Is occasionally putting yourself first the secret to success?


In any three-month period my job typically requires me to spend three weeks overseas and an additional two to three weeks travelling domestically to meet the demands of a business operating in Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

Apart from holding a challenging senior role at Unisys I’m also a wife and mother of four children, the youngest of whom is 15.

As anyone who works long hours and travels frequently will tell you, achieving a work-life balance is tough and there is a danger that you will live in perpetual guilt. You feel guilty because you’re not giving 24 hours to the job and guilty because your family doesn’t see enough of you. Taking time for yourself can feel like an indulgent and selfish act.
But actually investing in all the different parts of your life – as a mum, an executive, a wife and a woman – can ensure you are at your best in all situations.

My key to balancing my roles, with happiness, is having a game plan that allows me to organise my days and make the most of every minute, whether it’s for work, family or myself.

This requires up-front organisation to reduce stress wherever possible. For example, I invest a lot of time in preparing for meetings and not just the business aspects but also what is appropriate in the local culture.

I have no doubt that my personal wellbeing affects my ability as a business leader. Being in tune with all the roles in my life helps me to relate to my colleagues and clients on a personal level. Professional knowledge alone is not always enough to engage successfully with different cultures, personalities and social environments.

Staying focused and fresh on the job means taking time out to prepare which is a key aspect in building, maintaining and nurturing client relationships. I’ve never been a person who just flies in for a meeting without having the context around the business – immersion in the culture in addition to the business environment is very important.

Being responsible for the APAC region, I regularly travel to India, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and New Zealand. By planning ahead and organising transport in advance, I don’t have to worry about my personal safety or making sure I can get to where I need to be on time.

Early in my career I learned that taking time out to look after my physical health would enable me to deal with high levels of stress and to stay attentive to my family and friends.

Airline travel across different time zones can take its toll on physical wellbeing and lack of sleep is a common issue when you are dealing across time zones stretching from India to New Zealand as well as the US. It means keeping myself physically well is even more important than usual.

While keeping a regular routine can be difficult I try to maintain a daily exercise regime. I don’t consider exercise as a ‘nice to have’ –it helps me focus to do my job and provides me with some uninterrupted time to think, and relieves stress.

If I don’t dedicate time to exercising and eating well, no matter where I am, I know it will be difficult to go the distance and deal with the fast pace at work and give my family the attention they deserve. But I also need to give myself a bit of ‘me’ time to help take away some of the stress of trying to manage it all.

Having a happy home and engaging in non-work related activities is also a big part of my overall wellbeing. As a mother, one of my main concerns is providing my children with the right level of attention. When I’m away for 16 or more days at a time, it can be difficult to fit back in with everything that is going on at home in terms of household, school, work and sports.

As much as possible when I am at home I try to dedicate my entire time and attention on nurturing my family. Having a supportive husband and preparing a plan for family time has had a positive impact on my ability to work and enjoy a happy marriage of 21 years. It’s definitely a team effort.

The lesson I learnt from working globally and travelling extensively is that it’s not about ‘having it all’. Rather it’s about prioritising and recognising that putting yourself first sometimes is the secret to success.

Mums@work 17/9/13
By Sue Carter / Aug 29, 2013 7:42AM