When bestselling author and Harvard MBA (and mother-of-three) Samantha Ettus thought about cultivating a fulfilling work-life balance, she looked at the idea of “having it all” in a new, sweeter light. Instead of viewing herself as an amateur acrobat juggling career and family, she considered herself a pastry chef baking up a tasty pie with seven core ingredients: Career, children, health, a romantic relationship, community, friends, and hobbies. The result is her latest book, The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction, and it’s chock-full of advice she’s gleaned from troubleshooting problems big and small as a working parent—like the time she had to go on a business trip and miss her daughter’s school play, so she went to the dress rehearsal instead while her husband later recorded the live performance.
Combining her own experiences with that of hundreds of women—including TV writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, news anchor Gayle King, and entrepreneur Liz Lange—Ettus wants to help parents stay (or get) excited and energized about their careers, communities, hobbies, and more. “When you are fulfilled professionally and personally, you are a better parent and a role model for your kids,” she says. To find out more about how parents can find fulfillment, we chatted with Ettus about whipping up a more satisfying and manageable life while accepting some imperfections. After all, you can’t make a delicious pie without getting the kitchen a little messy.
What inspired you to write a book about finding more success and satisfaction in our everyday lives?
After seeing so many overwhelmed and guilt-ridden parents, I realized then that we all needed a better framework for how to think about work and life. The existing metaphors are not doing it for us. Let’s face it, your work and your home life are never perfectly equal, so we fail at the balance metaphor. “Having it all” is just a ridiculous thing to strive for because nobody has it all. Not Angelina Jolie. Not President Barack Obama. Nobody. So why are we talking about it? And then there is juggling. Anyone who has ever tried to have a conference call with a baby in the room knows that it isn’t possible.
I have worked with thousands of women and the happiest and most fulfilled among them have one thing in common: They spend time in six or seven slices of their life’s pie rather than just two or three. I realized that a happy and fulfilling life involves health, a relationship, kids, a career, friends, hobbies, and your community. And from there, The Pie Life was born. There is no room in that pie for guilt. You have all of the ingredients you need today but you just need to shake up the recipe a bit. When you think about the most delicious pies, they are not the ones that are store-bought and perfect but they are the gooey, yummy, messy ones.
You recommend that moms stay in the workforce rather than leaving their careers, even if they’re feeling overwhelmed. Why?
New moms are overwhelmed with or without work! We tend to forget that the baby years are short and our lives are long. The reality is that it is very difficult to get back to work after time off. More than 50 percent of moms who want to return can’t find positions. Also, keeping up your career is a great preventive measure against post-partum depression and, later on, helicopter parenting.
The Pie Life is about making small adjustments here and there. Can you give some examples of achievable changes?
When many women hear about playing in multiple slices of their lives, they think: “How will I have time to do all that?!” But there are so many easy changes to make that will change the quality of your everyday life. I have a whole chapter on these time savers, but I will share two of my favorites now. The first is the Magic Hour. Wake up an hour earlier than your child who wakes up the earliest. This gives you a daily hour to get showered and dressed at a leisurely pace, have a cup of coffee, answer some emails, and even set the table for breakfast. This way you start the day a step ahead rather than a step behind. Another trick is to change all of your errands so that they take place within the Golden Triangle, what I call the three points between your home, your child’s school and your office. You can find just as good a hair salon, doctor, or gym within these three points!
You touch upon not confusing our children’s goals with our own. What’s wrong with being so focused on our kids’ achievements?
Your entire family benefits when you have goals outside of your four walls. If your child’s goals are your goals, you need to find your own life and fast. I grew up as a competitive junior tennis player so I know firsthand the damage a parent can do when they over-focus on achievements and results rather than the passion and the enjoyment behind it. We want to help our children become self-confident, curious, kind, independent and socialized adults. The best way to do that is to model it at home with the curiosity and drive that come from having a diversified life. Share your curiosity and drive with your kids and they will be likely to follow.
Any tips for the early months of parenthood and adjusting to life with a newborn?
One critical thing is getting your partner involved early on. Same-sex couples don’t tend to have these issues. They both get in right from the beginning, but many male-female relationships get caught in traditional roles. So work hard to prevent this by finding excuses to leave your partner alone with the baby from the very beginning. Also, start going on date night right away. If you are breastfeeding, go to dinner between feedings. Hire a weekly Saturday night sitter and make a habit of keeping up that date night throughout your children’s childhood. It will make you saner and your marriage healthier.
To learn more about Samantha Ettus, visit samanthaettus.com!