Monday, April 25, 2011

finding balance

This week I decided to go with a really practical read, Women, Work, and the Art of Savoir Faire by Mireille Guiliano, a book written by an extremely successful French/American businesswoman about business sense and sensibility. The author is the former CEO of Clicquot, Inc., the American division of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, a brand she basically defined and grew from something like 1 percent to 25 percent of the market share (don’t quote me on that). 

What I loved about the book was that it mixes business advice with life advice, providing helpful stories and anecdotes along the way. Her writing is so feminine, and so French, so naturally I loved it! She touches on everything, from interview etiquette to what not to wear, gendered differences in communication to networking, to recipes for dinner parties and how to define success. While most books about business or leadership tend to focus solely on the business world, Guiliano seems to recognize, in true French fashion, that work is not everything, and that there are a countless number of things that all play in to leading a balanced and successful life. 

I’ve probably talked about this before, but one of the greatest things I learned during my semester in Paris was work-life balance. The French language consists of all sorts of beautiful words, but one that I particularly fell in love with living in Paris was the verb profiter. It literally means to take advantage of, but the French use it much more loosely, mainly meaning to make the most of each opportunity. Make the most of a beautiful sunny day, of a park full of people, of the chance to travel, of a great work venture, of a relationship, of whatever. There’s a reason the French work a 35-hour work week and take 6 weeks of vacation a year, and it’s not because they’re lazy. Instead, it’s because they want to make the most of the most beautiful months of the year, because they want to spend time with their families, and because they want to go to work rejuvenated and ready to start the day. During the months I spent abroad, I learned that a good life is not made up solely of work or of play, but a healthy combination of the two. If one side gets off balance, the other really suffers. For example, if I don’t take a night off during the week or weekend I’ll be much less productive overall. This is one of those things I have to remind myself of time and again, because it’s easy (especially in college) to get in the mindset that work and accomplishments and good grades and promotions are the only things that matter, but that’s not at all the case.

What the author of this book stresses is having anchors. She tells the story of going to an outdoor market, where each vendor has a tend with four support legs that all need to be evenly tied down and anchored, because if one leg is off balance the whole tent can collapse on top of customers, goods and produce strewn everywhere.  These tents in mind, she names four support legs that it takes to find a good work-life balance: 

        1) Good health.
        2) A functional network of friends and family.
        3) A solid employment situation.
        4) Time, space, principles, and policies for yourself.
Sometimes, we don’t have all four of these together, and the beauty of having anchors is that some of the stronger ones can compensate for weaker ones. It doesn’t mean those times won’t be stressful, but having other anchors in tact can lighten the load, so to speak. For me, I’m blessed to have #1,2, and 4 covered, so even as #3 is not so certain, I can still feel quite balanced and under control! During this week, I’m going to remember how important those anchors are, and how important it is to profiter, especially during my last ‘real’ week of college!

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