Life Work Balance: Breakfast Meetings? Everyday!!

Working as a consultant can be daunting. Unlike most jobs, where you show up and get paid for trying your best to get the work done in a specific amount of time, a consultant attaches a number to everything she does. The first number is the day or hourly rate. The second is the number of clients. The third, the hours available to fulfill client requirements. Like lawyers and accountants, most consultants keep some type of docket and count their billable hours carefully.

 Counting Can Lead to Burnout

The big problem with knowing how much every hour of your day is worth, is that it highlights the cost of ‘not working’. Whether it is braces for the kids or that bigger house with the nice back-yard, consultants usually know exactly what they are working towards; why, and how much it is going to cost or reward them. They also are, sometimes painfully, aware of what an hour sitting with a 4-year old, watching Sesame Street costs. But are they really aware?

Most of the years my kids were growing up, other women would ask how I managed to have such well-behaved, cheerful and marvelous kids while I worked so hard as an entrepreneur. I would laugh and reply, “Just wait, they aren’t grown up yet. Who knows if they will be functioning adults when they are in their 20s and 30s.”

Since I now have two, intelligent, accomplished adult daughters who seem to function just fine in society, and even, dare I say it, make a different, I’m feeling that it is time to stop being glib in my response. So this article is in response to someone who asked me, again, last week, a question about how I managed to bring up two such wonderful daughters while I juggled the stress, and responsibility of being a single mom with owning a business. She was specifically interested in breakfast meeting.

Long-term vs Short-term Goals

The important thing for me, in terms of my kids upbringing, was keeping my eye on the long- and short-term goals. Short-term goals included having fun and making sure they finished their homework. Long-term goals included developing an ability to question authority, to have enquiring minds, and more than that, not to be a burden on anyone or society in general; in essence to be functioning members of society. A strange goal you say? Not really, how many people have you met that can’t do their own laundry or are unable to prepare a simple meal – that someone else is willing to eat. Without some very simple abilities, we are not able carry our own weight in relationships and the world.

Breakfast Meetings – Definitely

One of the reasons I started my first business was to give myself the flexibility to bring up my children and make a living wage. Most jobs in the 70s, 80s and 90s required that you be on-site, in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday and had pretty low wages for women. At some point, my 40-hour work week, stretched to a 90-hour work week (with no measurable change in pay) and eventually I decided I wanted to spend time with my kids more than I wanted to kill myself for a company whose mission included work/life balance.

One of the first decisions I made as a new business owner, was that I would not take any appointments before 10 a.m. This would give me time to have breakfast every morning with my kids and send them off to school knowing they had had a good breakfast and a good start to the day.

Of course, in those days we working women couldn’t really say, “Sorry, I’d love to meet at 7 a.m. but I have to make porridge.” So I booked breakfast meetings with my kids that were as rock solid as any appointment with a client. Vacations and family visits were treated the same way. Engagements that could not be moved. It is amazing that we feel, perhaps because we are women, that we have to reveal everything. It’s a fallacy. When a client asked me to meet at a time that was already filled by my daughters or their activities, I just replied, “Sorry, I’m already booked on that date, or at that time.” In fact, in the first 5 years of my business, while the girls were still young and needed me, I only ever took 2 breakfast meetings.

My business did not suffer, in fact, I beat the 2-year rule; within the first year, I was making a good living, within 3 or 4 years, we had enough disposable income and money in the bank to live comfortably and take any trips we wished.

Perception and Perspective Are Key

So how did I reconcile the time I took out of my billable hours to spend time and eat breakfast (and dinner) with my kids? Simple. My long-term goals could only be attained, I felt, with the contribution of time (quantity) as well as quality. The conversations that make the difference in people’s lives; that teach us about principles and morals, and that set our fundamental belief systems, are often the ones that happen around the kitchen or dining room tables. So I made sure that twice a day, no matter what was going on, I sat with my daughters and talked about everything and anything … the little and the big things … important things and funny things…. And yes, in between all those conversations, there were riotous ‘bouts of tickle tag!!

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