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. 41: Kristyn Kusek Lewis, Writer

Age: 40
Where I live:
 Arlington, VA
Job: Writer
Kids: Two daughters, ages 4 and 6

kklphoto Is the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
I’ve worked as a writer my whole career, but I didn’t start writing novels until I was about 15 years in. My first job out of college was at Glamour, where I was the assistant to two wonderful editors who let me start writing for them from the day I started working for them. I went on to write about all kinds of topics, mostly for women’s and general interest magazines, and while I liked the work very much and still do, my lifelong dream was to write books. When I was still single and freelance writing, I went back to school to get my MFA in creative writing, not because I think one needs an MFA to write, but because I wanted the structure and guidance of a program to help me develop my work.

I started writing my first novel when I was pregnant with my first child. I sold it and signed with my publisher two years later, a few weeks after the birth of my second child. This definitely wasn’t strategic timing on my part. Those days are a blur—a happy, exciting blur—but it was nuts on all fronts between getting accustomed to motherhood, writing a novel, and learning the business of bookselling, all while continuing my magazine work.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the expression. First, there’s the fact that “having it all” is something that’s only ever directed toward women, the vast majority of whom now work outside the home and shoulder a large portion of the family stuff. Second, it implies that a woman who can and does choose to be at home full-time—or, on the other hand, chooses not to be a mother at all—is somehow settling for less or lowering her standards.

That said, in terms of juggling work and motherhood, I think that it’s impossible to do everything 100 percent simultaneously. I’m still figuring it out, but it’s been helpful to me to think of my work life and home life in terms of seasons. Right now, my kids are small, which means my work time is largely influenced by a half-day preschool schedule. But in another year, I’ll have far more time. I guess I believe in the adage that you can have everything you want but maybe not all at once.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
How to not constantly feel like there’s something else I should be attending to. I feel like my brain always “has too many tabs open.”

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I read a great book earlier this year called Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte, and in the book, she talked about how we tend to put off the fun stuff—hobbies, new pursuits, even just going out for lunch—until after we have crossed everything off of our to-do lists, and we all know that the list never really gets finished. It hit home, and I’ve made it a real practice to take the time to integrate the “good stuff” into my daily life. I stop for coffee. I sit and cuddle with my kids when there are a ton of other things that need doing. I have long conversations with my girlfriends in the middle of the day instead of sending their calls to voicemail while rushing off to the next thing. Like lots of us, I used to end each day feeling like I was crawling across a finish line. I still have those days, but they’re much less frequent now.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
From a mentor/co-worker?
 After I had my first child, I got an email from my first boss that said, “Forget balance,” but not quite so delicately. I don’t agree with her—I think that the pursuit of balance is a good thing—but I have thought of her email during times when life was way out of whack and I needed a funny reminder that life isn’t neat and easy for anyone.
From your mother?
 “Stop and smell the roses.”

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?
I’d go running. I’ve been a runner since middle school and can’t imagine my life without it.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
That I would regret not moving to Australia for a year, like my girlfriends and I talked about doing. I started my first magazine job a week out of college because I was hell-bent on getting a career going, and I wish I’d been a bit more frivolous in those early years when there was no marriage or mortgage or kids to think about.

What do you hope to know by time you’re 60?
I love how getting older just makes you more yourself, almost like you’re peeling away the layers. I hope to continue that.

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Laundry, though folding it in front of the TV is the excuse I use for watching too much Bravo.

Whose job do you wish you had?
Oh, Ina Garten’s, hands-down. I love everything about that woman—her “simple is best” aesthetic, her blue cheese coleslaw, everything.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
Anyone who really loathes what they do. Maybe telemarketers? I would hate to be yelled at or hung up on all day.

Favorite books?
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr, The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. And I’ve read everything by Nora Ephron. I’d read tax code if she’d written it.

What are you reading right now?
I’m finally reading Me Before You by JoJo Moyes.

Biggest vices…
Activity? Having a scotch with my husband at the end of a long week. And belting out Taylor Swift songs in the car with my daughters.
Food? I’ve been known to hide in the pantry with the Nutella jar in one hand and a spoon in the other.
Website? Instagram. I love, love, love it.

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

What do you read every morning?
The newspaper. I recently moved back to the D.C. area, which is where I was raised, and I have real nostalgia about starting my day with the Washington Post. And my husband comes from a newspaper family so we are diehards. We’ll never go digital!

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: enjoy life more with each passing year.
I wish I: had more hours in the day.
My kids: hold my heart in their hands.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“Be yourself.” And “Believe the world is rigged in your favor.” –Rumi

lewis.SaveMe.trAbout Kristyn:
Kristyn Kusek Lewis is the author of the novels Save Me (Dec 2014) and How Lucky You Are (2012), both from Grand Central. A former magazine editor, she has been writing for national publications for nearly 20 years.

Find more about Kristyn here:
Twitter: @kkuseklewis
acebook: kristynkuseklewisauthor
Instagram: @kristynkuseklewisauthor

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