THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 38: Nancy Huang, Nonprofit Outreach Director

Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance. I’ve always been curious—and maybe a little obsessed—about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified “doing it all” craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does “it all.” Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us feel a little better. I hope the conversation will be steered toward that reality rather than toward the flawed and dangerous assumption that we should try—or even want to try—to perfectly do “it all.”

2015 brings new changes to The Balance Project! First, my second book, THE BALANCE PROJECT: A NOVEL, will be published in April. It’s women’s fiction and it was inspired by these interviews. More about that here. Second, in preparation for the launch and because these interviews have received such tremendous response, I will publish new interviews two or three times per week, not just on Fridays. Thank you for your continued support!

No. 38: Nancy Huang

Age: 46
Where I live:
 Hillsborough, CA (San Francisco Bay Area)
Job: Director of Outreach, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation
Kids: 5-year-old girl, 10- and 13-year-old boys

Nancy 220Is the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
No. Before kids, I worked in the corporate world trying to gain more business experience, credentials, and networks to advance my career. I was trying to be competitive. Now that I have kids, I have moved into the nonprofit sector where my passion has always been. I am no longer interested in “climbing the corporate ladder” or just advancing my career. I am more interested in a role that is meaningful and that I can be passionate about. It has to be worth if for me to take time away from my kids.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
Ok, this is a topic I feel so strongly about, so sorry for my very long answer!

I think no one truly has it all—even those who write books about it and claim that they do. There are so many trade-offs in life that “having it all” conveys making no trade-offs, which is impossible. Of course, it depends on how you define having it all. I once thought (before kids) that I could “do it all”—run my own start-up company, be a great mom with lots of kids, be a great wife, and keep my house organized and clean. Starting at the age of 10, I raised my younger siblings since my parents were not very involved in raising us so I knew how to take care of kids, I knew how to take care of myself , and I knew how to work hard since my childhood was not easy. So, of course I thought I could have it all because I could do it all.

But then I took a risk in my career with a start-up that eventually failed, my not so “textbook” kids were born, and my life completely changed. Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and continue to do. Just trying to be the perfect parent was impossible. On the playground, moms who “had it all” had easy kids who slept through the night before six months old, ate anything you put on their plate (from sushi to spinach), and went with the flow of school, friends, activities, change, and homework. Those moms loved to brag about how they had it all figured out.

Authors who wrote about having it all must have been those moms with the easy kids who went back to work and claimed that they also had a perfect job with great responsibilities and salaries that matched their abilities, plus the flexibility in their work day to attend all the kids’ baseball games and also volunteer in class or on field trips without losing face-time at work and risking their career path. To them, none of that was a trade-off because they did it all. And these women also claimed to have wonderfully supportive husbands who respected everything their wives did as a mom and who considered their job just as important as his so he took on 50% of the parenting responsibilities—driving the kids to school and soccer games. And some even claimed that they always made it home in time to cook a balanced and nutritious family dinner every night with all the kids sitting at the table sharing stories of their highs and lows of the day—because “a family who eats together stays together.” And lastly, they claimed that they sill had a spare 30 minutes each day for a quick run, pilates, or yoga because they valued time for themselves. So according to all that, there are no trade-offs in life and you can have it all.

I actually have none of that. I’ve traded off picking up my kids everyday and attending field trips for going back to work because I craved using my business skills again. I’ve also traded off a higher-paying, more prominent job and taking on a lesser role than my qualifications for a more flexible, less stressful job so I can be with my kids every night and attend some of their basketball games. And I’ve totally traded off any time to exercise so I can still give my kids and my work 100%. So, I definitely don’t have it all. But, I do have great kids who I am really close to, and I have a job that I can be passionate about, and I’m not gunning for the next position. And everything else is just “good enough”—not perfect.

So, I think the advocates of “having it all” with the picture-perfect family give the impression that there are no trade-offs in life. The problem with that is that it makes the rest of us feel incompetent for having trouble with the trade-offs. Plus, kids are not born perfect. The perfect, high-paying job does not just happen. Making the decision to trade off time with your kids for time to work is not easy. And fitting in exercise or time for you on top of all that is almost impossible. So I’ve learned in my 40s to not shoot for “having it all.” I’m shooting for a life with choices—the choice to work a little or a lot, the choice to be with my kids a little or a lot, and the choice to change what I’m doing now and later. Of course, being able to have these choices comes with the trade-off that my husband will take on the bigger, more stressful job, and he won’t be home for dinner every night, and he won’t be able to help with 50% of the kids’ stuff. That’s the trade-off.

I tell my kids all the time that I don’t wish for them to have the perfect job but to have the choice to do what they want to do so they don’t ever feel stuck with unhappiness. Every trade-off brings a level of guilt. And I think that’s because we feel that we should be able to do it all and have it all according to these famous and powerful women. Instead, I wish we could all give each other a break and support the trade-offs that we all make in life.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
The hardest part of balance is being able to move my kids, work, husband, and myself in and out of the spots on my priority list. For me, the hardest part is moving the kids out of the #1 spot at times when work needs to take a little priority. And, unfortunately, my husband and myself never seem to make the #1 spot. I just feel so much guilt not always putting the kids at #1 even if it’s just for a small part of the time.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I am getting better at letting go of the need to be perfect and being okay with “good enough.”  I think that’s the only way to get balance.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
From a mentor/co-worker?
 “Don’t shoot for perfect.”
From your kids? 
My 12-year-old said to me this year when I was working two jobs and going crazy, “Mom you just have to learn not to give everyone 150% all the time.”

If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
Exercising. Something I know I need but never do, because it’s the bottom of my list.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
That each move is not the last move, it’s just your next move. You always have the opportunity to change things if they’re not working out. I worried too much about each move I made when I was 20.

What do you hope to know by time you’re 60?
That it’s okay to give myself a break.

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
I have already learned to outsource so much!! It’s the only way!

Whose job do you wish you had?
There’s no one I wish to be, because I think everyone’s life is challenging and I’ve learned how to live my life so I can’t imagine how I would figure out someone else’s life.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
President of the United States—to have the weight of the world on me would be overwhelming!

Favorite book?
No time to read. 🙁

Biggest vices…
Activity? Shopping online!! You can do it in the wee hours of the night!
Food? Pasta—wish I could eat it every day!!  It’s comfort food.
Website? Gilt.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
5.

What do you read every morning?
Emails.

Complete the following sentences:
I wish I: had five more hours a day.
My kids: taught me what true love is.

IMG_2816About Nancy:
Nancy is the Director of Outreach for Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a venture philanthropy firm that supports early stage social enterprises. She has spent the last 10 years in the nonprofit sector, previously as the Executive Director of Harvard Business School Community Partners of Northern California that delivered pro bono business consulting to Bay Area nonprofits through HBS alumni, and as an independent consultant for nonprofit startups. The transition to the nonprofit sector took place after a few years’ break from career to raise her three kids—now ages 13, 10 and 5.

Nancy’s previous career, before kids, included roles at ESPN, Bank of America, and Gap Inc. in Corporate Development, Strategy, and Finance. She also worked at the White House for President George H.W. Bush and as a Personal Aide to Barbara Bush. Nancy has served on the board of Positive Coaching Alliance and the Hillsborough School District’s Parent Executive Board and Site Council. She is a partner of SV2 (Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund), a board member of the Girls Leadership Institute, and serves on the Advisory Council for the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference (SECON). Nancy received an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS in Business from Georgetown University.

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