Cindy Krischer Goodman

Reclaiming your life: At times, it’s best to change course

Jennifer Chiampou speaks to more than 300 women last week at the Office Depot Foundation Women’s Symposium.
Jennifer Chiampou speaks to more than 300 women last week at the Office Depot Foundation Women’s Symposium.

One Saturday, a friend asked Gila Kurtz to lunch. Kurtz turned her down, explaining that she once again needed to spend the weekend working. “Wow, you’re working all the time,” her friend responded. “I would not want your life.”

Kurtz says her friend’s comment triggered self-reflection: “It wasn’t meant to be nasty. It was matter of fact and it was true.” As co-owner of a $2 million pet business, Kurtz realized she needed to make a change: “I had lost who I was in the volume of work.”

With the economy and job market improving, people increasingly are rethinking their work/life balance. According to a February survey from staffing firm Robert Half of 1,000 office workers, 54 percent have increased their commitment to their personal life over the past year. “During the recession, people hunkered down,” says Randy McDermott, Robert Half’s metro market manager for Palm Beach. “Now that the economy is good, they want to start working on themselves and their interests outside of work. They are saying ‘It’s my time.’ 

Pivoting to adopt new work/life priorities takes an acknowledgment that there are options, and it takes the courage to move beyond asking yourself, “Is this all there is? For some, pivoting may require a slight shift, while others might need a complete change in direction.

Taking the first step requires perspective. “You need to think about how you want your life to look in a year and what’s standing in your way,” Michelle Villalobos, a Miami personal branding consultant, told more than 300 businesswomen at the Office Depot Foundation Women’s Symposium in West Palm Beach last week. Too often people live in the day to day instead of aiming for the balanced life they envision. “Sometimes, that’s hard to see by yourself. You may need to get the right people to help you make that shift,” Villalobos says.

Pivoting too fast can take you in a new direction, but not necessarily the right one. “The way to do it successfully is to first have a plan in place,” says Kurtz, founder, co-owner and vice president of sales for Dog is Good, a California company that creates and markets gifts and apparel for dog lovers. Kurtz made a plan to transition from a hands-on role as vice president of sales to a leadership position as brand ambassador. Over the past year, she hired a sales team, wrote a book called Fur Covered Wisdom, and began speaking at events, including the women’s symposium, to promote her brand. Kurtz also got a puppy that she takes to the beach, and body-surfs with, on weekends. “I have put play back into my life,” she says.

Sometimes, a slight pivot is all that’s needed. On the Citigroup blog, Christine Lam, country business manager for Citi in Hong Kong, describes how she reached her pivot point when her son washed his hands without a step stool and she realized she had missed most of his growing up because of her constant business travel. But instead of a drastic career change, a conversation with her manager at Citi led to a new position with Citi’s Global Consumer Bank that halved her travel.

McDermott at Robert Half finds people often underestimate the support from managers for the right work/life balance. “The first step should be to talk to your direct supervisor about changing your circumstances in your current role,” he says. “Some managers are not aware how unhappy their employees are.” In fact, as candidates receive job offers that tout better work/life balance, McDermott says, the number of counter offers from their current employers has risen dramatically in the past year.

Still, a growing number of frustrated workers find an extreme pivot is their best path to a more fulfilling and balanced life. They change jobs and even careers, give up responsibility, or find new interests outside the office.

Jennifer Chiampou knew she needed to make an extreme pivot but didn’t know where to start. Her employer, Office Depot, had announced a merger with Staples. Uncertain about her future, she spent her days isolating herself from others at home and work. “I was waiting to see what happened to me, feeling low, instead of trying to figure what I wanted my future to be,” she says. One day, she realized she needed to be a better role model for her daughters and made “an extreme internal pivot.” She enrolled in personal development courses and began to network, speak at trade shows, surround herself with positive people, meditate, and consider what she wanted to do next. She stills holds her position as director of private brand growth strategy at Office Depot, but she has discovered she enjoys public speaking at training, branding and networking events for her company and the community. “I’m back in control of my life,” Chiampou says. “It took a massive perspective shift, but I’m re-energized and having fun.”

Cindy Krischer Goodman writes on work/life issues. Connect with her at balancegal@gmail.com, @balancegal or worklifebalancingact.com.

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