THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 128: Noelle Smith, Tax Manager

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 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. 128: Noelle Smith, Tax Manager


*This interview is part of a series on women in tax at PricewaterhouseCoopers in conjunction with a presentation I am giving to their Metro Women in Tax group on December 15, 2015.

 

Age: 30
Where I live:
 Wyckoff, NJ
Job: Tax Manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers
Kids: An 11-month-old son

noellesmithHave you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
Yes. My son was born this past January. I returned back to work (at PwC) this past August when he was around 7 months old. After much thought and many discussions with my husband while out on maternity leave, I decided to come back on a flexible work arrangement at 60%, working 3 days a week. I did not want to sacrifice spending time with my son and wasn’t quite ready to leave him for 5 days out of the week, but at the same time I wasn’t ready to sacrifice the career I have worked to build over the past 8 years. By coming back 3 days a week, I felt that I could almost have the best of both worlds. That’s not to say that being a working mom is easy. Some days it’s a struggle and I feel guilty on both fronts: the notorious “mom guilt” for days I don’t get to put my son to bed because I’m working late and then guilt at work during the times I have to decline meeting invites so that I can pick my son up from daycare. Having only been back a couple of months, I am still navigating the waters and trying to figure out exactly how to balance it all.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I don’t think it really is possible to have it all. I think we’re always going to think we could be doing more or something better and not measuring up to other women that we think seem to have it all (when in reality these women probably feel the same way we do). I feel like life is just an endless juggling act. You don’t need to have it all or be perfect to be successful. As long as you are happy in your own life and feel like you are not sacrificing too much of what you value to be most important, whatever that may be, I think you have found success.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
Learning how to say no (when it is appropriate). I know that in order to achieve true balance, you can’t do everything; you need to push back at times whether it’s at home or in your career. But this has been hard for me to accept as I never felt I had a reason to do so before. I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable saying no.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I think I’m definitely getting better at accepting help from others and relying on my support network at both work and at home. Whereas before, I would at times try to take everything on by myself, I now know that if I want balance between home and career, I can’t do this. There are only so many hours in one day and one person can only do so much.

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?
I don’t really have a clever hack (at least yet!) but while it’s not always possible, I try to avoid using my phone when spending time with my son. I’ll leave it in the other room so that I’m not tempted to waste the precious time I have with my son constantly checking for new emails/texts/social media updates. If it’s out of sight, it’s sort of out of mind. I get caught up on everything during naptimes (thank goodness for naps) or after my son has gone to bed for the evening. I try and do my best to maximize my time with my son and on the flip side do my best to maximize my time while at work. I work through my lunchbreak, work from the bus on the way in and way home from work, and when necessary, I’ll log in from home at night when my son is sleeping.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From a mentor/co-worker? “You need to be constantly looking for ways to develop and coach your staff and leverage work down to them. Your goal should be to teach them how to perform your role so that one day you can move past your role to the next one and continue in your career progression.”
From your mother?
 “Don’t worry about what other people are doing and what they think. Do what you know is best for you and your family and don’t feel guilty about your choices.”
From your spouse/partner? “Don’t be a hero, speak up when you have too much on your plate at home or at work, and do not be afraid to ask for help. No one expects you to be superwoman and no one is perfect.”
From your kids? My son can’t talk in full sentences yet :-), but he has taught me to appreciate every day and to not take life too seriously. His smile and laugh are my best medicine and can make me feel better about anything that’s bothering me in an instant!

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?
Having an infant son who seems to go through a sleep regression every other month, the answer for right now is easy…SLEEP! If I ever get caught up on sleep, I would want to spend that time either exercising and/or reading for personal enjoyment: both things I haven’t had a chance to do in a long time!

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
To not sweat the small stuff and worry so much; things always seem to fall into place.

What do you hope to know by time you’re 60?
I hope I know how to be truly confident in myself and my abilities in all areas of my life: as a mother and as a professional.

What part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Laundry!

Favorite book?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

What are you reading right now?
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown… and work emails & Internal Revenue Code sections.

Biggest vices…
Food?
 Ice cream and candy. I have such a sweet tooth, and I tend to gravitate toward these foods when stressed.
Website? 
Online shopping.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
5-6.

What do you read every morning?
My work emails followed by my personal emails.

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: am adjusting pretty well to being back at work.
I wish I: had time to get a mani/pedi!
My baby: is the light in my life and the best thing to ever happen to me.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“Treat others the way you want to be treated.” And, “The best things in life are free.”

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DSC_0739About Noelle:
JS_BusinessCard_Front_FINAL
Noelle grew up with her mom, dad, and brother in a small suburban town in Northern New Jersey. She attended the College of New Jersey where she majored in accounting and also where she met her husband, whom she has been married to for 3 years. Noelle’s first and only job out of college has been at PwC, where she has worked for the past 8 years.

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WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT WORK-LIFE BALANCE? CHECK OUT MY NOVEL THE BALANCE PROJECT!

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