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. Every Friday I’ll feature a new interview. Here’s what Annabel Monaghan had to say…
No. 7: Annabel Monaghan, Author
Where I live: Rye, NY
Job: Author and columnist
Ages/genders of kids: 3 boys ages 7, 12, and 15
Is the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
I was an English major who panicked and became an investment banker. All my life I’d wanted to be a writer, but knew it was (is) a tough way to support yourself. I quit banking when I got pregnant with my first son at 28. Talk about throwing off your balance – I went from working 80 hours a week to sitting around watching my belly grow full-time. I started writing at 37, partly because it was what I always wanted to do and partly because my friend Elisabeth Wolfe kept after me to write a book with her. I am eternally grateful for her tenacity.
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I think the phrase “having it all” is both unrealistic and unkind. It sets a standard for us and makes us feel like we’re failing. Having it all will always be just beyond our reach. As they say, something’s gotta give.
I’m working pretty hard right now, and feel stretched a little thin. But I could do a lot more. I have opportunities that I walk away from. I have ideas that I don’t pursue. I have a manuscript that sits half completed, screaming at me. A part of me would like to take things to the next level, to dive fully into my work. But I don’t because 1. maybe I’m chicken and 2. because I want to feel in balance. I want to exercise, I want to pick my kids up from school, I even (in some sick way) want to make dinner. Those are the things I think I am going to look back on and value, so for now I try to only work from 10 to 3. And then sometimes again from 7 to 9.
I certainly don’t have it all, but I have all that I want to handle.
What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
The off switch. Whether I’m working on fiction or an article or even writing a school talk, once I’m in that space it’s hard to come out. The action in my head is so loud that I can barely hear the child in the backseat repeating “Mom? Mom? Mom?” Getting going on a writing project is hard, so once you’re in the zone it’s painful to stop.
What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I’m getting better at not taking things so seriously. And I mean both work and my home life. If something I’m working on takes a little longer to finish than I thought, that’s fine. If I can’t stay for the whole Valentine’s Day celebration in my kid’s second grade classroom, that’s fine too.
What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
From a mentor/co-worker? Operate from your heart, you’ll know where you need to be. At first I thought that meant that I was to always choose my family. But if you are truly operating from your heart, you’ll choose yourself sometimes too.
From your mother? My mom was all about fun, not balance. (I was so lucky!)
From your kids? When my youngest son was in kindergarten he made a little fill-in-the-blank book about me “My mom loves to… write. My mom spends her time… on the computer. My mom is happiest when… she is typing.” He didn’t mean to give the advice, but I heard it loud and clear.
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 really like to start watching more TV. I haven’t seen Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad, Homeland. It’s like I don’t even know what people are talking about half the time.
What would you have told yourself…
20 years ago? Quit worrying so much, it’ll all work out. And see that guy in your Fixed Income class? You’re going to marry him. You can call off the hunt.
20 years from now? Be as eccentric as you want, but don’t get cranky.
What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Chief Sock Manager (CSM). I would like to employ a person to come to my home every day and collect the socks that are strewn all over the house and in my yard. That person would then wash, dry, match, and maybe even darn them. Other duties would include discussing socks with my children and purchasing socks to match their wide array of sock idiosyncrasies.
Whose job do you wish you had?
Joe Queenan, columnist and curmudgeon at The Wall Street Journal. I fantasize about his retiring and handing that column over to me. There would be some sort of ceremony, maybe he’d present me with his well-worn cardigan sweater or a coffee-stained thesaurus. Sigh.
Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
My cleaning lady. All that work and it’s a disaster 10 minutes after she leaves.
What are you reading right now?
What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty.
Activity? Talking to my sister on the phone. Takes up a lot of my time, but I just can’t seem to get tired of her.
Food? Peanut M&Ms.
Website? TheSuperficial.com. It’s not high-brow. It’s probably below low-brow. But the guy who writes it is the funniest, oddest person out there.
How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
8, sometimes 9. It’s my key to survival.
What do you read every morning?
First, a calendar by my bed with daily messages from angels and, second, every piece of financial news on CNBC.com. How’s that for balance?
Complete the following sentences:
I think I: have a wonderful life.
I wish I: could slow down and appreciate it more.
My kids: won’t be home till 3!!!!!!!!
Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“Cleaning the house while you’re raising kids is like shoveling the walk while it’s still snowing.” – Phyllis Diller
Annabel Monaghan is the author of A Girl Named Digit (which is being made into a Disney Channel movie) and Double Digit, and is co-author of Click! The Girls Guide to Knowing What You Want and Making it Happen. She grew up in Los Angeles, pondering traffic and what motivates people to put bumper stickers on their cars. She has since become an avid bumper sticker collector, and, like Digit, displays them only inside her house. She writes a bi-weekly column for The Rye Record and is a regular contributor to The Week. Annabel has a degree in English from Duke University and an MBA from The University of Pennsylvania.
Please share your own tips on balance below and check back every Friday for another interview from THE BALANCE PROJECT. Better yet, subscribe in the box to the right and I’ll let you know when a new one posts…
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