There are so many buzz words and phrases floating around the professional world these days. “Work-life balance,” “mindfulness,” “inclusiveness,” “face time,” “leaning in.” What do these words and phrases really mean? Over the last decade, I’ve spent perhaps too much time trying to come up with objective definitions – and I’ve failed. I still don’t know how to tell one of my mentees what “work-life balance” will look like when she achieves it. I like to think I’m “mindful” and “inclusive,” but there are times when I’ve made decisions or taken positions that go against what my mind tells me is right, to the exclusion of peers I respect. As for “face time,” it’s hard to tell nowadays whether that means being able to touch, see, hear, or simply communicate with another person. And don’t get me started on “leaning in.” I’m notorious for leaning in too far and having to extract myself. Does that mean I’m winning or failing at leaning in?

Unfortunately, I don’t have any black-and-white answers to offer in this post. The only words of wisdom I can offer, based on my position as someone who is extraordinarily satisfied with my professional journey, is that I have found so much peace in knowing I don’t have to rely on what society or my peers or a podcast or the Harvard Business Review says these buzz words and phrases mean. I have the power to define the buzz words and phrases for myself. 

Real-life illustration: because I’m a married mom of three young children who balances gainful employment with many community leadership activities, I’ve been invited to speak at several events about “work-life balance.” At each event – assuming the conversation naturally led to this statement – I’ve said, “I think work-life balance is whatever you define it to be based on your knowledge of your own strengths, weaknesses, and values.” My standard follow-up statement goes something like this:

For example, I know I’m a morning person, and I know at my office I get more done in the evening, after my paralegals and clients have left for the day. I also know many of my community activities take place in the evenings. Therefore, I spend weekday mornings with the kids. I take them to school. We sing songs in the car and chat about the day ahead. Then I put in long hours at the office that make me miss their bedtime. My husband, who is not a morning person, takes care of the evening routine. I usually get home after the kids are sound asleep, so I sneak into their rooms to kiss them and whisper “I love you.” Do I feel guilty or sad that I missed bedtime? Of course I do. But I’ve learned to accept this schedule as the best ‘balanced life’ for my family right now. The work I finish in the evenings gives me freedom to leave the office for intervals during the day when the kids have events at school and to avoid, as much as possible, working excessively over the weekend. I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of judgment from non-working moms, or even other working moms, who raise eyebrows at the thought of a mom missing her kids’ bedtime. I have to brush off the judgment. Overall, my husband is happy, my kids are happy, and I am happy with our home life. The happiness we all bring home contributes much more to the health of my family than any stressed out, frazzled cameo appearance I can make during a bedtime reading of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. And, so, my advice to other working parents is to figure out what “work-life balance” means to you and plan according to that, without regard for what anyone outside of your home thinks about your definition and execution.

How do you define the buzz words and phrases that seem to hover over your career path? More importantly, are these buzz words and phrases even relevant or meaningful to your career path  – or are they just terms people around you use that actually have no impact on your career satisfaction and success? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.


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