Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about work-life balance. I’ve always been curious 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 novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.

No. 165: Camille Di Maio, Author

Age: 41
Where I live: Williamsburg, VA
Job: Author, Homeschool Mom, Real Estate Investor
Kids: Three daughters (18, 17, 13) and one son (8)

Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
We just made a HUGE adjustment in our family in order to find more balance. Although our real estate business was going strong in San Antonio, we decided that the pace and growth of a large city was no longer providing the balance we were seeking. We were overcommitted and frazzled. Taking a leap of faith, we looked around the country for the perfect community to move to. We found it in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s coastal, walkable, has easy access to bigger cities, friendly, and slow-paced. I have not used the word “stressed” or “busy” in the nine months that we’ve been here. Doing this meant a downsize – we gave away much of what we owned, but even that helped us find simplicity and peace.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or impossible and why?
It depends on what your idea of “it all” is. For me, having it all no longer has a monetary priority. It means—do I control my schedule, or does it control me? Do I have peace in my life? Can I comfortably pay my bills while still finding room for occasional indulgences? Do I have plenty of time to spend with my family and friends? Do I take the time to enjoy the outdoors and read a good book?

When my idea of having “it all” included being highly successful with all the different hats I was wearing, it broke me down physically. I like to give 100% to anything I can do. And there are limits to that. So instead, I had to adjust what my definition of it was. Now, if I have peace, that is everything.

Do you prefer the phrase “work-life balance” or “work-life integration”? Or do you think they’re both terrible?
Though I hadn’t given thought to the term, I have been practicing “work-life integration” for many years! We homeschool our four children and have been running our real estate business from our home. Additionally, I write at home. So, we have had integration in spades! This has its good and bad points. We lost, for a time, our sense of home as a respite because our house was also our work space on a number of levels. But there was also a big blessing in it. Our children, beside the Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmatic, have had a front row seat into the work ethic it takes to run a business and the tenacity it takes to write and edit a book and query it to agents until acceptance. So, overall, I think it has been a positive thing!

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
I have let go of my real estate license to write full-time. (Though I still assist my husband in some of the aspects.) I am still trying to find my way in how I will structure my writing days. Do I set aside a number of hours? Have a word count goal? How do I balance social media connectivity and avoid distractions? I’m working on these answers.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
By making this huge move, we made serious strides toward balance. The kids are playing with a lot of neighborhood friends rather than having crazy amounts of commitments and activities. We have not yet joined lots of activities at our new church, learning our lesson from being over-involved in the past. Everything that gets put on our calendar is now carefully considered rather than agreed to with an immediate “yes.” This has brought great balance to us!

Do you have a favorite time management tool, hack, or other strategy you use that helps you achieve balance that you would recommend to others?
This is embarrassing, but I’m very simple on this point. I keep a “to do” tab in the Notes section of my phone, and it keeps me organized. That’s about it. I’m not someone who does structure very well. I am a “pantser” not only in my writing but also in my life. I love to see what the day might bring!

What’s the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From a mentor/co-worker? 
Some of the best advice is through learning from others what NOT to do. I used to be a customer service rep at a grocery store. The person at the counter to whom you bring your returns and buy your lottery tickets. I decorated the counter during holidays with the names of employees, I cleaned out the rental steam machines alongside the cashiers under me, and I brought a lot to that $4.25/hr. job. The manager of the store began to resent me—I think higher-ups were wondering why she wasn’t doing the same things. She became extremely negative and underhanded. Very unbalanced. I learned that jealousy has no place in a healthy work environment.
From your mother?
My mother always said, “Balance in all things.” This was mostly in regard to religion. She was raised in an breakaway traditionalist version of the Catholic Church. It was extreme. But on the other hand, there is the extremity of not having some kind of faith as a pillar of your life. I try to find balance in my faith, my politics, and all of my views.”
From your spouse/partner?
When I was growing up, we would travel and squeeze lots of sites into every spare minute. I married someone who is the son of European immigrants, so he was raised with more of a European view toward travel and vacations. He would stop me from saying that I needed to see it all “in case we never come back.” He thought it not only disrupted the balance of the current trip, but it rested on the negative assumption that this was it. My husband is a genuine believer that anything is possible—and indeed, we have revisited many places that I thought I’d never get back to! 
From your kids?
In hearing my children speak, I’ve paid attention to the words “need” and “want.” By listening to how they use the words, I was made aware of how often we overemphasize the word “need.” There is very little that we need—so many of our pursuits are about what we want. I have learned to balance this.

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?
Reading at the beach! And now that I’m coastal, I can!

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
It sounds cliche, but “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” I have a much better perspective now on what is worth my worry and what isn’t.

What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
I hope I learn at sixty to be more bold with things that I am still timid about.

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
I would love to hire someone to cook and clean. But I want to set the example for my children that none of us are above physical work, nor is it typical to have abundant household help. At one time, we had someone cleaning our house every other week. One of our children left a mess that she’d created and said, “Our maid is going to do that.” No, no, no, no, and no. That made us really rethink those priorities.

Whose job do you wish you had?
I have been helping a friend edit her first book and I think I would be a very good editor. It came so naturally to me to turn on the review tabs on Word and dig into her manuscript. So, maybe when the kids are grown, I’ll add an editor hat to my author hat. Also, I have a friend who used to be the international buyer for a major grocery chain. She was constantly on the go, traveling to remote corners of the world to source chocolate, coffee, etc. I know for a fact that it was really challenging on her family, but the idea of it—if I’m ignoring the toll it takes—sounds amazing to me.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
I am very glad that no one is trusting me to build bridges or construct rockets. The world is in much safer hands putting those tasks in front of people who are far better at math than I am.

Favorite books?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman, and anything by Agatha Christie or Kate Morton.
The City of Joy by Dominique LaPierre. An amazing book about the slums of Calcutta and the realization that having a cardboard box could be a great blessing to your family. I read it as a teenager and it revolutionized and reinforced that idea of “need” and “want.” It actually drove me crazy when I was in real estate and showing houses to buyers. The overuse and misuse of “need” was epidemic. Thank you, HGTV. 

What are you reading right now?
I’m about to start The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine. I have heard such rave reviews about it and can’t wait to dig in. The snowstorm is making for a perfect reading week.

Biggest vices?
Flying. I’ve come to loathe airports and airplanes. Though I’m passionate about travel. So I have to put up with it. Now that I live in the East Coast, I’m a major fan of train travel.
Food? Coffee, which I know is a cliche for writers. But, up until two years ago, I couldn’t even stand the stuff! Then I got hooked on Frappaccinos from Starbucks, realized the horror of their sugar content, and weaned myself down to cappuccinos. I like the venti with two raw sugars and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Now I think about it every day, and with a Starbucks only two blocks away from me, it’s quite a temptation.
Website? Anything with clickbait. And also the quizzes that say, “Only 4% of people will know this!”

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
About five to six hours. I’m great at efficient sleep. My head hits the pillow and I’m snoring a minute later.

What do you read every morning?
I read two daily devotionals: Jesus Calling and My Utmost for His Highest. Keeps me focused on what is most important—how I live my life here and how I need to keep my eye on eternity. And I always check my social media before getting out of bed.

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: could be a storm chaser. I love weather. I get ridiculously excited when a thunderstorm is rolling in. The bigger the better.
I wish I: could teleport. Star Trek has it right.
My kids: are really good kids. Not perfect. But good people that I thoroughly enjoy. They are better than I am in many ways.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
My favorite quote is one of Mother Teresa’s many gems: “Let no one come to you without leaving better or happier.” This is my goal all the time. I say goal—I can fail at this. But it is a driving force in all that I do.

About Camille:
I’ve been married for twenty years to Rob Di Maio. We met as political interns in Washington, DC. I’ve lived in Texas, Colorado, Califiornia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and spend significant amounts of time in Hawai’i and Maine. I got a job delivering newspapers at twelve years old and have never stopped working hard. I bought a parakeet with the first twenty dollars I ever earned. I could spend endless days reading at a beach. I have a huge bucket list, but I’m also grateful for what I have and what I’ve done. Saturdays find me at farmers’ markets, Sundays find me at Mass, and in between, I’m loving time with my family and working on my books.

Find out more about Camille:
Twitter: @CamilleDiMaio
Facebook: CamilleDiMaio.Author
Instagram: @camilledimaio_author


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