A few weeks ago, on the eve of the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” (and the subsequent millions of words written for and against it), sofagirl and I looked back at our experiences as women in the corporate workplace, and wondered if things had changed.
Neither sofagirl nor I had to juggle career and family (just career and assorted other crap) and asked ourselves how someone similar to us, but with a husband and child, might fare. Someone who, unlike Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, does not have thousands of dollars to spare on help, but does have a demanding job and tries to juggle business demands, love life and children without dropping too many balls.
Enter Becca of Narcissista.me. I don’t quite remember how I stumbled on Narcissista. It was a few months back, probably sitting on my couch, uninterested in the tv and trolling around. It’s pretty rare to come across a blog that demands you read more and, when you do, is like starting a book that draws you in and keeps you up at night. I immediately sent it to sofagirl and promptly linked it to our site. Narcissista.me is dedicated to the Unapologetic Pursuit of Beauty, Anti-aging and Fun and it’s well-written, funny, self-deprecating while being thoroughly researched, informative and useful. That pesky dry skin on my heels? Becca had a (stinky) product that got rid of it. And the perfect lip balm for my perennially dry lips. All the way to Botox, hair loss and other bits and bobs talked about honestly and exhaustively.
From the few personal glimpses Becca allows the reader, what comes across is a smart, down to earth, busy career woman trying to do what we all strive for: be happy, be her best self, while doing what she loves (plus, she reads the NYT and the New Yorker, long articles and all, so she is alright in my book). Becca agreed to answer a few questions on how she does it and what suggestions she might have for younger women: what she had to say is honest, articulate and a perfect example of what it means to try and “have it all”: it can be messy, challenging but also rewarding, once priorities are set.
We are pretty sure you will enjoy reading it as much as we did. And don’t miss her beauty suggestions at the bottom of the interview.
NM: I’m an SVP in advertising and wear three hats because these days we’re all expected to do more with less. On one hand, I’m a Group Account Director that oversees everything from the inception of the communications strategy, the development of the creative idea to the production of the final assets (TV, print, digital, etc).
Other times I’m a brand strategist, which means I’ll do management consulting on projects that require brand positioning, communication planning or target insight work. And the third hat I wear is that of new business development, which means once an opportunity comes in the door, I orchestrate the presentation narrative, cast the team and do a large part of the presenting.
The demands on my hours?? Unrelenting. A short week for me is 50 hours, a normal week about 70. Luckily, I’ve earned my stripes at my agency so I can come in later or leave earlier if I need to, but I’m never not connected or writing some type of presentation. I have some flexibility, but there are no boundaries between my personal life and work anymore which sucks.
When it comes to looks, in advertising you don’t have to be a great beauty, but in my role I need to look like I’m engaged in life, young enough to be plugged in, but just old enough to have some wisdom. For instance, my Clients all peg me somewhere in my early to late thirties, which is old in advertising years. I don’t lie about my age, but most would be stunned if they knew I was 44. Unlike other industries where age is valued, in advertising you better not look a day over 45.
The way I put myself together is important, especially in my new business role. Most of my Clients have adapted some form of version of “business casual” which is actually a pain in the ass because it’s like getting an invitation that requests guests come dressed “festive”. When I first started, the suit was a simple uniform to have, but now you have to look casual enough to look accessible, hip enough to telegraph “creative”, but not so much that you intimidate. This means my go to outfit is a great dress, dark jeans, high heels and a black Theory blazer, or capris, cashmere sweater with a white blouse and kitten heels. I’m happiest when my Clients are multi-nationals, because the global composition means I can take more license in what I wear.
CS: How do you juggle the responsibilities to your family, yourself and your job?
I don’t. I’m constantly amazed that my family is still alive. Seriously though, I have an incredibly helpful husband who has more reasonable hours than I do so he picks up a lot of the slack.
I’m also shameless about blending family and work. I’ll bring my son into my office if I have a child care issue and now that he’s older, even have him quietly sit in on creative meetings or Client conference calls where he can learn something. On some level he’s grown up at the agency I work at, and I have a boss who understands the tricky balancing act of work/home. Clearly not everyone is lucky enough to have this situation.
Even with all this support though, it’s incredibly tough when two people with active careers are trying to raise a healthy, happy child. I think there’s a lot to be said for one partner staying at home to keep the seams together.
Here’s the thing though; all of this biting off more than I can chew is my choice, it just comes with tradeoffs. I thrive on adrenaline and a high-octane job, so if I downshifted or stayed at home I wouldn’t be as happy. My goal is now is to have control over all of this so I can at least call the shots on my terms.
NM: My husband, hands down. Second to that are my in-laws and our babysitter Norma, but we can only afford her once a week.
CS: Are there any shortcuts/compromises you felt you could live with in order to do it all?
NM: Well, I don’t do it all, I just give it the old college try. I think one compromise in all of this is in the romance department. My husband and I are both so busy, it’s easy to neglect this. Our once a week date nights have dwindled down to once a month and to be honest we’ll spend a good hour arguing over what movie to see because we so rarely get to go out we want to get it right. It’s not ideal, but it’s the state of our reality.
CS: How do you share the responsibilities in your household?
NM: My husband is great at day-to-day tasks, but the place can get messy fast. I’m the fixer who makes the place look presentable and does the Big Clean once a week. I do all the cooking, he does all the laundry.
CS: On hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently? Any advice you could give to younger women?
NM: Read anything written by Seth Godin. He challenges you to think beyond convention and what currently “is”. This will help you design the type of life you want and take control. My favorite is Linchpin.
Take the time to really know who you are and what you want out of life. I denied the creative part of myself for a very long time because I thought what I wanted was to climb the corporate ladder and be a CEO. A lot of this is because this I came of age during the dawn of the Yuppie and bought into the idea this is what we’re supposed to want. It took me many years to figure out why I sometimes felt like a stranger in my own skin. Finally admitting that I wasn’t truly fulfilled and why was liberating.
Get a great mentor. I would have actively sought out a mentor and took control of my career earlier, rather than relying on my manager or agency to do it for me. A mentor is someone who actively cares about you, not just someone who you go to for advice from time to time. Easier said than done.
Demand honest feedback. Good mentors are very, very hard to find, so in the meantime challenge your manager/boss/supervisor to give you coaching and honest feedback, but be sure they know this isn’t a fishing expedition for praise. Praise is great to let you know you’re on the right track, but too many managers make the mistake of withholding the harder feedback you need hear, which creates a blind spot for you and ultimately holds you back. Thicken your skin and embrace the negative.
Learn everything you can about entrepreneurship and running a small business. The opportunities of tomorrow will be ones we create ourselves.
Start saving and investing money as early as possible.
CS: And, on the beauty side, what is a woman to do if she is on a budget but does not want to skip on her cleansing/toning/moisturizing routine? Your favourite products in this category.
Two words: prescription retinol and sunscreen. Retinol isn’t cheap (generics are around $150), but it’s the best investment you can make in your skin (just be sure to only use it at night).
Sunscreen on the other hand is cheap and easy to get. My favorites are from Neutrogena and if you want to spend a little extra, La Roche Posey Anthelios Fluid SPF 60.
For moisturizers, I love CeraVe and Olay Regenerist Micro Sculpting cream. Eyecream is tough, but I like ROC the best. Lastly for cleansing, nothing beats Cetaphil.
CS: Finally, what is the one thing that makes you truly happy?
NM: Seeing my son happy and believing in himself.