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The COO of Facebook leaves work every day by 5:30 to have dinner with her kids and she thinks you should too.
How great is that? There are so many things that I love about Sheryl Sandberg's video highlighting her commitment to prioritize family dinner. It's refreshing to hear professional women talk openly about their balancing choices. Notice that Sheryl doesn't brush over her decision to leave "early" as if it were no big deal. It is a big deal, maybe especially so in the tech industry where Sheryl works. This clip makes it pretty clear to me that leaving by 5:30 is not the easy thing, but it's the right thing for Sheryl and her family. So she makes it work.
I know that some of you are thinking, That's great for her. Maybe someday when I'm the boss of the company, I'll leave whenever I want to!
Yes, it's true that by being the COO, Sheryl has some latitude. But Sheryl wasn't always the boss! I don't believe you have to be in that position to make it work. Personally, I left work at 6:00 p.m. every day to be home with my family throughout my entire career, not just when I hit the executive suite.
Notably, even though Sheryl is the COO, she doesn't discount the needs of her company and her coworkers. She knows that her team members need to feel that she's engaged and contributing, whether or not she's in the office at 5:30 p.m. So she gets up early, sometimes she stays up late, and she does her job really well. And that part matters.
I've seen these kinds of trade-offs from all sides; as a mom, a coworker, and a boss. Some women do it really well and some really poorly.
So what's the difference?
I think the women who managed the worst tended to see work and family as enemies, locked in constant zero-sum competition. For them, prioritizing one meant necessarily punishing the other. With that mindset, guilt and resentment start to take over as your primary motivators. That's not a good place to be. Let me tell you, when you start to resent your job, it shows. And if you're miserable at work, your family will feel it too.
Women who balance the best tend to see work and family (and other priorities like faith and health) much more collaboratively—like pieces of a puzzle that fit together to form a bigger picture. Prioritizing one piece at an appropriate time doesn't hurt the others; it helps the whole.
Yes, sometimes balancing work and family is hard. But it can be hard and positive, or hard and negative. You really can choose.
Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.