Professional Help for Balancing Conflicts

Over the past two years, On Balance has dissected just about every angle of the shifting balance between work, family, guilt, ambition, economical self-sufficiency, caregiving and life. I have to say that getting a deluge of advice from On Balance posters is surprisingly helpful. But what if you need more, um, professional, help figuring out your particular juggling act?

Back in March Annys Shin of The Washington Post explored the new phenomenon of professional coaches who help women (and men) navigate the murky waters of raising kids and working without losing our sanity, in Work or Family? Yes. As we all know but sometimes tend to forget amidst the daily chaos, there are myriad options: working part-time, not working, going back to work, switching to a lower responsibility job, etc. For a few hundred dollars -- not much compared to a year's salary -- professional life coaches can provide perspective, data, brainstorming and impartial ears.

You can also find help and inspiration without leaving your cubicle or your kitchen computer. One good site -- on which I also write -- is my favorite MommyTrack'D, especially the Survival Guide section and Observations from the On And Off Ramps. Another is YourOnRamp, an online resource for women in career transition, providing a social network, career resources, and job listings for women on-ramping (entering) or off-ramping (exiting) their career. Co-founder and Business Development Director Hendy Dayton explains:

"Many women trying to on-ramp suffer a loss of confidence and tools and resources they really need to re-enter. While there are a lot of stories about women exiting the workforce and having a hard time re-entering, there are not a lot of solutions out there. We provide one. Additionally, one of the main reasons women have problems re-entering is that they have not maintained their currency while they are out. Our site facilitates this knowledge and networking so they remain educated, connected, and up to date on the latest lifestyle and business trends. We also serve those women who are looking to off-ramp for a period of time and want to proactively stay current."

These two sites, and dozens more online groups, life coaches and support groups, are run by moms who know all too well how hard the balancing act can be and are eager to help other women -- and men -- find the right solutions. Examples like this of women helping women is one of the reasons I find the cliches that "women are our own worst enemy," so empty. The reality is that women, in most cases, are our own best friends when it comes to supporting other women's different choices about whether to work or stay home, finding balance between work and family, breaking the glass ceiling, and getting through motherhood's many crises.

Have you ever used a professional coach to help find balance in your life? Do you have a favorite site? Has On Balance helped you? What's your formal or informal support network when it comes to balance?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  June 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts
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I wouldn't say I had a life coach, but therapy was great at helping me recognize what was dragging me down (guess who?). Oh, and I did hire a professional organizer to redo my home office years ago. I was in grad school, yet avoiding my office, not a recipe for success. Her solutions were wonderful, and I use them to this very day, both at work and at home.

Posted by: babsy1 | June 18, 2008 8:31 AM

oops, should have mentioned this. Before I entered the Navy, I was lucky enough to have friends who took me under their wings when they saw my interest in nursing. My first preceptor also gave me teaching and career growth opportunities, which still continue. When I was in the Navy, I was mentored by a woman captain who thought I had potential. She made me go to grad school, and gave me chances to stretch my skills. And I'm still in touch with my advisor from grad school, who gave me my first chance to publish professionally. All women, all dedicated to family and career. All determined to help other women succeed.

Posted by: babsy1 | June 18, 2008 8:36 AM

Ditto on the therapist for finding balance. But the first woman who worked to help me succeed was the dean of the undergraduate college at Bryn Mawr who met with me every week for the year after my father died. She was dedicated to work, no doubt, but also saw to it that I graduated. She later wrote recommendations for my graduate school applications.

Posted by: canary28 | June 18, 2008 8:39 AM

What helped me most were the other women in my office with little ones and the other parents at the daycare center. It was definitely an informal support group. I was pretty unhappy when I first went back to work with my first child but talking with these other moms helped show me that parents could achieve the balance and be happy. The other thing that helped was giving myself the time to get used to the situation.

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof2 | June 18, 2008 8:54 AM

This is a timely discussion for me. I've been feeling alone in the ether while searching to get into the field I want to be in. I keep hitting the roadblock of not knowing the right people. I even get back messages that there were better qualified people when I've only applied for an administrative assistant job and I have a graduate degree and years of experience in that exact position! Being a transplant in this city with a small network (that mostly consists of people my age) has limited me and I'm trying to find a way to find the right people and move up. This has been my catch-22; you need to know people to get in but you need to be in to know people.

Posted by: FloridaChick | June 18, 2008 9:57 AM


Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2008 10:13 AM


Where are you looking, and in what field? If in DC, and for AA I was a long time AA in a bunch of areas up here. I can try to help.

Posted by: canary28 | June 18, 2008 10:32 AM

I am in DC and looking to get into the government or possibly non profit work with international affairs. I actually want to get into a better position than AA such as project associate, etc. but haven't had started aiming lower just to try to get in.

Posted by: FloridaChick | June 18, 2008 10:38 AM

International = sexy, to job seekers located in the District.

DC temp agencies are filled with people seeking work with an international component. For any opening there are hundreds if not thousands of resumes. After a certain amount of time, you have to decide how long you'll put your life on hold to pursue the "international" goal, or whether you are ready to take a position with a domestically focused organization and leverage those skills to move to an internationally-focused organization in a couple of years.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2008 10:58 AM

@Florida Chick: Try the UNA young professionals group in DC as a networking avenue

DC chapters of your alumni associations would be another avenue.

You may have already thought of these things ;-)

Posted by: Kate | June 18, 2008 11:00 AM

A friend of mine is at State doing WMD stuff for them, but she is out of the country. If you want to e-mail your resume, I can put you in touch with her. You've already looked at the Millenium group and the like? All the non-profits I worked for were domestic- I used to be at Pew Charitable Trusts. I think my old boss spent a good deal of time at the World Bank, and I could see if he knows of anyone. Let me know...

Posted by: canary28 | June 18, 2008 11:30 AM

I'll third the therapy thing. It's made a huge difference in all areas of my life.

Posted by: LizaBean | June 18, 2008 12:49 PM

How sad that so few of us have things to say about the mentors in our lives. My first mentor was actually a client - she taught me far more about the "business" (instit. equities) than my bosses had - especially in the practical application of our product to her work/potential product development. My current boss actually works hard to get capable people visibility outside our department, which is appreciated because ultimately these are the people who vote on evaluations.

Posted by: Kate | June 18, 2008 1:35 PM

I can't see how a woman who chose to stop their career and now chooses to get back on is a 'crisis' or something that needs a whole specific group for it.

Now, abused people, or widows, or some actual financial crisis that occurs, yes of course they should get extra help as necessary.

That being said, please take advantage of whatever opportunity and resources you can get your hands on.

Posted by: Liz D | June 18, 2008 2:05 PM

I've never relied on professionals, but I have been fortunate to tap into the knowledge and experience of coworkers and friends. I've been fortunate to cross paths with some extraordinary people. Florida Chick is right--networking is extremely important--especially in the current job market.

Posted by: pepperjade | June 18, 2008 2:50 PM

Thank you for your comments! canary28, I would like to take you up. I will send my info through Leslie. I appreciate everyone for their suggestions!

Posted by: FloridaChick | June 18, 2008 2:51 PM

Florida Chick - (intl non-profit) will have an Exec Asst position being posted soon; might be a good starting place for your interests

Posted by: no name | June 18, 2008 3:33 PM

Mentors - my immediate supervisor in the Air Force. Tech school gave me the basics of programming a computer, but my supervisor was the one who taught me how to write something that other people could understand and maintain after I handed it over. His supervisor taught me how to write useful systems documentation in spite of having to follow all the DOD, AF, and MAC standards. (lots of appendices!) Both skills have been serving me well for 26 years.

The other mentor that *must* be credited was the manager in my current company who first hired me 16 years ago. He started grooming me for management, and promoted me into a first level supervisor's position with four people who reported to me. I never had the interest or potential to be a good manager, but he put a lot of time and effort into preventing me from making the worst mistakes, and saved me from the biggest mistake I did make in that job. After he left the company - following *his* mentor to a competitor - I got myself demoted. But having been through that two years of trying to be a manager, I have much more appreciation and respect for good managers, and I can more easily give any manager (even a bad one) what s/he needs from me to look good to the boss s/he reports to. And that's been good for me, too.

Yeah, all those folks were male. I'm old enough that there just weren't many women around, and I've been the only woman or the first one in a lot of places I've worked.

For balancing home and family, I usually try to imagine what my Grandma would say if she were still here. And I'll alway take advice and suggestions from my SIL. Both of them raised great sons, and I'd be proud if my boys turn out anywhere close to as well.

Posted by: Sue | June 18, 2008 4:32 PM

An excellent book on returning to work after a career break is Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work by Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin. Also check out for career reentry events, programming, and information.

Posted by: Carol | June 21, 2008 5:00 PM

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