As I sit here in seat 3A, about to leave Charles de Gaulle airport for my current home town of Chicago, my thoughts wander, as they often do on planes, to my family. People frequently ask me how I juggle a big global job and a young family. The simple answer is it isn't easy. It requires some sacrifices and you have to really work at it. But for me, it's worth it.
If you think it might be for you as well, here are a few tips I've found that really help. Aside picking the right spouse (a key success factor for every working mom, but one that deserves its own entry so I'll leave that for later), I recommend nine things anyone with a global job can do to help improve work/life balance, especially with small children:
1. Set the right expectations up front. Before I took my current job, I made it clear to my boss I wouldn't "give up" my daughter by traveling two-three weeks every month as I had early in my career. So, we agreed performance was what mattered and how much I traveled was up to me. Then, I had the same honest, direct discussion with my team.
2. Eliminate your daily commute. If you are going to travel overseas, you need to minimize your daily commute so you can be home as much as possible every day that you are in the country. We moved to Chicago so I could have a global job and a 15 minute commute.
3. Travel only when truly necessary. Since I lived and worked abroad for nearly 10 years, there are few markets I don't know something about first hand. Therefore, I don't spend a lot of time on the road just getting a sense of what my company and my team are facing. I travel when I really need to but I'm a huge fan of virtual meetings and my team is great about working that way too.
4. Use your plane time. I used to love reading books or watching movies while flying. These days, plane time is for working or catching up on sleep so I'm ready to play when I walk through the door.
5. Minimize jet lag. I don't use an "over the counter" remedy to deal with jet lag anymore. I just avoid it or gut it out. For example, if I have a meeting in London, I will fly in that morning, work a full day, have an early dinner with the team and then head to the airport to catch the last flight back. You're tired but you never suffer jet lag since your body never really leaves local time. It also means that in my daughter's eyes, it is no different than a trip to New York as I can be home for dinner on Monday night and back by bed time on Tuesday.
6. Pack light. I can travel for three weeks in a carry-on bag. This is important. It saves hours each trip since I don't have to arrive at the airport as early. I don't have to wait in baggage claim lines. And, I don't have to debate each morning what I'm going to wear. Combined, this often means the difference between getting in a work out or making it home before lights out.
7. Stagger trips. Unlike some people who choose to hit the road and just keep going, I find small children need frequent quality time so I try not to travel back to back. My rule is not to be gone for more than four days at a time and not to travel on consecutive weeks.
8. Make them part of the adventure. Even though she may not be traveling with me, I make sure to talk with my daughter about where I'm going and to show her pictures to get her involved in "mommy's big adventure." Much to the surprise of her day care teachers, at three she can readily identify the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China and Moscow's Red Square. And, she loves to tell people about where mommy has been.
9. Take them along. On the rare occasion I have to be gone more than a week, like when traveling to Asia Pacific, we all go together. My husband loves to travel and my daughter is an absolute trouper who has more stamps in her passport at three than I did at 23. We're also helping ensure she grows up to be a true global citizen. She is already comfortable with foreign languages, foreign foods, etc. in a way I never was before actually moving overseas. What a gift we're giving her!
These are some of the things I do to make it work for myself and my family. Granted, working globally is not for everyone. But, I'm living proof that if you want it you can combine a young family and a global career and you can reap big rewards -- personally and professionally -- by doing so.
To learn more about working internationally, check out my new book: Get Ahead by Going Abroad or email me via www.getaheadbygoingabroad.com.