Work-Life Balance

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Lisa Hartkopf, new mom and partner, advisory services, at Ernst & Young, on how she achieves a work-life balance. As told to Michelle Phelan.

I’ve spent my entire career in public accounting, and self-admittedly I was a workaholic. Before meeting my husband, getting married and settling down – I did that a little bit later in life – I had a long stretch to be able to really get my career up and running.

I really didn’t have a whole lot of balance in my life as I look back. And that was certainly my decision and my choice to do so. Once I got pregnant, I started to open my eyes a little bit to what other people were doing to achieve balance as I started thinking about how I was going to incorporate that into my life. I saw some women that were able to do it very well and I saw some that really struggled with it. I’m a very goal-oriented person, so it was a lot about just saying to myself, “Okay, you can do this – you have to just figure it out and put your mind to it.” I had to walk in those shoes myself to figure out, trial and error, what was going to work.

So initially, when I first came back to work, I was very deliberate in how I set up my schedule. When I came back, I only came back four days a week for the first three months. I took a day of vacation every week. Having that day at home every week allowed me to feel more connected at home and connected at work. After three months I came back full-time.

I leveraged my vacation and talked to leadership about it before I went out on maternity leave. It was something that I communicated about up front and they said, “Great, let’s talk about it when you know what it is you want to do and we’ll work with you.”

There were a couple of challenges. One is that I think there’s always a level of guilt that women have as a working mom. You’re not at home as much as you want to be, you’re not at work as much as you want to be. I have that struggle every day. But it’s something that I’ve learned is always going to be there so I just need to manage it. I need to figure out what’s my priority for that day or that hour, sometimes. Am I going to work late and not see my son that night, or am I going to go home and spend time with my family and have dinner and then, if I need to, get back online in the evening? I’m deliberate about my schedule much more now than I ever was in the past. I think just managing that guilt and figuring out what are the choices that I need to make and how to feel good about those choices.

I think the other struggle is that we are our own worst enemies. I think working moms judge themselves very harshly, or harder than maybe we judge other people. So it’s a matter of just keeping in check in my mind what I am doing and what I am accomplishing on both personal and professional and making sure that at the end of the day when I look in the mirror I feel good about what I’m seeing.

A lot of it goes back to being flexible with yourself. I’m a goal-oriented person, so I try to set milestones or goals that I’m going to achieve and work through them. If it’s not going exactly as planned, I might need to adjust my plan…it’s certainly not set in stone. I have to learn to be flexible and realize it’s not always going to go as planned. That’s something you learn as a mom. It’s just incorporating that into the broad life that you’re living.

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About Lisa Hartkopf

Lisa Hartkopf, partner, Advisory Services, Ernst & Young, is the leader of the Chicago Professional Women’s Network at Ernst & Young. The group encourages women to feel more connected within the firm through knowledge-sharing and career development initiatives including seminars and networking dinners.