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 all 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.”
BY THE WAY…
- Looking for THE BALANCE PROJECT, the novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.
- The Balance Project interview series recently celebrated its first birthday!
- Fortune ran a feature about The Balance Project.
- Want to be a part of The Balance Project? Complete the interview.
No. 59: Jessica Lahey, Writer and Teacher
Where I live: New Hampshire
Job: Writer and Teacher
Kids: Two boys, ages 11 and 16
Is the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
I’ve had so many permutations over the past 16 years it’s hard to name them all. I took a year off from law school to have my oldest son, and when I finished school and went back to work, it was with the help of a friend. We both taught part-time, so we arranged our schedules so she could take Ben from 9-2 while I taught, and I took her three girls from 2-6 while she taught. Later, with my younger child, I used a combination of preschool and the help of a literal village (I live in a small village in rural New Hampshire) to make my teaching schedule work. Luckily, my teaching day ended at the same time as my children’s school day, so working afternoons out was less of an issue for our family.
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
Having it all is completely unrealistic. As I head into a year of pre- and post-book release publicity, I’d really like to be able to take every offer to speak, every signing and event. However, my husband works long hours, and that’s just not always feasible. We’ve made tradeoffs—the first two decades of our marriage were really dedicated to the rigors of his career, and I’m calling that chit in now that I need more time away. But it’s hard, no matter how supportive friends, spouses, or parents are of your goals.
What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
The whole “I’m guilty when I’m playing because I feel as if I should be working and I’m guilty when I’m working because I feel as if I should be playing” thing. Work is play to me. I love my job so much, and it’s really easy to let that take over every moment of my day. Social media is a significant part of what I do to promote my work and that’s a sneaky beast—it can become the thing that takes over an entire day. I also have trouble focusing on my family when I’m inspired by a work idea, and because I work at home, it can be hard to draw boundaries. I’m still working on that—pun intended.
What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I really try to stop working when my younger son walks in from the bus at the end of the day and pay total, undivided attention to him for a bit. If I don’t do that, we can easily get to bedtime without ever talking to each other about real stuff, the important stuff.
What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
From your mother? “Figure out what’s most important to you, and do that.”
From your spouse? “I trust you.”
From your kids? “Would you read to me?”
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?
In the garden in the summer, in the woods cross country skiing in the winter, with a Great Courses podcast or audiobook on my iPod.
What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
That energy spent disliking things about myself is wasted energy.
What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
How to quiet the squirrels in my head and really listen.
What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Unloading the dishwasher and cleaning up rabbit pee.
Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
The person who unloads my dishwasher and cleans up my rabbit’s pee.
There’s a long, complicated answer to this, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going with 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.
What are you reading right now?
Lots of academic books. I’m in what Mary Roach refers to as the “three month flail,” researching for my next book.
Activity? Sitting. The job requires a certain amount of it, and I hate it.
Food? The British Kit Kats a parent of a former student sends me as writing fortification.
How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
I’m a big fan of sleep. I’m pretty hyper, and my brain is racing all the time, so I go to bed early and tend to sleep later than I’d like. I usually get at least 9 hours of sleep a night. We also have “naptime” in our house every weekend afternoon. The kids don’t usually nap, but since they were little, the understanding is that everyone will do something quiet, the phone will get turned off, and I almost always nap. I got a pretty significant head injury about a year or so ago and since then, I’ve required more sleep, and I’ve learned to listen to the signals and give my brain what it needs.
What do you read every morning?
Twitter and our local paper, the Valley News.
Complete the following sentences:
I think I: can. (Sorry, but it’s true, I’m an optimist.)
I wish I: was more patient.
My kids: inspire me.
Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“I decided to make my life my argument.” —Albert Schweitzer
Anything else you’d like to add?
My book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, will be published by HarperCollins in August 2015.
Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer, and speaker. She writes the biweekly “Parent-Teacher Conference” advice column for The New York Times, is a contributing writer to The Atlantic, and appears as a commentator on Vermont Public Radio. Jessica currently teaches high school English and writing, and lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two sons.
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 1: Jessica Mindich, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 2: Veronica Beard, Fashion Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 3: Emily Liebert, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 4: Lyss Stern, Mom-trepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 5: Lauren Slayton, Nutritionist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 6: Elizabeth Moyer, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 7: Annabel Monaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 8: Holly Gordon, Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 9: Jill Salzman, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 10: Jennifer Levinson, Jen’s List
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 11: Jenny Hutt, Media Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 12: Angela Santomero, Kids’ Media Creator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 13: Carola Donato, Yogi
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 14: Tiffany Washington, Pastry Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 15: Emily Giffin, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 16: Alana Sanko, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 17: Cara Lemieux, Journalist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 18: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, Authors
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 19: Nikki Mark, Author & Foundation Director
Shonda Rhimes on Doing It All
Indra Nooyi on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 21: Jill Bryan, Comedian
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 22: Cindy Callaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 23: Stephanie Hirsch, Artist
My Times of India Interview on Work-Life Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 24: Whitney Dineen, Author/Baker
AmEx’s Sobbott on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 25: J0-Laine Duke-Collins, Dessert Stylist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 26: Whitney English, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 27: Jennifer Gooch Hummer, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 28: Melissa Amster, Book Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 29: Nigel Marsh, Author and Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 30: DayNa Decker, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 31: Amy Selling, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 32: Heather Sonnenberg, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 33: Allison Winn Scotch, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 34: Bibi Kasrai, Entrepreneur and Chef
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 35: Karen Sutton MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 36: Samantha Ettus, Balance Expert, Author, TV/Radio Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 37: Pam Yudko, Holistic Health and Transformational Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT| No. 38: Nancy Huang, Nonprofit Outreach Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 39: Mary Laura Philpott, Writer, Editor and Illustrator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 40: Towanda Long, Marketing Communications Specialist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 41: Kristyn Kusek Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 42: Tracy Pollan, Actor and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 43: Christianne Phillips, Fitness Consultant and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 44: Susannah Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 45: Kimi Culp, Producer, Author and Creative Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 46: Traci Bild, Entrepreneur
The Balance Project Interview Series Turns 1!
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 47: Laura Vanderkam, Journalist and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 48: Amy Tara Koch, Style Expert and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 49: Cozy Friedman, Kids’ Hair Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 50: Bobbii Hach-Jacobs, Music Promoter
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 51: Niketa Jhaveri, Game Creator and Web Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 52: Sheri Silver, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 53: Lori Pollan, Cookbook Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 54: Chatón Turner, Attorney and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 55: Joanne Wilson, Investor and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 56: Nicola Kraus, Author and Creative Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 57: Shiri Sarfati, Marketing Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 58: Audrey McClelland, Entrepreneur and Blogger