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Balancing Act

Between my family and my job, I was stretched to the limit.

A woman's cluttered desk is plastered with post-it notes.

I raced through the kitchen, practically tripping over my briefcase. “Karen! You forgot to take your lunch!” I shouted after my eight-year-old daughter who was already halfway to the school bus.

Kelly, 11, came tearing behind both of us, books spilling out of her unzipped backpack, and snatched Karen’s lunch out of my hand. “Don’t forget about my basketball game tonight, Mom,” she called over her shoulder as she adjusted her pack on the run. Oh, my gosh, I had forgotten!

My husband, Mike, was in a new job and wouldn’t be home till late, so I’d have to leave work early, rush to Karen’s talent show dress rehearsal—then somehow fit in Kelly’s game, dinner and my own homework.

My goal had always been to get a doctorate, and since my company paid most of the tuition, Mike and I had agreed I should go for it.

But at the moment all I felt like going for were two aspirin and another six hours of sleep. “Bye, girls, have a good day,” I called to them.

How long had it been since I’d had a good day? I was rushing around from early morning until late at night. I felt I was snapping under the stress.

I’d been raised to be achievement oriented. My dad worked in the retail business, my mom for the school system. My parents always exhorted the five of us kids to take risks. Try new things. Be the best you can be, and trust God to give you guidance.

I had worked hard, and was proud of my accomplishments.

I was a director in a Fortune 500 company, handling external affairs for a prominent regional telecommunications firm. I’d married Mike a few years after college, and from the beginning we’d agreed to be a two-career family.

Now we had two wonderful, high-energy daughters and lived in a nice neighborhood. Our lifestyle was anything but lavish. Like many families, it was dependent on two incomes.

That’s why I was uneasy as I arrived at my office that day. The company was in the middle of another downsizing, and over the past few months nearly a third of the director positions in my department had been transferred or eliminated, with more cuts to come.

In fact, I had been reading the classified ads for weeks to see what else was out there.

I spent the rest of the workday at maximum efficiency, barely talking to anybody unless it was necessary for a project I was trying to get done. At 5 p.m. I hurried off to Karen’s talent show, then whisked her to Kelly’s basketball game.

When we arrived home, Mike made us all macaroni and cheese, then the girls and I hit the books.

After I finally fell into bed, I told my husband the latest goings-on in the office. “Mike, more people are being transferred or let go,” I said. “I want to hang on, but I hate to think of being moved to another department. I love the work I’m doing.”

“Kerry, we really need your job.” Mike said quietly. An engineer, Mike had been laid off just before Christmas. He’d found a job in January, but it was now April and his position was still precarious due to the economy.

“You are our safety net for income and benefits. If your job is eliminated, you have to find another one.”

I sighed and quickly changed the topic: “I’m still concerned about Karen.” For a month now, our younger daughter had started following me around the house asking me to stay home. I’d discussed my concerns with a friend who felt that Karen needed Mike and me to spend more time with her.

“I’m worried too,” Mike admitted. “But I’m in a brand-new job. It requires travel. Is there any way for you to work something out with your schedule?”

How could I find more time in my schedule? I scrunched my head down in my pillow, trying to quiet the thoughts racing in my mind.

The next morning I was back at work, staring at the piles of paper on my desk. The inbox was full—again. My e-mail was filled with messages, many marked urgent, and I had five meetings scheduled.

As I was wondering where to begin, I was called to my boss’s office. Now it’s my turn to get the bad news…

“Kerry,” he announced, “You’re not being laid off, even though we have to eliminate your position. I’ve canvassed our other departments, and found out there’s an opening for you to be the regional vice president of our service clubs.” He stopped to let the words sink in.

“Of course,” he continued, “you will be helping them with their service projects all over the 13-state area. It’s a lot of night and weekend work. But it is a two-level promotion.” He beamed. “So…you can start in a few weeks.”

My mind reeled. “This offer is kind of a shock,” I replied. “I need to discuss it with my husband and get back to you.”

My boss looked startled. “You know I don’t have anything else in the wings for you, don’t you?” he said. “You shouldn’t pass up an opportunity like this…” his voice trailed off. “I’ll need an answer fast—first thing in the morning.”

I went back to my office, shut the door, and cried. Who would have thought the offer of a double promotion could reduce a person to tears?

That night, Mike and I lay in bed discussing all the options. We agreed the promotion for me was out. Both of us couldn’t travel and raise our children the way we wanted.

However, if the promotion was out, what was in? When I delivered the no to my boss the next day, what else could I suggest? If I didn’t nail something down, I’d probably be laid off. I’d lose my salary, our family’s benefits, my tuition.

I’d have to find a completely new job—but that would mean long hours climbing a steep learning curve just when I needed to be home more for Karen.

Our questions circled like a hamster on a wheel, spinning around and around, but never going anywhere. We just didn’t have answers.

Mike finally fell asleep around 3 a.m. I stayed awake, praying. God, I know you have a plan for me. But how do I make time for my daughters and keep the family afloat? God, what can I do? I have so many commitments. I feel like I’m being torn apart!

I tossed. I turned. I prayed. And then in my mind the words came to me. Stop rushing madly. There are different ways to do things, new ways. I remembered the Bible story in which Jesus talked about how you can’t put new wine into old wineskins.

Was that what I was trying to do? To fit all the parts of my life into the same frenzied pattern instead of being open to new possibilities?

The next morning, I stepped onto the elevator going up to my office and nodded at the woman who entered after me. Ordinarily I was so preoccupied that I wouldn’t have gotten into a conversation. But that day I was reminded: Be open to new possibilities.

I looked at her and smiled. “How are things going in your department?” I asked.

“Lots of changes,” she said. She was in the small-business department and told me about several people who had left. “And Donna Skubis-Pearce is looking for someone to share her job,” she said. We chatted until I reached my floor.

I walked toward my office. I thought, Share a job? Do people do that? Usually I would have tossed away that tidbit of information like a piece of scrap paper into the waste basket. But for some reason the idea remained and glowed like an ember.

Job sharing? I’d heard it mentioned before in the company. But what did it entail?

I dropped my briefcase beside my desk and before even taking off my jacket I dialed a friend in Human Resources. “Actually, a lot of companies are allowing job sharing now,” she told me.

She explained that meant my partner would work half a week, and I’d work the other half—for half the salary, of course, and with pro-rated benefits and tuition.

“A lot depends on the partners’ compatibility and how flexible they are in working out the details,” my friend explained. I remembered one time when Donna and I had teamed up on a project, it had worked out well. “It’s an option worth considering.”

I called Mike and although he didn’t relish the loss of half my income, he did agree job sharing had a lot of positives. After all, when I was off from work and the girls were in school, I could take classes and go to the library. When Karen was home, I could spend most of my free time with her.

After Mike and I hung up, I dialed Donna. It turned out she and I were at the same job level. After a few minutes of conversation about our career and personal goals, I sensed we’d be compatible. “I think we’d make a good team,” Donna agreed. “Let me see what my boss says.”

I held the line—and my breath—until she returned. “She says it’s okay to give it a try,” Donna declared, elated. “Let’s have lunch to map out how we would handle our responsibilities and then go talk to Human Resources.”

I went back to my boss, thanked him for the promotion, and explained why I’d decided I couldn’t take it. Donna and I started job sharing.

Later that month, once we learned how to share our work with each other and established a productive and comfortable routine, I was able to gear down and spend more time with the kids. Karen felt more secure. And I came up with an idea for my doctoral dissertation—job sharing!

The job share guide I put together in that process has since helped many others find a way to balance their work and home lives.

Five years have passed, Donna’s moved on to her own consulting business and I’m now job sharing with Susan Rhode. Job sharing turned out to be a realistic and satisfying way of rearranging my life.

The solution I’d searched for finally came about when I stopped rushing around and picked up my messages from God: There are always new ways to do old things. Be open to them.

Download your FREE ebook, A Prayer for Every Need, by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

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