Cross-Programming to Achieve Work-Life Integration—A Contemporary Approach to an Age-Old Problem
I attended a women’s event recently—just another luncheon for a good cause, but I made an incredible observation. The women who were most engaged in talking about their various charities and all of the non-profit work they managed to fit into their very busy professional lives, were women of the Baby Boomer generation. Either they had no children to begin with, or their children were away at college or had moved on to their own adult lives. Conversely, one young mother of two—or was it one mother of two young children?—noted that she simply did not have time to volunteer for non-profits; she would rather spend her precious “free” time with her children. To be sure, the “Gen X” or “Gen Y” discussion was quite different from that of my Baby Boomer peers.
While we all have options—including the extent to which we want to use our “free” time to participate in active volunteerism, I sensed that my Gen X or Gen Y colleagues really wanted to do more than support charities financially. They wanted to actually volunteer and be present for activities, but the challenges of family commitments, other outside activities, or just the desire to have some downtime to recharge the batteries seemed insurmountable.
I reflected back—yes, I could understand that tension. I am not even sure that I knew I had no life outside of work during the first eight years of my career. Yes, I managed to attend a worship service once a week, primarily because my church was close to my office, and I squeezed in a short vacation here and there. However, the defining moment for me came when I married and later had children. It took those significant life changing experiences for me to realize that I was indeed “living to work.” (Sound like a workaholic Baby Boomer?) Oh the difficult “choices” that we have to make to both have a successful career, and to be the best partner and parent we can possibly be. Add in a strong desire to “give back,” and I simply ran out of hours.
Two sayings come to mind: “You can’t have it all” and the more modern one: “You can have it all, just not at the same time.”
The solution that worked for me was to make one activity serve multiple purposes. For example, taking my two sons to their soccer, football, and baseball practices created opportunities for me to “network” with the other parents, catch up on my reading, and for one horror-filled two-month period, review my bar exam study notes (ugh!). I also volunteered as a Pre-K Sunday School teacher so that I could spend more time with my younger son who was in my class. When he moved up into the Primary class and I went on to join the Adult class, he asked if I had been fired! Well, I was the only volunteer Sunday School teacher who was not actually a real “teacher,” so I told him I “retired.”
But that was then. For our Gen X, Y, and Millennial professionals today, they generally seem much more aware of their circumstances and less likely to de-prioritize their life outside of work. Moreover, for those desiring to volunteer for charities, the “cross-programming” opportunities today abound. Organizations, companies, and firms are finding ways to make their activities more “family friendly.” Indeed, I arranged to have my older son volunteer to help my firm deliver and distribute gifts to a school during holiday time. I also took my younger son with me to volunteer at the Houston Food Bank with my University of Michigan Alumni club. With effort, I too can identify ways to blend (or cross-program) my activities.
The key to all of this is finding and claiming your authentic passion. I did not take my sons to their sporting events because I had to do it—I did it because I wanted to do it, because I love sports! For me, helping others and giving back to the community are very important, and I lead by example with my family. Busy but creative professionals looking for ways to blend their family time with their volunteer passions can use cross-programming right now without having to wait until their children become self-sufficient.
Alas, the issues, the tension, the sometimes heart-wrenching choices that we working parents have to make are not going to simply vanish. However, with thoughtful consideration and deliberate planning, professional lives and the pursuit of personal/family passions can co-exist—to the maximum benefit of both.