This weekend brought the tragic news of the unexpected death of Lean In author’s Sheryl Sandberg’s husband, Dave Goldberg, a loving husband, devoted father, and successful entrepreneur. With this terrible news comes an acknowledgment of this man’s contribution to his family, to his wife’s career, and to the empowerment of women in the professional sphere.
I have been to numerous panels featuring great women, women who have built companies and financial firms, women who have succeeded wildly in traditional male-dominated domains, and women who have made the work-life balance question almost laughable. They seem to make it look easy, but we know it is anything but.
Time and time again, I hear bright, articulate, ambitious young women in the audience of these panels ask their potential role models questions like:
“How long after I start a company should I wait to have children?”
“Should I have children before or after I start graduate school?”
“How did you manage to master the work-life balance question, and still be successful AND have a family?”
These young women want to know the formula for family and work success. They want to believe that a baby can be planned, when babies can come when you least expect it — and may not come when you’re trying your darndest to have one. They want to think that there is a right answer, and then everything will work out.
But I appreciate the question, and the earnest hope that there is an answer. These young women in their 20s have watched those of us in our 40s, 50s, and 60s try to make all of these things work, and they are hoping that we figured it out, and can pass along the secret to a magical life of present and loving parenting, and high-performance career building.
The answer I hear over, and over, and over again from these successful women entrepreneurs, government officials, and industry giants — including Sheryl Sandberg — is that it’s not about time control, number of children, or career choice. But that for women to be successful at home and at work depends greatly on their life partner, and how supportive that person is in your life, and how participatory in the life of your family.
Sheryl Sandberg offered this advice, in her bestseller Lean In: “When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.”
According to a recent article recalling the life of Dave Goldberg, he was a life-long advocate of women, encouraging girls in high school to speak up more in class, hiring an unheard of percentage of Silicon Valley female executives at his company, and eventually pushing his wife to negotiate for high compensation while he planned around her career and participated actively in the day-to-day life of their family.
Not everyone has, or wants to have, a life partner. But if this is or may eventually be a part of your life, then try thinking about work-life balance less in terms of how you balance work and life yourself, but how you balance it with a partner. According to many women who have been there and done that, the success and richness of a life partnership has everything to do with the success and richness of work, and life.