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 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, the novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.
- The Balance Project interview series recently celebrated its first birthday!
- Fortune ran a feature about The Balance Project.
- Want to be a part of The Balance Project? Complete the interview.
No. 67: Eileen Palma, Author
Where I live: Bronxville, NY
Job: Author, Instructor at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College
Kids: Molly (12) 2 months away from being a teen!
Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
For years I worked a day-job to bring in a steady income while pursuing my dream of becoming a published author. I brought my laptop everywhere. I wrote in the orthodontist’s waiting room, at a local burger joint while my daughter practiced gymnastics, and in between loads of laundry on my day off. My debut rom-com novel Worth the Weight was published last spring, and I found myself booked with author events, blog tours, and speaking engagements while trying to squeeze in time to write the next novel. So, I left the security of a regular paycheck to become an entrepreneur in a sense.
Is the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
My career path changed during my pregnancy 13 years ago because I developed a life threatening autoimmune disease called HELLP Syndrome that affects pregnant women and their unborn children. My daughter Molly and I were lucky enough to survive, but I was left with life-long health issues. I had to give up my elementary school teaching career because my immune system wasn’t strong enough to fight off the germs from the kids. I had always dreamed of becoming a published author, but I had hoped to teach for a while first. Today, I am lucky to be able to write from home and that I can combine my two favorite passions by also teaching a class at The Writing Institute.
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I think having it all is possible if you are honest with yourself about what that means to you and have realistic expectations. For me having it all means enjoying life with my husband and daughter, finding time to spend with my extended family and friends, living the writer’s life, and teaching at The Writing Institute. I find a way to make all of those things fit. That doesn’t mean my life is flawless. The one thing that will never be part of my “all” is perfect health. As long as I’m realistic about that, I am happy.
What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
How to be stop worrying about everything on the to-do list.
What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
Saying no to things that take me away from my writing or my family.
What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
From a mentor/co-worker? This is actually advice from one of my closest friends. “We all think the hardest time to be a working mom is when your kids are babies. But it actually gets harder when they are pre-teens and teens. They need us so much more then.”
From your mother? “No job is worth getting sick over.”
From your spouse? “Why don’t you just skip the Christmas cards this year?” I get this advice from my husband every year and haven’t taken it yet. But, I love the spirit of the advice though, which is to skip unnecessary tasks when you are stressed out.
From your kids? “Sometimes you just need takeout and a Gilmore Girls marathon.”
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?
What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
It is all going to work out. Stop worrying so much.
What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
It is all going to work out. Stop worrying so much.
What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Emails. No matter how many you answer, there are always more waiting for you.
Whose job do you wish you had?
I always dreamed of being a published author, so I can honestly say I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing right now. Not to mention nothing beats working from home in your pajamas.
Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
NYC taxi driver. I can’t think of anything more stressful than driving through rush hour traffic in Midtown everyday.
I have read To Kill a Mockingbird once a year since I was in fifth grade. Every time I read this novel, I find new meaning in it. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird was life changing for me because it was what set me on the path to becoming a writer. I am eagerly awaiting the July release of Go Set a Watchman, which takes place 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird, but was actually written by Harper Lee first.
What are you reading right now?
I just started reading The Girl on the Train. I had been looking for another psychological thriller that could keep me gripped like Gone Girl did. So far it is fitting the bill.
Food? Gluten-free pizza and Mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Website? The Hungry Runner Girl. I love reading her down to earth blog posts about how she balances running, blogging, and being a mom.
How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
7-8 hours a night. I find that I can’t be creative without a good night’s sleep.
What do you read every morning?
I read my Facebook newsfeed because it helps me stay connected to long-distance family and friends as well as my readers. I read a couple of articles from The New York Times. Then, I always have to read a bit of what I wrote the previous day before I can write forward.
Complete the following sentences:
I think I: am a loyal friend.
I wish I: could eat gluten. I dream of eating real NY pizza, NY bagels, and mac and cheese.
My daughter: gives me strength.
Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
My personal motto that guides my professional life is: “Write like an artist, revise like a business person.” My favorite saying that guides the way I live my life is: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” —Ghandi
Anything else you’d like to add?
When I was recovering from HELLP Syndrome, I was so sick and weak that I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs or change my own baby’s diaper. I struggled to do all the things that ordinary moms don’t think twice about like bathing my daughter and pushing her in a stroller. 13 years later and I still have to fight to be healthy every day, and I never know when a bad relapse is coming. But last year, after a lot of training and with a few health hiccups leading up to it, I ran my first half marathon. During my hardest training runs, I thought of the days when I had to crawl up the stairs and that got me through when I wanted to give up. For me, living a balanced life means fighting tooth and nail for the things that are important to me, whether it’s running a half marathon, publishing a book, or finding time for my family.
Eileen Palma has an English degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and has studied Advanced Novel Writing at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College where she is currently an instructor. Eileen’s debut romantic comedy novel Worth the Weight was selected as a compelling read from an emerging author for Barnes & Noble’s Nook First program and has won multiple awards. Eileen lives in Bronxville, NY with her college sweetheart husband Douglas, tween daughter Molly, and a scrappy Wire Haired Fox Terrier named Oscar. Eileen is currently at work on her second novel Babymoon.
Find more about Eileen here:
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 1: Jessica Mindich, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 2: Veronica Beard, Fashion Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 3: Emily Liebert, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 4: Lyss Stern, Mom-trepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 5: Lauren Slayton, Nutritionist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 6: Elizabeth Moyer, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 7: Annabel Monaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 8: Holly Gordon, Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 9: Jill Salzman, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 10: Jennifer Levinson, Jen’s List
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 11: Jenny Hutt, Media Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 12: Angela Santomero, Kids’ Media Creator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 13: Carola Donato, Yogi
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 14: Tiffany Washington, Pastry Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 15: Emily Giffin, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 16: Alana Sanko, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 17: Cara Lemieux, Journalist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 18: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, Authors
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 19: Nikki Mark, Author & Foundation Director
Shonda Rhimes on Doing It All
Indra Nooyi on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 21: Jill Bryan, Comedian
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 22: Cindy Callaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 23: Stephanie Hirsch, Artist
My Times of India Interview on Work-Life Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 24: Whitney Dineen, Author/Baker
AmEx’s Sobbott on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 25: J0-Laine Duke-Collins, Dessert Stylist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 26: Whitney English, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 27: Jennifer Gooch Hummer, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 28: Melissa Amster, Book Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 29: Nigel Marsh, Author and Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 30: DayNa Decker, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 31: Amy Selling, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 32: Heather Sonnenberg, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 33: Allison Winn Scotch, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 34: Bibi Kasrai, Entrepreneur and Chef
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 35: Karen Sutton MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 36: Samantha Ettus, Balance Expert, Author, TV/Radio Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 37: Pam Yudko, Holistic Health and Transformational Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT| No. 38: Nancy Huang, Nonprofit Outreach Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 39: Mary Laura Philpott, Writer, Editor and Illustrator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 40: Towanda Long, Marketing Communications Specialist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 41: Kristyn Kusek Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 42: Tracy Pollan, Actor and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 43: Christianne Phillips, Fitness Consultant and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 44: Susannah Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 45: Kimi Culp, Producer, Author and Creative Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 46: Traci Bild, Entrepreneur
The Balance Project Interview Series Turns 1!
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 47: Laura Vanderkam, Journalist and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 48: Amy Tara Koch, Style Expert and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 49: Cozy Friedman, Kids’ Hair Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 50: Bobbii Hach-Jacobs, Music Promoter
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 51: Niketa Jhaveri, Game Creator and Web Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 52: Sheri Silver, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 53: Lori Pollan, Cookbook Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 54: Chatón Turner, Attorney and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 55: Joanne Wilson, Investor and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 56: Nicola Kraus, Author and Creative Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 57: Shiri Sarfati, Marketing Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 58: Audrey McClelland, Entrepreneur and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 59: Jessica Lahey, Writer and Teacher
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 60: Lindsay Bressler, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 61: Marie Claire Lim Moore, Banker, Author and Speaker
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 62: Stacey Ballis, Novelist and Cookbook Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 63: Amy Hochhauser: Co-Founder, JoyRide Cycling Studio
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 64: Molly Sims, Actress, Author and Humanitarian
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 65: Colleen Oakley, Writer and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 66: Nichole Montoya, CEO of Cheddar Up
Eileen, you’re incredible and such an inspiration to me. We’ve known each other a short time yet I have managed to learn so much from you. You’re my mentor and most importantly, my friend. Having experienced HELLP syndrome myself only a couple of years ago, I know what it’s like to live with residual health concerns. However, I can only imagine what it’s like 13 years down the road.
Anyone who has read your first book knows how brilliantly talented you are. The fact that you’re using your writing to assist in raising awareness of HELLP syndrome is such a blessing to all of us.
Eagerly awaiting your next book! Xx
You seem to have everything in balance, Eileen. You somehow get it all done. I loved your book, Worth the Weight, and can’t wait to read your next one.