THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 8: Holly Gordon, 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. Every Friday I’ll feature a new interview. Here’s what Holly Gordon had to say…

No. 8: Holly Gordon, Executive Producer and Executive Director

Age: 42
Where I live: New York
Job: Executive Producer and Executive Director, Girl Rising
Ages/genders of kids: 9 year old boy, 11 year old girl

hollyIs the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
I was a producer at ABC News when I had my kids, jumping on planes and chasing breaking news stories. I had a ‘tipping point’ moment when we had returned from a trip abroad. Our bags were still packed, there was no food in the fridge and I went to drop my kids at preschool, reassuring them that I’d see them at home in the evening. Minutes later, my pager went off. Coal miners were trapped in a mine, and I was to get on a plane to West Virginia immediately and stay there until they were out.

I realized that producing and motherhood, for me, were incompatible. So I began to think of a next step. And for the first time in my career, I turned down an assignment.

My next step proved out the adage that relationships are so important. I was at a cocktail party, and ran into a friend who had left ABC and gone to the Tribeca Film Festival. I told her that I needed a change, and she offered me an opportunity on the spot. The Tribeca Film Festival led me to build new relationships with producers and film-makers and to an opportunity to join The Doc Group. I was hired to develop projects, a job that allowed the flexibility I wanted as a mother. One of those projects was Girl Rising. It quickly took over my life and my heart.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I think “having it all” is a false pursuit, sort of a like “finding happiness.” My dad once said that happiness is a high-octane state—unsustainable. Contentment is a better goal, with moments of true happiness sprinkled in. I think it’s the same with “having it all.” Seems pretty high-octane and unsustainable to me! Better to have a rich life filled with a mixture of experiences—professional and personal—that is curated to the right balance for you.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
I have a hard time making time for doing nothing, or at least doing very little. Especially with children who are entering their teen years, I think it is important to make space and opportunities for conversation and just “being together.” Actually, this is true for spouses and friends, too. I think it means taking time to be present and “in the moment”—reading a book, knitting, cooking, sipping a cup of tea, centering your mind to the present, not the household or at-work “to-dos.” I find this difficult.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
Asking other people for help. Not feeling that I have to do everything, perfectly, by myself. Helps to be balanced when you are not trying to balance a sky-scraper on your fingertip.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
From a mentor/co-worker? Good planning is everything. (Isobel Coleman)
From your mother? Don’t worry about the kids. If you are happy, they will be happy.
From your kids? I like you being a mom who works.

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?

What would you have told yourself… 
20 years ago? Don’t worry. Follow your passions, work hard, don’t settle for mediocrity ever, and don’t forget to make time for friends.
20 years from now? Relax. Go to the party, not the library.

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Cleaning up the clutter of daily living.

Whose job do you wish you had?
My friend Pamela Paul’s job. She’s the Book Editor of the New York Times. But then I’d also have to have her incredible brain and vision, so that I could actually do her job. Am I allowed to wish for both?

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
My friend Pamela Paul’s job. She has to go to lots of evening events.

Favorite book?
Any Human Heart, by William Boyd.

What are you reading right now?
Saturday, by Ian McEwan.

Biggest vices…
Activity? Working.
Food? Lucky Charms and Trader Joe’s Cheddar Cheese Puffs.
Website? I used to be a Perez Hilton addict, but I’m here to tell you that it IS possible to break the habit. I try to limit myself to 15 minutes of mindless surfing at any one sitting. Any more and I start to feel slightly queasy.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
I love to sleep. I love to go to bed early and get up early. 9:30pm-5:30am is ideal. But usually the light doesn’t go out till 10:30pm. My husband thinks this is a very boring way to live.

What do you read every morning?
My emails.

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: need to work less.
I wish I: spent more time with my friends.
My kids: are very interesting and very privileged (which worries me).

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
Pay attention to details. And just do it. Which I obviously stole from a big, clever company.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Life is not a game of perfect. Balance is a myth. Trade-offs are part of life. But don’t settle for leaving yourself off the list of needing to feel fulfilled, productive, intelligent, and capable as a human being—feelings that often come with paid work. Kids are resilient and need to learn to remember their uniforms and make their own breakfast. And moms and dads need to let them.

girl_rising_2About Holly
As Executive Director of Girl Rising, Holly sets strategy and leads this global campaign for girls’ education. She is also an Executive Producer for the film of same name, at the center of the movement. Holly was selected by Fast Company as a member of the League of Extraordinary Women in 2013 and named by Newsweek/Daily Beast as one of 125 Women of Impact in 2013. Forbes Magazine named the Girl Rising movement the #1 Most Dynamic Social Initiative of 2012. Prior to launching the campaign, Holly was Director of Content for the Tribeca Film Festival. She came to Tribeca from ABC News, where she worked for 12 years as a producer and booker for the major news broadcasts. Holly graduated from Brown University, with a B.A. in International Relations.

Find more about Holly and Girl Rising here:
Twitter: @hollygordon and @girlrising
Facebook: Girl Rising

Please share your own tips on balance and check back every Friday for another interview from THE BALANCE PROJECT. Better yet, subscribe in the box to the right and I’ll let you know when a new one posts…

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