the priorities that you establish. Once I realized that it wasn't about "balance", the opposing forces became much easier to manage.


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