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Rule 36: Be Flexible

Aug 23, 2008
Tenny Frost is Executive Director of Alumni Relations at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Tenny lives in Albany, California, and is married with two children. In 2007, Tenny was recognized as one of the "Top 25 Women Re-defining Success".

"Whatever you do, remember, that the most important thing is to always be flexible...." This was the sage advice my very wise and insightful 102-year-old Baltimore Grandmother always gave me whenever I visited her. She would always weave this comment into our conversation at some point. It would ring in my ears for days after our special visits. That magical phrase "Be Flexible" became a core principle for me after I became a working mother of two beautiful children.

Juggling a full life with kids, a spouse, volunteer duties, and an active professional career simply requires flexibility. If you are not flexible you can miss out on a lot of things. I would get very frustrated with myself when I got too rigid or stuck in my ways. The solution was to simply relax and try and look at the situation differently. As a result, I truly believe that this core value, being flexible, has allowed me to be successful at work and at home.

At work, making strategic decisions and managing priorities for me and others is a daily requirement. At home, the same skills are applicable. I have discovered that the more I plan, the easier it is to build in options and time so that I can be flexible. Now, by default, I find myself planning my work projects with built in "what if moments". This extra thinking and planning allows me to be more adaptable when things go off track at home or work.

And, as working moms know, things never go as planned. Kids get sick, but they never seem to get sick on the days that could work well for you! They always get sick on the days that you have a major presentation or event, or, god forbid, a flight out of town for business. I'll never forget the morning my 3-year-old daughter threw up all over herself and her bed as I was on my way out the door for a major work event and a long weekend out of town. My husband and I had planned a trip for our 10-year wedding anniversary. We were leaving the kids behind with the grandparents so that we could jet off to Mexico for a few days (our first major break / vacation since the birth of our kids). My heart sank as my daughter become more and more ill. Luckily, I was able to shift a few things around and reached out to my staff for help so that I could take it a bit slower that morning at home. I did get to the event, and it went fine. We also got on that plane for Mexico later that night and enjoyed the long weekend together! Slowing down and being flexible made that horrible (and oh so guilty) situation, well, not so horrible anymore.

Another critical part of this guiding principle has been to create a staff environment that embraces flexible work styles and arrangements. Not only do I personally need, want, and desire a flexible work schedule to accomplish my work-life-family balance, but I think it is a very healthy thing to offer everyone (whether or not they have kids!). With today's technology and communication tools, flexible work arrangements are vital to the success of teams and individuals in the workplace. Productivity, respect, and teamwork is on the rise in my work place as a result.

At home, I have found that as much as I try to map out and plan the week or weekend activities, they are bound to change for the better, and, well, sometimes for the worse. A new idea for fun or family bonding might arise, so "going with the flow" is a theme I try to follow.

I am definitely not perfect at this "being flexible" thing. But, I certainly know that using this as my mantra has kept me focused, happy, and successful over the years.

As excerpted from "42 Rules (tm) for Working Moms" Super Star Press, 2008.
About the Author
Laura Lowell is the executive editor and author of "42 Rules for Working Moms." She has gathered practical advice and information from working moms all over the world to share with others. She lives and works in Silicon Valley with her husband and two girls. http://www.42rules.com/working_moms/index
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