“We can’t have it all” – that’s the most current message among women in the executive ranks, an ever-growing contingent of business travelers. It’s a counter-claim to what I was sold in my teens and twenties as we were encouraged to bust through the glass ceiling by day and go home to perfect fulfilled lives at night. By the time I hit my thirties, it seemed like I was tilting at windmills in my quest. And now in my early forties, I’m listening to this new mantra and nodding my head. But is this a women’s issue or does it stretch beyond gender lines? I wonder if is this an issue for all frequent travelers – will we ever completely have work/life balance?
This week, The Atlantic featured a excerpt from an interview on Monday with PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi where she echoed this sentiment.
Pressure to maintain a household exists for all of us, single or married, with or without children. While I’m single and childless, my responsibilities can still be intense – adding other parties to the mix (children, a spouse, aging parents, even pets) would no doubt compound the stress. Busy careers often conflict with these responsibilities and requires careful work to balance everything. The occasional uncertainties of business travel can often throw delicate plans off kilter though and create chaos unexpectedly, especially when frequent travel is part of the equation.
While I spent my 20s and early 30s living a relatively carefree life (my rented condo was little more than the place I stored my extra shoes and off-season clothing while I spent my weeks out on client sites for consulting engagements and my weekends mileage running to far-flung destinations in a never-ending blur of airport lounges and look-alike hotel rooms. But then I was buying a townhouse near the airport (and selling that and buying an old house further away). I was building my career and trying to do the things that anchored me (volunteering, forming new social circles) and others around me were getting off the road and getting married, having children, moving on. “You won’t be able to do all THAT”, they’d say (referring to the frequent travel, late nights at the office, erratic schedules) “if you are also doing all this” (the Saturday soccer games, carpools, neighborhood book clubs).
And they were right – you can’t. I sometimes find myself standing in the middle ground – trying to keep the household running smoothly (this morning, I was up at 6 am tending my vegetable garden so I could get a few minutes of writing in before I hit a round of appointments, all scheduled carefully in advance around my travel schedule) while still feeding the wanderlust (I’ll spend a couple hours this afternoon doing research for an upcoming trip to some less-trekked locations in Indonesia) and trying to keep up with work (ugh, that proposal due on Monday before my afternoon flight is nagging at me). I can’t even imagine adding a family to this mix… it makes my head spin.
Nooyi talks about putting work first and notes “if you don’t develop mechanisms with your secretaries, with the extended office, with everybody around you, it cannot work” in reference to parenting. But I think for travelers, it’s not just about children – it’s about it’s about everything in your life.
My office is frequently my defacto shipping address – I have shipments sent there regularly so that they don’t end up cluttering my front porch when I’m gone. I have family and friends who help out with housesitting duties such as picking up mail and flyers on the door, wheeling in/out trash & recycle carts on pickup days, getting my house ready for my return after an extended absence. I have professional helpers too (like a great housekeeper and gardener) who handle some of the tougher chores so I can have quality time when I’m at home. I plan (obsessive list making and careful calendaring) so that it can all get managed.
But is that enough? Interviews like this would suggest no – that it will never be enough.