Kirthiga Reddy

Striking a Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance gets stressed the most during childbearing years. In my case, for the first few years after marriage, we were not ready for children. When we thought we were ready, we postponed it for the smallest of reasons—a conference to attend, a pre-planned vacation whose timing may conflict with pregnancy, etcetera. Then, when we were really ready, we found, to our great dismay, that it doesn’t just happen when you are ready. Ashna was born seven years after we were married. But the joy and richness she (and Ariya, born three years later) add to our lives, and the appreciation we have that we have them, puts all trade-offs into sharp perspective. My takeaway from this experience is: there will never be a perfect time to have children. The corollary is that if you want to have children, it is always a good time to have children!

Ashna was born a year into my two-year Stanford Business School program. Frankly, it was the best time to have a baby! We partied more after she was born than before—she had the habit of staying up late into the night so we had to be out with her in any case. She had 365 aunts and uncles—all my amazing classmates! Someone or the other was always ready to take care of her when I needed to study, or if we needed to take a much-needed break once in a while. I finished my MBA on time and graduated as an Arjay Miller Scholar, in the top 10 per cent of the class. Ashna and I both walked on to the stage together to get my degree, both of us in graduation gowns and hats. Dean Joss jokingly told me, ‘Please just don’t ask for an exemption to the Core Classes if and when she joins Stanford Business School because she “attended” them with you when you were pregnant with her!

Ariya was born two years after I joined Good Technology. When I had to return to work after my six-week maternity leave policy was over, I wept, loath to leave my six-week-old infant at home with her nanny. Since my job required me to travel, I rapidly began researching ways in which I could nurse Ariya during her first year, as I had for Ashna. I wondered if this was the moment everyone talked about, when one has to choose between professional goals and personal goals. Then it dawned upon me—I don’t have to make a choice! I travelled with Ariya for the first year after she was born. Fortunately for me, every place I went, things somehow fell into place. For example, in North Carolina, my colleague’s wife who used to run a day care centre offered to take care of Ariya as I timed meetings and sessions around her nursing schedule. It was amazing to see how when one makes up their mind to do something, nature conspires to make things happen for them.

To me this was an illustration of the power of AND vs. the tyranny of OR. In this example, I did not have to choose professional ambitions OR personal goals. I could pursue professional ambitions AND personal goals. I began to embrace the power of the AND more and more. For instance, after Ariya was born, I wasn’t able to continue volunteering at Stanford Children’s Hospital (something I did weekly), given the unpredictability in schedule that raising two young children brings. Since I missed the community involvement pillar in my life, my friend introduced me to HandsOn Bay Area, a wonderful organization geared for busy professionals where you could sign up to volunteer a few hours at a time to various causes as availability permits. I chose activities where I could take the children and from the time Ariya was three months old, Ashna, she and I have gone to soup kitchens together, planted native California saplings with an organization called MAGIC, taught at an English as a Second Language (ESL) training course, helped with Halloween and Christmas parties for the Grandparents Resource Center organization, and so on. While the choices I made may not be the right choice for everyone, the overall message is: ‘Embrace the power of the AND versus the tyranny of the OR’—a takeaway that holds true in both the personal and professional sphere. 

I have also had the privilege of working with organizations that invested deeply in developing women leaders. I started Motorola’s Women’s Business Council Bay Area Chapter and I’m now the sponsor for Facebook’s Asia Pacific Diversity initiatives. Through business school and sessions at work, I began to appreciate the need for women and men to be aware of research-backed gender differences, and to consciously adapt, based on one’s self-awareness of where they fall in the spectrum. For example, I fall under the generalization of “women who don’t like to negotiate for myself.” My husband once told me: It’s amazing how well you negotiate for everyone but yourself! Margaret Neale, the professor of management at Stanford Business School, talks about how women don’t ask, and how they are damned if we do or don’t. Through tips from experts like her, I remind myself to be conscious of my natural inclination to shy away from negotiation for myself and to push myself to do better. 

I believe it is imperative to take your whole self with you—whether you are at work or at home. I am a full-time professional, a full-time mother, a full-time wife, a full-time daughter, a full-time friend and more. If I am going through a particularly busy phase at work, I talk to my girls about it, and they offer me the most practical advice on how to balance work and life and are wonderfully accommodative during the ‘work-heavy’ phases. Similarly, if I am, for example, worrying about my father’s health, my Facebook family is wonderfully supportive and are the pillars of strength that keep me going.

A final thought—be sure to make the time to enjoy the journey. I remember a family weekend getaway with some of my best friends from business school that I was very much looking forward to. I worked extra hard over the week to make sure I would be able to unplug over the weekend. I must have slept for an average of no more than four hours a day that week. We packed enthusiastically, chattered all the way on our drive to the vacation home in Big Sur California, met up with the two other families there, made dinner, finally sat down together…and I feel asleep on the dinner table. Hence, make sure to leave enough energy to enjoy and appreciate the very things we work so hard for. Know what you want to invest in, know what to say no to, reserve time for the things that are most important to you and live life fully.

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