THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 136: Aidan Donnelley Rowley, Novelist

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. 136: Aidan Donnelley Rowley, Novelist

Age: 37
Where I live:
 New York City
Job: Novelist and non-practicing attorney
Kids: Three daughters, ages 9, 7, and almost 5

ESauthorphoto1 (1)

Photo credit: Elena Seibert

Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
I practiced law at a big Manhattan law firm for less than two years. I knew immediately that I wouldn’t last long, that I was interested in leading a more creative professional life. But I was also struck by how little balance I glimpsed in so many of my colleagues. The hours were long and the work was demanding. When I quit the firm, it was to write full-time, but also, perhaps unconsciously, to build a more balanced life. I was newly married and knew I wanted kids down the line.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I think having “it all” is unrealistic, and striving to have “it all” can sometimes be remarkably unhealthy. That said, I think it is okay, in the abstract, to aim high and dream big. Okay to want work that inspires us, a family, a good marriage and dear friends while acknowledging that something’s got to give here and there. But there is no way to have all of these things at the very same time in just the way we want them. I think the focus should be on what we have rather than what we don’t.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
My biggest struggle has been balancing my mothering and writing. When my writing is on fire and things are lining up professionally, I find that I long for my girls and our sweet, less-structured time. During stretches of family time when I’m most present and engaged with my husband and daughters, I sometimes feel a bit agitated, a near-physical itch to write. It’s rare that I feel a perfect balance between these sides of myself, but perhaps I am balanced in those moments when I’m juggling both and not overthinking it too much.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I’m getting much better at the forgiveness part of balance. Some days will be fantastic creatively and others might be fantastic personally and some days will be just blah and that is okay. Overall, though, there is a sense of variety, of meaning, of balance. I used to be much harder on myself about doing “it all” and this was wildly counterproductive; loosening up about all of it, forgiving myself for the imperfections and the imbalances and the messiness that are part and parcel of a busy life turns out to help me feel more balanced. Go figure.

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 try not to do any work on weekends. Saturdays and Sundays, we tend to stay in our pajamas for as long as possible and take it down a much-needed notch. This is when I curl up with books and spend time with my husband and my girls, and even if I have the desire to write (which I often do), I force myself put it off until Monday. A nice effect of protecting weekends in this way is that I often look forward to getting back to the page on Monday mornings. Also, I often wake up at 4:30am on weekdays to sneak in a couple hours of quiet writing time before my girls wake up. This allows me to spend more time with my kids during the day.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From a mentor/co-worker?
 As I was close to finishing writing The Ramblers, I had occasion to ask Anna Quindlen if she had any good writing advice. “Butt in chair,” she said. Not exactly balance advice per se, but in a way, it is; by just doing the things we care about or want to do or must do, we are making room and time for other things that matter. Balance is impossible if we are forever procrastinating.
From your mother? “You can’t have it all, all at once.”
From your spouse/partner? “You are your own boss; be kind.”
From your kids? A few years ago, I was playing a board game with my kids and an article I’d written had just been published online. I kept shifting my attention back and forth between my computer and the game, and my oldest daughter looked me in the eye and asked: “What’s more important, Mom–looking at your computer or playing a game with us?” It was a powerful moment for sure; a reminder to be here now.

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?
Oh, I always say that I wish I had a couple more hours. If I had an extra hour, I would read, on my own or with my girls.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
That tough things will happen, but that I will be strong enough to make it through them. That surviving these things will bring meaning and depth to my life and make me who I am.

What do you hope to know by time you’re 60?
That things do not matter. People do; moments do; stories do.

What part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
A silly thing really, but brushing my girls’ hair! My daughters have beautiful, long, thick, and often impossibly tangled hair and it’s a bit of a battle each morning before school.

Whose job do you wish you had?
I can honestly say that I don’t want anyone else’s job. I love spending my days writing and raising my girls, and I feel very lucky to be doing these meaningful things.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
I’m glad I’m no longer practicing law. I do know lawyers who are happy and passionate about their work, but I know many more lawyers (and bankers and consultants and other professionals) who are sad, overworked, and resentful. I’m thankful that I had the youthful confidence (and financial stability) to jump ship from the legal world when I did.

Favorite books?
An impossible question, but one of my favorites is E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. My late father read it to me on a porch swing during summertime when I was a girl. I’ve so enjoyed reading this classic to my own girls.

What are you reading right now?
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. I began reading this book a few years back and somehow didn’t finish. Now that I’ve returned to it, I remember how beautiful a story it is.

Biggest vices…
Activity?
 Zoning out on my phone.
Food? Sugar. Candy corn around Halloween. Peppermint bark around Christmas. Cadbury Creme Eggs around Easter.
Website? I don’t spend tons of time on websites. Do Instagram and Facebook count?

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
6-8.

What do you read every morning?
I don’t read much in the mornings. Mornings are coffee-fueled dance party chaos where it’s a mad dash to get the girls dressed and fed and out the door to school.

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: overthink too many things.
I wish I: weren’t such a perfectionist.
My kids: are my muses.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
In eighth grade, I had to pick a quote for my yearbook page and I chose Nike’s “Just do it.” I still love this and believe this is how we should approach so many things in life.

51qmfy+BtWL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_About Aidan:
Born and raised in New York City, Aidan Donnelley Rowley graduated from Yale University and received her law degree from Columbia University. She is the author of The Ramblers (William Morrow, February 2016) and a previous novel, Life After Yes, and is the creator of Happier Hours Literary Salons. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and three daughters.

Find out more about Aidan:
www.aidandonnelleyrowley.com
Facebook: Aidan-Donnelley-Rowley
Twitter: @adonnrowley
Instagram: adonnrowley
Pinterest: awd24

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

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