Stop asking women how we manage work-life balance. Most of us don’t

March 7, 2022, 5:25 PM UTC
In gymnastics, balance is essentially opposing muscles constricting and relaxing to create the illusion of balance. Balance is actually the act of being unbalanced.
Guang Niu - Getty Images

For years I looked up to women who claimed to have the perfect work-life balance and dreamed of how to emulate them. Really, how did these working moms, as portrayed by the media, have such endless energy? How did they do it all?

Now a partner at a venture capital firm, I’m the one answering that question on every panel and podcast–typically with another question: “Am I really doing it all?”

This question implies that to “do it all” means we’ve accomplished it all and we have everything figured out when in reality, there are plenty of moments when we might feel like a bad colleague, a bad mom, a bad sister, or a bad friend because we simply cannot be everything to everyone all the time.

As a former competitive gymnast, I learned that balance is essentially opposing muscles constricting and relaxing to create the illusion of balance. Balance is actually the act of being unbalanced.

Women are best at this because we get it; we understand how to carry it all. We make the majority of health decisions for our families. We are the bearers of life. Women understand the benefit of uncertainty and it has made us better investors. Many successful female venture capitalists echo a consistent theme: We are all learning. Every day is about making trade-offs and finding comfort in the fact that a decision was made. It’s okay to not have all the answers. In fact, it’s the cornerstone of a venture career: using asymmetric data to make informed decisions.

Venture capital is measured chaos. There is always something new happening–and the ability to adjust on the fly is a core job requirement. In venture, it’s not the frequency of correctness that  matter­­s–it’s the magnitude. The job is all about refining your thinking over and over then sifting through thousands of ideas to find the home run.

This is most prevalent in healthcare, a notoriously dated and opaque industry where making informed decisions with several unknowns is table stakes. A willingness to take on the status quo in areas where the system doesn’t operate effectively is why I went into health investing.

Like with motherhood, you completely lose yourself in the frenzy and excitement of birth and sleepless nights, then must find your way back to yourself. My career in venture capital started with zero kids. Today, I’m accompanied by two delightfully crazy boys with another baby on the way. What was once a calendar full of happy hours, conferences, and networking events is now filled with strict blocks, zoom fatigue, and constant tradeoffs. After two years of a global pandemic, I question whether I am thriving or just surviving.

I’m not alone. For most working parents, juggling childcare challenges with work responsibilities even when not in a pandemic takes a toll. While the burden should fall on both parents, working women are 28% more likely to experience burnout than fathers. The pandemic caused millions of women to leave the workforce and lose 32 years of progress overnight—the percentage of American women working is the lowest it’s been since 1988.

Personally, I’m embracing the imbalance and friction. Our whole idea of balance is unrealistic, and no individual day or moment will ever truly be balanced. Some days I’ll lean too heavily into work. Other days, I will focus on my kids. Every day is a journey and I’m 100% percent here for it.

Balance can often be the middle, in limbo, which most people believe is the worst position to be in. We’re constantly climbing, constantly striving, and endlessly reminding ourselves to reward the journey versus the destination.

Starting a company requires adaptability–all the best CEOs have this in common. It turns out, being a working parent isn’t that different. Life is about tradeoffs and getting to do it all, but perhaps not simultaneously.

To all of my fellow working moms: Stay unbalanced!

Alyssa Jaffee is partner at 7wireVentures.

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