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.
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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
Have 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.”
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
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 67: Eileen Palma, Author and Instructor
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 68: Adina Grigore, Founder of S.W. Basics
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 69: Dana Pollan, Writer