MPW Insiders is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you create balance in your personal life? is written by Deborah Lovich, partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
For the first 13 years of my career, I was the poster child for not creating balance in my personal life. I was ambitious and driven, making partner in just over six years and being one of the youngest partners named to BCG’s Executive Committee. I thought I was striking a balance between career and my family—I had a husband who was also pursuing a demanding career as a physician scientist and four young children at home. I tried to carve out uninterrupted time at home, including unplugging from email and work for most of the weekend. But the truth was, I was failing. My family needed me around more (both physically and mentally).
To help rebalance my life, I stepped off the fast track in 2007, resigned from the partnership I loved and took on a less demanding internal role running the operations and managing the staff of BCG’s Boston office. This position allowed me to be available when my two pre-teen girls needed me. After five years in that role, however, I knew that I needed a new challenge. Not ready yet to go back to the extensive travel required in my consulting role, I left BCG in 2012 to try my hand at a startup. Ultimately, though, the pull of BCG and consulting was too strong. I rejoined BCG two years ago to do client work as a senior advisor and last year came fully on board again as a partner seven years after I resigned.
This time around, I work much differently to achieve the balance my family needs. Based on some hard-earned early lessons, I have zeroed in on three things for striking a balance between work and home life:
Focus on the Work—Not the Career Ladder
In the early part of my career, I loved the work and the clients, but I also hungered to “win,” always aiming to be among the first to get the fastest promotion, the most prestigious roles. External recognition of my success fueled me. That meant responding to email almost around the clock and always ensuring I was the first one to a client site and the last one to leave. None of that matters to me today. I no longer worry about proving my commitment or drive. Instead, I measure my success based on whether I am doing work that I love, with colleagues I adore, and having meaningful impact everyday for my clients and for BCG. These intrinsic rewards are more than enough.
I work with an amazing group of people in our Leadership and Talent practice. This time around, I am leveraging my colleagues better and harnessing the full power of teamwork. I focus on finding the best people to work with, those who are as motivated by the work, the impact we’re having and the excitement of growing a business, as I am. I trust my colleagues completely. They do exceptional work—always producing results that exceed what I could have done on my own. My faith in the team means I do not need to be involved in every decision or project.
Pick the Right Employer
BCG’s commitment to work-life balance made it easy to come back. Over the past decade at the firm, I had an opportunity to help lead the development and launch of an innovative program that improves both work-life balance and the quality and rewards of the consulting work itself. It’s called PTO, which stands for Predictability, Teaming and Open Communication. Central to PTO is an upfront discussion that sets the rules for how a team will work together—for example, when the workday will end and the hours during which team members will be off the clock. By helping set the team’s real priorities, the program has transformed the way we work at BCG—and reflects a commitment from the top to helping BCGers achieve both professional and personal growth. I live this program every day. Those who know me know that I have certain non-negotiables around sleep, nutrition and exercise without which I am not at my peak.
In the end, this advice boils down to one simple goal: finding a sustainable way of doing the work you love. Don’t say, “I will work as hard as possible to advance my career so I can take my foot off the pedal when I have a family.” Instead, find your sustainable level of intensity early on. This will enable you to deliver high-quality work while still investing in your personal life—building that “muscle” to create balance before you need it. Doing so will allow you to thrive both within work and outside of it.