Keeping Things ‘Real Simple’

I’m not sure when the whole hotel room bedtime quote movement started, but I have to admit I’m sort of a fan.

You no doubt have experienced this phenomenon too, in which a little inspirational thought magically appears each evening beside your hotel bed, oh weary business traveler in need of something to puzzle over while you sleep.

Last spring I was in Chicago and one night received this quote from Albert Schweitzer, courtesy of a little card next to my bed in the Trump Hotel: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” A lightbulb went off in my head. I rushed home from my trip and read the quote to my three boys, who are 15, 12 and 3. A teachable moment! That thing that really good parents are supposed to do! My kids listened politely (after all, it’s only 24 words long), then naturally rolled their eyes and went back to playing Wii.

When people start talking about work/life balance, it just makes me want to take a nap. Honestly. For me, work and life are so intertwined that trying to separate them makes my head hurt. But I think Albert Schweitzer was on to something about working motherhood when he made that observation. It’s not about balance, after all; it’s about the connection between happiness and success.

Or, if you love your job, if you’re good at what you do, if you are fortunate enough to work for individuals who respect that there is a razor-wire boundary around your personal life, it will all work out in the end. You will like your career, and you may even grow to like your children.

Many of the people I’ve admired most in my working life have an attitude that can be summed up by a “This is who I am; take it or leave it” credo. (Yes, of course, this has gotten people fired from time to time, but at least they were never accused of false advertising.) All working parents have their deal-breaker priorities, and the longer you’re at it, the easier your priorities are to identify.  

For example, I leave work nearly every day at 5:30. This fact makes some people gasp. (A few years ago a fellow editor in chief even came up to me at an industry event and said, “Is it true what I hear about when you leave the office?”) But having dinner with my kids is part of the deal with me and has driven some of my job choices. I’ve also been lucky enough to work for people who don’t hold that 5:30 thing against me.

The smarter you become as a manager, the easier it gets to understand and accept the priorities of the people who work for you, even if they’re different from yours.  You realize that if someone has to leave work at noon for a school play or pediatrician appointment, the world will not end. You realize that if you let people live their lives while they’re working for you, your turnover rate may actually go down. You realize that any collective enterprise — in my case, editing a magazine — is like conducting an orchestra, and if one of your violin players is out, well, thank God you’ve got other violins.

And you let your kids keep it real.  

I have the tremendous fortune of having given birth to three skeptical children who — no matter how successful I might become — will never hesitate to remind me that I am not very funny and I throw like a girl. Oh, I may have other relatives who think it’s really cool that I go on TV and have my picture in a monthly magazine.  My kids think it’s really cool that I have access to unlimited hot chocolate in the office kitchen. In my household I am sometimes the boss, but I’m also an increasingly embarrassing mother who needs help turning on the TV (I swear, it involves about three remotes) and who is still unable, after watching 500 soccer games, to explain the offside rule.