Finding Balance

Several weeks ago, we posted a set of mini interviews with some of our board members about what “having it all” means to them. Today, we’re following up with 4word CMO, Betsy Gray, on how she has learned to set boundaries and maintain balance between work, love and pray.


4word: In our last mini interview with you, you mentioned that in your first job out of college, you “didn’t see the need to limit hours, voluntarily working late and taking work home” until “the thrill began to fade.” When did you first realize that thrill was fading? Was there a particular trigger?

Betsy: When I was working as a lead creative at a small ad agency, the company’s account executives would sometimes make commitments to a new client that creative presentations would deliver a product to them in impossibly short time frames. As a result, they sometimes overcommitted the creative team.

Although I would express concern, it never occurred to me to seriously challenge the deadline. I would just cancel personal plans. When I began leading a high school Bible study, with teens unable to be reached at short notice, the expectation that I would drop same-day plans put me over the edge. Finding a workplace culture that valued evening and weekend commitments within reason shot up to the top of my list, and I was blessed to find that in my next role.

4word: What lessons about the importance of maintaining balance did you bring with you from that first job into your next position?

Betsy: Anything I learned about balance in the early years, I learned from one end of a seesaw planted deep in dirt. In advertising, you can impress a new client with insane turn times on creative pitches, but you can’t sustain that pace forever. Once my portfolio was full of great work, the burnout clarified my priorities. My focus became finding a company culture that honored life beyond the workplace.

A layoff accelerated the hunt, but God was faithful to some pretty urgent prayers. I landed a senior role in a big cosmetic company, starting on the exact day my severance pay ended, with great pay. There were long hours at first as I learned all I could about the company, but their reputation for valuing performance, not overtime, held up.

The company’s product line was a perfect fit for my experience and personal design style. It is incredibly gratifying to use your abilities in a setting where they can have real impact. As I learned what it took for my team to produce, I began to quantify the best practice methods and schedules, and educated clients before they initiated projects to set expectations.

The creative team won favor for establishing cohesive brand standards, winning design awards, and growing enrollment in a catalog program. And I found time to take leadership roles in my church singles group, lead a women’s group, train for a marathon, travel, dance and date.

4word: When did you decide to become a consultant? Does being self-employed make it easier or more difficult to set boundaries with your time?

Betsy: Deciding to consult after 20-plus years of steady paychecks was a terrifying but thrilling thing to do. I wouldn’t have imagined myself leaving the security of a high-paying job without the dramatic change in focus that kids bring to a working mother.

When I returned to the office after my children came along, I still loved my work, but my mind was much more on productivity so I could get home to those amazing little miniature humans and their daddy. Delegating more to the perfectly capable team around me was one long-overdue solution. Those maternal hormones seem to just laser-focus priorities. I got much better at meeting deadlines knowing that family time was at stake.

4word: Has marrying Clay and having two adorable kiddos changed the way you set your priorities and maintain balance? How so?

Betsy: Now that I’m consulting, I’m getting better at limiting face-to-face meetings. I work as virtually as possible so I can be “present” for the kids. My filter for choosing clients improves as mentors encourage and hold me accountable to not give too much away and to bill market value. Without the feedback a corporate performance review provides, I ask clients for their honesty and am sharpened by those who respond.

Working from home doesn’t necessarily put that many more points in the “family” bucket, though. It relieves the agony of rushing away from a sick or separation-anxious child in time to fight traffic, because you can take the time to work through the tears. But shouldering consulting work on my own means I’m often thinking of work when I’m with family. For this life season, the certainty that I can focus on my children morning and afternoon makes the self-employment lifestyle right for my family.


How about you ladies? What part of maintaining balance is the hardest for you – and which area wins most in this life stage? Let us know in the comments.