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. 175: Allison Landa, Author

Age: 43
Where I live: Berkeley, CA
Job: Author
Kids: A son, Baz, 2.5 years old

Photo by Maya Blum Photography

Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
Balance is a HUGE thing to me and I’ve canted my career around it. Office jobs have never worked for me because I’ve always felt that it skews work-life balance. I’ve worked remotely for the great majority of my career and now, as the parent of a young son, am so grateful for this opportunity.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or impossible and why?
It depends on how you define “all.” No one can have everything they want. It’s impossible statistically, resource-wise, and by the decree of some god whose ass I’d like to kick. That said, I certainly think you can have all of what’s important to you if you really get realistic about defining what it is you want. For me, that entails a creative career, a robust and satisfying family life, fantastic friends, and rich adventures. Lots of coffee and chocolate, too.

Do you prefer the phrase “work-life balance” or “work-life integration”? Or do you think they’re both terrible?
I think they’re both accurate but kind of terrible. I just like the phrase life. Everyone figures out their own sense of balance. I’m not saying everyone’s sense is fulfilling to them, but many if not most of us do get there.

What part of “balance” can you not seem to figure out?
The balance beam? I’m actually pretty good with my time. I tend to put personal connections above professional responsibilities, which has occasionally resulted in me slapping myself in the head. I’m working on that.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
See above. 😊

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 keep an old-fashioned calendar (Do those still exist? Yes, Virginia, they do.) and email myself reminders on the fly. Other than that, I’m pretty fast and loose with how I schedule my time. This can sometimes catch me the wrong way as I tend to overschedule personal obligations and relaxation time, which kind of defeats the purpose, but we’re all works in progress.

What’s the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From a mentor/co-worker?
My dogs bark at me a lot. Does that count?
From your mother? “Relax.” That doesn’t really work for me. “The key to anxiety is action.” I like that one better.
From your spouse/partner? “Chill the fuck out.” Can I say fuck? I think I just did. That’s from my husband, Adam.
From your son? “Sock it to me.” It’s Bazzy’s favorite expression.

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?
Staring at the wall. I am not kidding. There is a lot that can be gained from staring at the wall.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
That I wasn’t dumb or ugly.

What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
Don’t I already know it all?

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Dishes, man. I hate the dishes. In fact, I’m so bad at them that my husband won’t even let me do them, so maybe it’s already outsourced.

Whose job do you wish you had?
Mine, man. I love writing.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
Everyone else’s.

Favorite books?
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Prozac Highway by Persimmon Blackbridge.

Nonfiction: Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center by Michael Downing and Moneyball by Michael Lewis (and I’m not even a baseball fan!)

What are you reading right now?
A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers.

Biggest vices?
Hiding out from small talk. Cursing copiously. Oversharing. The three, I believe, are related: the cat’s cradle of Landa.
Salty and sweet. Combine the two and I’m dead.
Facebook. Others that I won’t admit to you.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
As many as I can! Between 6 and 8.

What do you read every morning?
My email. Books to my baby. Not necessarily in that order.

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: do okay in life. More than okay.
I wish I: nothing. If I wish it, I do it.
My son: rocks my world.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
If you can name it, you can do something about it. Also, cilantro sucks. Remember that.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I really appreciate the opportunity to participate in this!

About Allison:
Allison Landa is a Berkeley, CA-based writer of fiction and memoir whose work has been featured in The Guardian US, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Salon Magazine, and The Rumpus, among other venues. She earned her MFA in fiction writing from St. Mary’s College of California, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, and has held artist residencies at Playa Summer Lake, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and The Julia and David White Artists’ Colony. She is represented by Miriam Altshuler of DeFiore & Co.

Find out more about Allison:
Twitter: @allisonlanda


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