Systems for parents who want to do good work in the world and at home.
Lisa Sugarman is a syndicated columnist and author of the Boston Globe Local Bestseller LIFE: It Is What It Is. Her column is both poignant and hilarious. Most people who follow her column say they read it because it sounds like she’s having a conversation with them from a bathroom stall. And that’s why they like it. She is also a mom with two daughters (high school and college-aged). Read on to find out more about Lisa’s real-life strategies for creating balance between the needs of her family and her demanding writing career. There is not Pinterest-fluff here. Only the real stuff.
“Let me know if there are any connection problems,” says Lisa after we introduce ourselves over the phone. “I just did my run and I’m cooling off on the treadmill now.”
I’m a multitasker, but even I was impressed by the idea of being interviewed for a profile piece on the treadmill.
It turns out that walking and talking is just one of the ways that Lisa Sugarman makes time for the important things in life. As a mother of two, a syndicated columnist, and an author with one book published and four more in the works, Lisa has a lot going on. But, as she said, getting things done “is all about embracing the moment and being nimble.”
Lisa’s syndicated column “It Is What It Is” captures the fact that life is a work in progress and in order to get the most out of life we have to see the upside in every situation.
However, what is most obvious about Lisa is the way that she deeply understands her values, what is important to her and her family, and then acts accordingly.
Family Growth and Professional Growth
Lisa has always been a writer. She started a journalism career right out of college with crazy-long days of driving all over creation for interviews and stories. When her children were born she was home with them, but also consulted on the side. In this, Lisa is not alone. Many moms (and some dads) find part-time work after they have children. In fact, for many moms, this is seen as an ideal scenario. In 2012, the Pew Research Center found that 47% of moms thought part-time work would be ideal vs. 32% who preferred full-time work.
While some parents might find this to be a dream scenario, parenting and working a flexible schedule are anything by simple. In fact, being both a parent and a writer requires Lisa to make conscious choices in order to be her best at both.
Even with a busy schedule, Lisa found time to write. Let me correct that. She made time to write. “Making time” was a theme that ran through our whole conversation. Lisa made this time to feed her own passion, but at a pace that also let her be the primary caregiver for her children. When her children were in school, she worked as a teacher’s aide and later contributed a column to the local paper. The article was well received, so she wrote a few more. And then a few more. And eventually, after about two years, the paper offered her a weekly column and “It Is What It Is” was born.
Lisa’s writing career grew organically around her family life. And family life is obviously an essential priority for her. She and her husband commit to time to be together as a family. I heard the passion Lisa felt for this family time when I spoke to her. I also heard an equal level of passion when Lisa spoke about her writing. She says she has found writing to be cathartic and a way to process the trials and tribulations of parenting and raising a family. As much as she loves her kids (don’t we all!) she also is able to capture the joy, the pain, the struggles and the humor of parenting in her writing. That has not only fed her soul, but the souls of her readers. Lisa spoke excitedly about her readers making emotional connections through her writing and how powerful it is when she hears from a fellow mom or dad who has been touched by what Lisa has shared.
Making time for what matters.
When I asked Lisa to describe how her writing career grew, she said it grew “organically” around her. But as I spoke more to Lisa, it became clear that she had done lots and lots of work to make sure this growth could happen. While there are elements of “luck” in all of our lives, Lisa has worked hard both to become the writer she is today and to create the options and opportunities that have allowed her to be a writer and still be true to her family values. When I pressed Lisa more about how she gets it all done, she described a scenario I certainly found familiar and I suspect most other moms and dads will as well.
She uses pockets of time.
Lisa described writing a little bit in the car while waiting for her daughters to emerge from school. She told me about her favorite coffee shop where she can sit and write for thirty minutes between activities. She chuckled as she talked about scribbling new ideas on napkins and notepads while being out and about. As Lisa puts it, she “writes every day, but where and when is random.” Lisa is able to embrace reality and make writing a priority, by grabbing time when and where she can. This act of making the time rather than waiting for time to work itself out, is a large part of what makes Lisa so successful.
Interestingly, this same pattern of setting priorities and then making time for them played out in Lisa’s family. Lisa and her husband consistently carved out time for their family of four to be together all through their daughter’s childhood. This took the form of family meals and family runs on a routine basis, but Lisa also discussed the special skiing vacations they took. When other families were running around with sports, tournaments, and other weekend activities, Lisa, her husband, and her daughters had a different Friday-night ritual. They would pile into the car with their ski gear and head up to the mountains. It was their special family time, their special family place, complete with other family friends that they met through their skiing adventures. Lisa mentioned that, as their daughters got older, she and her husband gave them the option of doing things with friends instead of going on these skiing trips. But their daughters always wanted to go skiing. It was their special time. It was their family time. It was essential to them all.
What makes a balanced life
When I asked Lisa about her “life balance” successes, the first thing she mentioned was her happiness about how her oldest daughter is doing in college. She is thrilled that her daughter didn’t move too far away but also that she had the experience of living away from home. Her daughter is involved and busy in her freshman year of college. She is living her own independent life and growing up. But she also shares and connects with her family and nothing makes Lisa light up like seeing her daughter’s number pop up on her phone. Lisa has plenty going right in her balance between work and family. However, what has made so much of this balance is not luck or happenstance. Lisa is actively creating balance. She knows what she values. She sets priorities. And she makes it all happen, even when it means scribbling down column ideas on a paper napkin. As Lisa herself said, “if you value something, you either need to find time for it, or you have to make time for it.”