Work-Life Balance is Your Decision

Coffee Stained Sticky Pad with Broken Pencil and Telephone ReceiverThere is no doubt the public relations business is a busy, exciting and hyperactive assault on the mind, senses and body. Simply put: It is a profession that requires you to mentally (and sometimes physically, particularly with those pesky events) give it your all every day. And at one end of the spectrum, these indelible facets of the business are what makes it so great and such a wonderful profession to work in, but they can also be the downfall of many, the cause of extreme burnout, if not managed and dealt with properly.

Which is probably why there are so many damn blog posts, articles, books, and Web sites devoted to work/life balance and effective time management and whether you need to separate your personal life/time from your professional life/time, or if you should choose the new trendy time-management theory of “your job and your personal life should blend harmoniously and in perfect sequence with one another.”

I say bulls*** to all of that.

Seriously. There is no magic theory or great article or blog post you can read that will help you deal with everything that comes at you in this profession or in any other, at least not from a time-management standpoint. Your life is your life, and whether you choose to designate some formal separation from work and home (e.g. not checking work e-mails every five minutes once you have left the office, or not constantly scanning the headlines on your BlackBerry during the weekend to see if there is some big trend rising up that you need to client your client in on), or whether you choose to have a cohesive blend of work and home is your own choice, and it’s one only you can make after a great deal of trial-and-error, introspection and thought about how you want to manage your life and career.

Because you have control over all of this. If you want to separate work from your home life, great. Do that. But know what you are doing, and be accountable for it. Likewise, if you want to be the always-on, “my work is my life, and vice-versa” type of PR guy, that’s fine, too; but again, know what comes with that. So, when you miss a big trend over the weekend that your client would have been perfect for, but you have decided that you’re a “work is separate from my personal life” type of PR pro, be accountable for what happens. Likewise, if you’re “always-on” PR guy, be accountable if you feel like you haven’t stepped off the giant treadmill of work for about 27-straight days.

I’m not trying to say one way is better than the other, or indict anyone who chooses one path versus the other. What I am saying is the constant chatter, articles and blog posts claiming that “work-life balance” no longer exists, or “to be successful, you must blend your life and your career” is a bunch of crap, and needs to stop. It’s your decision, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot of trial and error to figure it all out, and that’s something that none of the so-called “experts” in time management will ever be able to figure out for you.

As for me? I struggle every week with trying to figure out what type of career balance I want to strike. Some weeks, I’m flying along with a great balance of things, and everyone (me, my fiancé, my friends, family, clients, employer, etc.) is happy with how things are going, and the amount of attention I am giving them. Other weeks . . . eh, not so much. And, it’s exhausting sometimes to try to work through all of this.

So, no, unfortunately, I don’t have the magical answer for everyone on this, but I’d love to hear from all of you as to how you balance things out.

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  • Keith,

    You're absolutely right. You need to find the balance that works for *you*.

    I've been giving this a lot of thought lately as I start applying for jobs and I don't know all the answers yet. I'm interested to see the responses here!


  • Hey Keith-

    LOVED the post. As professionals, some of us can get caught up in what the ideal balance should be instead of what's good for us. I've been working full-time for almost 6 months now and I'm still trying to figure out that balance and what's right for me. My friends from home don't work full-time yet (they're applying to grad schools for next year, so working part-time for now) so when I can't go out during the week, it seems like they don't understand why, which is whole other thing. I guess it's different when you're working part-time.

    Between that, freelancing on the side, and saving for vacation in April, right now it seems like the balance is all work and no play. But sometimes it's a perfect balance. Just depends on the time and what's going on.



  • Keith – this is a great post and I don't think you could have been more right: this isn't a one size fits all kind of thing. What works for one person might not work for another.

    One thing that I have to disagree with is that you state we as individuals have control over it. Every profession differs in levels of commitment and same for job level (AC, AE, SAE, VP, etc.). For some, they might not always have the choice to say, “I'm sorry I cannot attend this client event, my Godchild is getting baptized that day” without having some damaging repercussion. Call it extreme, but it's a reality. I feel very fortunate to work at a firm where everyone is driven, but our management is mindful of staff members “having their own lives.” I've also taken much of my work into my personal life. Most of my friends in CT met me as “Kate Ottavio, Account Coordinator at Co-Communications” as I always seem to have that at the forefront. But, I've also created great friendships with these people allowing a good balance of fun time with professional benefits as well.

  • Keith,

    I completely agree with you. Not only is the work-life dilemma different for each person, it also differs each week! Like you said, sometimes the balance seems perfect and everything moves smoothly one week, however, the next week brings chaos. Especially in the dynamic world of PR, we as professionals can't assume to find a perfect balance; but if we do, can we expect it to last?

    Thanks for posting this – it's great topic to discuss!


  • Keith,

    Great post. I am lucky enough to work for a very “balanced” company, but still wrestle with finding my own personal work-life balance on a pretty regular basis. My challenge (and it sounds like the same is true for others, too) is that the balance is a moving target. One week everything could be pretty close to perfect, and then the next week, you might have three new projects at work, a toddler with pinkeye, a flooded basement, AND a leaky roof. It's a constant juggling act, and though I'm not sure it gets any easier, I do think there are a lot of people in the same boat.

    Thanks for writing such an honest and realistic post.


  • jeffespo

    Great post, the balancing act is something that isn't a cookie cutter fix and is up to all of us to do on our own.

    Kate – you wouldn't be able to go to a baptism?

  • keithtrivitt

    Folks – Thanks so much for the amazing comments and feedback to this post! That truly means a lot to me. I have been in meetings all day, but will be sure to comment back to you all later tonight. Have a good one … and stay relaxed 🙂

  • keithtrivitt

    Tom – Thanks for the note, and best of luck on figuring everything out with your new job search! It can be stressful, and looking for a new job is definitely a major time investment, so don't let it stress you out too much!

  • keithtrivitt

    Christa – Thanks for the note! You're exactly right: It's all about finding the balance that works for YOU. And no one else can find that right balance for you, or tell you what is right or wrong. It's a personal decision that has to be made over time, through a lot of trial and error. I know it's something I struggle with all the time, but hopefully, I'm getting closer to finding my own balance and what truly works for me.

  • keithtrivitt

    Kate – You make a really interesting point regarding how work-life balance and the pressures put on us for this differ between career levels. While I agree with you that the pressures can be vastly different between an AE and a VP at an agency, I would still counter that at the end of the day, this is all your decision. It may sound crass, but if you're a VP, you don't have to go to every late-night client event or make that next two-week trip to Prague. Granted, you may not have a job if you make that decision, but again, that decision is yours to make.

    And that really goes back to my central point that feeling like we have to conform to a set of norms for balancing our professional and personal lives. It's just not true, at least how I see it. Yes, every position has its own set of responsibilities and expectations that go with it, but you presumably know that going into the job, or you take on those responsibilities/expectations as you move forward with the position.

  • I was two parg. in to this and ready to rant at you! But you said it – right! Well written. I have absolutely no answer or suggestions. We choose one or the other and cest la vie!

  • keithtrivitt

    Glad I didn't get the rant version of the comment! 🙂 Glad you liked the post, and thanks for chiming in. And exactly as you say: We choose the paths that our careers take. There are a lot of extraneous factors that play into those paths, but at the end of the day, we are in charge of many of those decisions.

  • hey Keith I like this. This is a pet topic of mine, as it of so many people. I'm fascinated by it. But I love the “be accountable” message. Few things irk as quickly as hearing someone whine about being SOOOOOOOOOO busy, when the circumstances are entirely of their own creation. Own it, or be able to laugh about it, or something. But don't whine about it 🙂

  • You raise some interesting points. I agree that much of how one balances their work and life is up to them. However, you also need to have a manager who is flexible and supports your choices in how you intend to balance everything and complete all of your work.

  • keithtrivitt

    Shane – Thanks for the insightful comment. The “be accountable” part is really the crux of the whole argument. Yeah, we all complain from time to time about being busy, but really, we put ourselves into these circumstances in some way, shape or form, and yes, we do have control to change that.

    And to address Mitchell's point below, while I absolutely agree that you need a management team that is flexible and supports a balanced work life, at the same time, you have the decision whether you want to stay in an environment that maybe doesn't support that balance.

    Of course, saying that is far easier than actually walking away, so there is certainly no easy answer. Like I said, I still struggle with this every week.

  • MelissaHourigan

    I agree with the main point of this post and to be honest, the work/life balance thing has been a problem in PR for years. Our profession just isn't 9-5 especially now with stories breaking at all hours and on weekends. In the beginning of my career, I was often criticized for the amount of time I was at work – but it was my choice, I was hungry to know everything I could, to be the first to send the articles of interest around, to catch something before the client. Then when I had a family, I had to start learning the difference between my version of “balance” and what my family needed from me. Many firms don't understand the needs of mothers and I have experienced the downside of picking my career over my children in situations. Now on my own, I find that I can have both but on my terms. I never log off, I always check email but I also am there when my kids are sick or I need to be a mother or wife. Most of us are in this profession because we like the pace, like to chase a challenge and do what it takes to be the best, if we didn't we wouldn't be here. Thanks for this post, it was refreshing. Those work/life balance gurus make me nuts.

  • Enjoyed your post. It is in all in our control…to a point. I'm part of a vibrant community of people who want to work. Are qualified to work. But can't find work. Not because we're unemployed…but because the workplace isn't flexible. Many of us have personal obligations such that we are no longer willing to work M-F 9-5+
    About 30 hours a week works for us. Which sounds easy, right? Sure if you want to be a secretary, or a freelance accountant, or work at Starbucks…but not if you want to be a “professional.”

    So many of us have instead chosen no work, or to work for ourselves. But it's not really what we want. So we're blending it all very well…and we are meeting our personal obligations and we “work”…but we miss our professions.

    And that is part of the “balance.” But it's not easy.

  • keithtrivitt

    Melissa – Thanks for the really great feedback on here, particularly from a parent's perspective, while I'm not yet a parent myself, I can only imagine is a whole different world of craziness in terms of balancing work-life demands.

    It's really great to hear that you're doing so well balancing this now that you're on your own. I hear that from a ton of people who have recently gone solo, and it's certainly nice to see that many PR pros are taking their careers in their own control to find the best balance that works for them.

  • Annie

    Thank you for this post! As a soon to be college graduate seeking a PR career, I always hear about reading-up on balancing my life and how I can make it easier. I always think to myself: “How can someone else teach ME how to balance MY life, the way I want?”

    Great post!

  • Stephen Koenigsberg

    If you're the obsessive or compulsive personality type (and you know who you are), and don't have a handle on what drives you, I don't think “you have control over all of this.” It's as powerful as any addiction on the planet — cunning, baffling and insidious. And it could take some time and maybe even therapy to slow down enough to hear what you're saying to yourself and to be aware of what propels you underneath all the busyness. People will fight this process tooth and nail because it often amounts to taking off a protective mask or two or three….. and that's not comfortable.

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