Karren Brady: ‘Planning To Create Balance Is Great Until Illness, Work Crisis Or Kid Trouble Comes Along!’

I remember when I was young someone telling me that the secret to achieving a great balanced life was to have three psychological boxes. One for your family. One for your work. And one for yourself.

The secret, I was told, is to try and make them all the same size. If you managed this you will have achieved the holy grail of “work-life” balance. And people with good balanced lives are among the happiest. I have to admit it is advice that has stayed with me, but I equally have to admit that over the years my boxes have not always been equal!

When there is a crisis at the office my work box gets so big that it would not fit inside the Olympic Stadium. I think the time I lost balance altogether was when I floated my company on the stock market, making me the youngest managing director of a PLC in the country. I was 27 years old and I had a one-year-old baby. I can’t even begin to explain the exhaustion I was feeling!

There have been times when my children have been sick: chickenpox, colds, impetigo. Or when my daughter got wedged in a baby walker (don’t ask but the fire bridage cut her out) and then she split her head open on the trampoline. And my son has ended up in hospital dozens of times courtesy of his passion for playing rugby! These are the times when work can just go to hell, my place is at home. 

And as for the box labelled “myself”, well, over the years it’s got so small that these days it wouldn’t even hold an aspirin!

And as the song goes, “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman”. Actually, Tammy Wynette got it wrong, most of the time it’s hard to be a woman and as for being a working mother, well that’s when it can sometimes be just plain impossible. 

Life has its ups and downs. It can rock us to the core. I remember when my grandmother died and my mother was inconsolable – I didn’t have a box for that, I had three board meetings that same week and two small children, but she was my priority. Planning your balance is great until illness, work crisis, or kid trouble comes along and interferes!

What I can tell you is that life is a roundabout of balance, rather than a box. Sometimes home is much more important than work and vice-versa, you have to be prepared to hop from one foot to the other to maintain that balance – sometimes even stand on one leg! Don’t fight the balance is my advice, just shift a little weight from one foot to the other and try not to lose your footing. 

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