January 9, 2015

Balancing Work and Life, the MAMA Way

For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

After last year’s successful workshop about how to be our best selves at work with multiple competing demands, we thought a follow-up on how to be our best selves in life, too, would be a natural advancement of the conversation. The timing for me couldn’t be better.

I started my current job as head of communications for Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, or MAMA, just a couple of months before my partner, Marc, left his hometown of Rochester to move in with me. Truth be told, I was worried about being able to balance the demands of a new job while also nurturing a growing relationship. Work/life balance is tricky for most of us, especially with technological advancements that both allow and demand us to be connected all the time. I was nervous about being both present for my partner as he settled into a new city and available for my job. Thankfully, I had a great role model in my boss who, as a single mom and leader in her field, had worked hard to create the balance needed to succeed at home and work. The key: discipline.

In my previous career in broadcast news and subsequent role at an emergency response & global health NGO, it was vital to be connected and available at all times. As a result, I had gotten used to sending, receiving, and responding to flurries of emails late into the night or over the weekend. Now, on a small team where most events could be planned for, I really could put the phone down after hours. But, with that, I had to be more deliberate about my work during the day.

By utilizing some of the techniques we talked about in last year’s workshop — things like time blocking and keeping meetings short and essential — it has become easier to focus on the work during daylight hours. Knowing that I could no longer stay an extra few hours or answer emails over a dinner of microwave popcorn without significant consequence is still a huge motivation to become more efficient and effective.

My work with MAMA also required international travel. While exciting, it was also difficult. My third trip for MAMA was coming up, and I had been there long enough to float the idea of bringing Marc with me and taking a short vacation afterward, something other colleagues had done without any negative professional ramifications. My boss was very open to the idea and was even thinking of bringing her daughter. I would make sure to keep expenses separate, of course, and put work first. As the planning came together, I prepared myself and Marc for what it would look like: me working long days while he toured on his own, barely seeing each other until the work portion was over.

Having never mixed work and pleasure travel like this before, I was sure it would be stressful. I was pleasantly surprised. Marc’s presence not only helped me deal with the stress of planning the week’s events, but I was able to put him to work to support them, something he felt really good about.

As I’ve been focusing more on balancing my work and life, I’ve had great examples from my younger colleagues, too. Our team is composed of people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s; they are single, married, with kids, and without. We all care deeply about our jobs and making a difference in the world through our chosen careers. When I was first starting out, I worked long hours every day — 10-12 hour days were the norm, and it was not unheard of to come in on weekends to work on special projects. That still happens, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of personal lives, as I often witnessed.

Over the years, I’ve heard stories about the struggles of working women to have it all, read about men who want to step up with household responsibilities but worry about losing ground at work, and listened to colleagues lament about the constant battle between fulfilling professional and personal lives. Now, as I’ve reached personal and professional milestones at the same time in my life, I have a new understanding of this universal push and pull.

In Austin’s workshop, we’ll share our own tips and tricks, but more than anything we look forward to hearing from you about what’s worked and what hasn’t, as you balance having a thriving, successful career and life.

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Stephanie Bowen
Stephanie Bowen is Senior Communications Manager for Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). Stephanie is responsible for developing and implementing the overarching communications and PR strategy for MAMA. Stephanie brings a decade of experience as a nonprofit communications and marketing professional working to improve the lives of women and children with organizations that include Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, KaBOOM! and International Medical Corps. You can find her on Twitter @TweetSteph.