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.”


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No. 70: Melissa Hawks, Owner of The Well Appointed House

Where I live: Greenwich, CT
Job: Owner of The Well Appointed House, LLC
Kids: Two girls ages 8 and 9 and a 6-year-old son

Melissa-Hawks-Headshot--55-Head-Smaller-for-the-WebHave you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
I wanted a family—having children was very important to me. I left advertising and created The Well Appointed House when I got married and gave myself time to create something that would be stimulating and mentally challenging, while still allowing me time to raise a family. There were many wonderful things about being in a big company that I missed in order to create a small business. I gave up perks and a great salary to have the balance I needed to become a mother.

If you’re a parent, is the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
I still have the same job, but upon having children I dramatically cut my working hours. My first two girls were born ten months apart, so I had two children in under a year—which was a dramatic lifestyle change. I was running The Well Appointed House and wanted to keep it going, but my ability to focus on the business shifted. Soon after, I gave birth to my son. So I had three kids in 36 months. I made a choice during these early years to enjoy being in the moment of new motherhood and let other things go. I watched as the competitive landscape of e-commerce changed, but I was focused on raising three young children and enjoying all that comes with that. I knew that there was a time and place for everything and that my focus during this time should be them. I cut back my working hours to working around nap schedules and fully immersed myself in playdates and time with other new mothers. I knew that this period of my life would fly by and I needed to enjoy it. I still worked daily, but the amount of hours and quality of my focus shifted for about five to six years. Now that my children are in school, I work full time during their school day and then am home and involved in their afternoon schedules.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
Women can have it all, if they make significant choices. All of the successful women I have looked up to over the years or who were mentors to me made sacrifices and choices along the way to get where they are. For example, the president of one of the huge advertising agencies I worked at—who I admired and looked up to—told me when I was in my mid-twenties that she had made the choice to have just one child in order to balance her career and reponsibilities at home. Other women have larger families and still have an amazing career, but they have to be comfortable with delegating a considerable amount of their children’s extracurricular and homework time to nannies. It’s all about choices. And there is no right or wrong way to do it. Having it all differs from person to person. For me having it all means having a good marriage, wonderful/supportive/fun friends who make me laugh, nice/caring children who are kind to their peers, enough money to live comfortably, a job that keeps my mind engaged, and the ability to be giving back to the world in some way. I love the quote, “The secret to having it all, is knowing you already do.”

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
I think as a woman, it’s obviously hard to balance being a good wife with being a good mother and doing a good job at work. Once you’ve tried your best to do those three things, you try to figure out what part of the day is left to be good to yourself. Women by nature tend to be nurturers and we nurture everyone but ourselves. Balancing our outward roles with inward needs is hard.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I have realized the importance of sleep and shutting off at a reasonable hour each night to enjoy a hot shower, a good book and a solid night’s sleep. I think so many women are trying to prove themselves in their thirties—and there are many outside forces coming at them. It’s easy to get sucked into going in a million different directions: joining charities, school committees, attending events with friends… but it’s also okay to say “no” and devote more time to family. I have been scaling way back now that my children have homework and more of their own needs. I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone. As they say, you can’t please everyone and I’ve just started realizing that and trying to make it a mantra. It’s important to let things go and set priorities each day.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
From a mentor/co-worker? 
“You can’t do a good job if your job is all you do.” And “Enjoy the little things, because someday you’ll realize they are the big things.”
From your mother? 
“Don’t burn the candle at both ends.”
From your spouse? 
“You can do anything, but not everything.”
From your kids? “Take a deep breath.” My 8-year-old daughter says this sometimes in a joking way, but she’s very right! She’s the calm one in the family and it’s a good reminder!

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?
Get a foot massage and read a good book.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
I had an idealistic view of marriage and family. The reality is that it is much easier for men to continue to grow in their career while coming home to time with the wife and kids. I think for women to birth/grow/create these wonderful, nice, well-behaved “little people” takes a lot of time being present—one-on-one time when they are infants and toddlers, time invested at home reading to them, time on the playground, time volunteering/participating at school—and inevitably this means time away from career. I think many husbands really have no idea what women do all day when their children are young. Our husbands wanted educated women as wives, but there is an expectation that we are all okay with just giving up prime career years to raise children—that it’s okay that they continue excelling in the workplace while we are bombarded with emails from school about coming to do lunch duty and go on field trips. I love doing these things and I love my children, but what is frustrating is to see these requests directed at the women and not the men. I had my husband added to these school lists so he gets a better view of what women are expected to do during the day. There are still many 1950’s things I see every day around me in terms of how women are expected to spend their time. I still see very few men volunteering at school—it happens, but it’s not the norm. I think when I was 20 and still in college, I thought things would be farther along for women then they really are. I thought raising kids would be more of a partnership than it often is. I’m very lucky to have a husband who is involved with the kids and is very supportive of me. However, based on what I see around me, I know there is still a major gap in expectations of responsbilities in families—even in towns where pretty much all of the women are very educated. But there is something huge to be said about being involved in child raising—it’s a very necessary and important thing, I just wish there were more equality in expectations. I relish time with my kids and participating when I can in these volunteer activities, but that means time away from work and what I see is that this is not considered okay for the men who work. I applauded Patricia Arquette for bringing up gender equality at the Oscars—I still see it as a huge issue. I think home life and raising children in the modern era needs to be much more balanced. Women also need to stop beating themselves up so much and feeling like they are letting people down when they say no to things.

What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
How all of life began! What started it all…why are we here :-).

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Getting rid of things we aren’t using anymore—as a family of five, we are constantly accumulating things and I wish there was someone who could come in and help keep the house balanced. Inflow balanced with outflow!

Whose job do you wish you had?
I always admire doctors—obstetricians who bring babies into the world, and I also admire the geriatric doctors who take care of older people. They are at both ends of the life spectrum. I admire compassionate people in caretaking roles in general.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
The people who clean the bathrooms in airports—or remove medical waste from hospitals. These are not easy jobs!

What are you reading right now?
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?

What do you read every morning?
I usually pop onto CNN.com to see what’s happening in the world. I read The New York Times on Saturday and Sunday.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get, so ask for what you want: in your job, with your friends, in love…”


Anything else you’d like to add?
Here are some more sayings that I like to keep in front of me to keep me on track:

  • “If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.”
  • “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “Do not regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”
  • “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” —Dr. Seuss
  • “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” —Oscar Wilde
  • “Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.”

logoAbout Melissa:
Melissa Hawks is a mother of three and the founder of The Well Appointed House and the Living the Well Appointed Life blog.

Find more about Melissa here:
Facebook: The-Well-Appointed-House
Twitter: @wellapp
nstagram: wellappointedhouse
Pinterest: wellappointed

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