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. 76: Dana Marlowe, President of IT Consulting Firm
Where I live: Metro Washington, D.C.
Job: President of IT Consulting Firm
Kids: Two boys, ages 3 and 6
Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
The work/life balance is tricky. Well, I’m sure everyone says that and inserts their own synonymous adjective there. To paint a picture: I feel like a tightrope walker balancing a bunch of spinning plates on sticks. While I’m up there, I’m hoping that nothing drops or slips through the cracks. Sometimes I’m more coordinated than others. Sometimes I’m sweeping up broken china.
Luckily, I’ve found a few hacks that help out. Sometimes, adjusting my schedule to accommodate for different needs has helped significantly. Kind of like a kick in the pants to my Outlook calendar, and multitasking. Here’s an example: I’ll pick up a prescription or drop off dry cleaning mid-day on a weekday so that it doesn’t have to get done on the weekend. Then, I might work in the evenings those days to compensate. Thus, my weekends are free from weekday spillover!
Also if you love what you do, the work/life balance becomes a bit more of a work/life integration. And that “balance” just becomes life. So if folks are passionate about their profession and love their career, there is not always the need to draw concrete delineations between “work” and “life.”
Is the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
My industry is the same, but my role has changed significantly since I became a mom. Before I had my children, I was the Senior Vice President of an IT consulting firm. During my maternity leave with my first son, I sketched out a business plan for a new company. Before he was crawling, I executed on it. Essentially, I took on the added responsibility of starting up a consulting firm. Now, add a few years and one more kid, and I’m a principal partner of a thriving accessibility technology consulting firm. Believe me, my office looks vastly different now than it did a few years ago when I was at the other company.
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I think we can all have it all in doses. Clearly not every day 24 x 7, because life happens. However, it is a realistic lifestyle if one is cognizant that ‘it all’ can come in smaller quantities. There are weeks where I feel I’m on top of the world, and then others where I’m just getting by. It’s about being honest with your expectations.
What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
My husband and I both travel a considerable amount for our respective careers. It’s just the nature of our careers, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some difficulty. The long hours of travel, coupled with airport dancing, have been notably difficult and it doesn’t feel well balanced. It takes a toll on our kiddos, as well as us. Gives a whole new meaning to jet lag.
What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I try to really focus on my kids before school and after school until bedtime. Doesn’t mean I’m 100% perfect at it, but I’m improving. I sometimes have to put some overtime work projects off to the side, but I really want them to have more of my attention.
What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
From your mother? My mom instilled in me the importance of being happy. Happiness is paramount. Life is short, might as well be happy. But if we’re going with family members, I always go back to advice I heard from my stepfather many years ago. As he says, it’s simple, just two words, but can be applied to so many of the business decisions that were occurring at the beginning and still today. His words to me were to never forget that “everything counts.” It’s general advice that I can now remember when dealing with large new prospective clients or my co-workers. Each person carries a value that can’t be ignored for the success of the company. Needless to say, my stepfather’s advice has helped and continues to help me out a ton.
From your spouse? “Just do it.”
From your kids? “Put down your phone.”
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?
Easy peasy. I know the answer to that one right away. I’d be socializing with friends…IRL not on the phone or online. The art of getting together seems to be disappearing, and I’d love to be indulged the time.
What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
Well, of course hindsight is 20/20. I’d tell younger Dana to not be so worried and stressed out about how it’s going to turn out in a couple decades. It’s all going to work out.
What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
The importance of chilling out and relaxing. I need to learn this, hopefully as soon as possible. At 60, I envision myself like a boatman floating down the Mississippi.
What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Mealtime prep. I’d hire a cook for my kids, who haven’t seemed to realize I’m not a short order cook. That way, everyone gets what they want.
Whose job do you wish you had?
Marlee Matlin’s or Claudia Gordon’s. My dream would be to be able to publicly discuss accessibility, inclusion, and equality for people with disabilities in an even more international public forum. That’s such an empowering position, and these women do amazing jobs.
Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
Tax Auditors. I hate numbers. And Excel.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, and Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.
Activity? Not exercising enough and picking my cuticles if I’m nervous.
Food? Chocolates like Ferrero Rocher. Sweets. Candy like Sour Patch Kids.
Website? Facebook and Buzzfeed. I bet a lot of people say that.
How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
6. Not always continuous.
What do you read every morning?
CNET magazine stories, top trending stories in my inbox from ProductHunt.com, emails, Facebook updates.
Complete the following sentences:
I think I: enjoy reading Entertainment Weekly magazine more than I should.
I wish I: didn’t worry about stuff outside my control.
My kids: are my everything and teach me so much daily.
Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
It’s something that Billy Joel wrote to my dad on a photo that my mom keeps in her house: “Don’t take no sh-t from anyone.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk more about accessibility. It’s not supposed to be this wild inspirational story. I believe that technology is a great unifier. It levels the playing field. Accessibility is the nexus where technology innovation and disability advocacy meet. It’s an incredible union, made all the more powerful by increased employment of workers with disabilities.
Dana Marlowe is the principal partner and co-founder of Accessibility Partners LLC, an accessibility IT consulting firm. Dana works to remove extraneous barriers in technology and to make opportunities available for people with disabilities. Dana partners with federal agencies and Fortune 500 businesses to help them test, consult, and train on accessible IT products. Her experience has enabled her to dictate best practices through her thorough expertise on the current landscape of the issues most pressing to those in the disability and technology community. She has been featured in countless industry and widespread publications to promote inclusive and accessible technology. She’s passionate about the accessibility message and has enjoyed sharing it as a keynote speaker on four different continents.
Find more about Dana here:
Twitter: @Access_Partners and @DanaMarlowe
Facebook: danamarlowe and AccessibilityPartners
Pinterest: Who’s got time for this?
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THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 3: Emily Liebert, Author
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Shonda Rhimes on Doing It All
Indra Nooyi on Balance
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THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 23: Stephanie Hirsch, Artist
My Times of India Interview on Work-Life Balance
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AmEx’s Sobbott on Balance
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THE BALANCE PROJECT| No. 38: Nancy Huang, Nonprofit Outreach Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 39: Mary Laura Philpott, Writer, Editor and Illustrator
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