As a woman driven by demanding careers, Anita Phillips learned early on that in order to maintain a healthy work/life balance, she’d have to set some boundaries. She talks with us today about how to protect your time away from work.
4word: What drew you to demanding careers?
Anita: I chose to major in Public Accounting in college because I wanted to be a “professional” and I wanted to move to a larger city than where I grew up. I had a friend whose older sister was very successful in public accounting, and while I knew it was very demanding, I also knew there was a lot of opportunity. It was very demanding! There were many months of working seven days a week and very long hours, but I loved it. I realized how much I love learning and growing.
In public accounting, I was always reaching for the next challenge. When I left after ten years, I was getting married, and I chose a next step that would still let me learn but was a bit less demanding. With my appetite for learning and growth, I quickly took on additional responsibilities and was promoted to my first VP Finance role in just less than two years. It was clear to me at that point that I really valued challenge and learning new things and being stretched to the next level. For me, the demands are worth the opportunities for learning and growth.
4word: When you and your husband started your family, how did you balance that and your career?
Anita: We had hoped to start a family soon after we married, but that didn’t happen. It was a difficult lesson for me to learn that you can’t control your personal life as much as you’d like! Our first daughter was born seven years after we were married and at that point, I was a VP CFO in a significant division of our company. Not only did I have an unpredictable schedule, but I traveled a fair amount as well.
My husband and I had discussed many years prior that if we were blessed with a child, he would be willing to stay home. For us, it made sense economically, and for me, it gave me great peace of mind to know the person I trusted most in the world would be taking care of our child. We were lucky, too, that my husband had a good temperament for child care. He was an amazing stay-at-home dad!
4word: How did you protect time with your family?
Anita: Working in a demanding career and giving your family your time takes a lot of organization. One key thing my husband and I did was select an elementary school near my work. Being strategic with our school choice allowed me to drive the girls to school, which is great way to spend time together. I also found I had to keep tight control of my calendar. I would schedule time to do important things at school, and my assistant was clear that those things were a priority and couldn’t be moved.
We also had a rule of no phones/text/email when we were all together at meals or activities. When I had to do some work in the evenings or on weekends, I would try to do it when the girls were sleeping. My traveling was usually for a fairly short duration, but if I had to go for longer than a week, I would always try to take at least one day at home when I returned. Ideally, I’d try to get home near the weekend so I could catch up and spend time with our family. As the girls got a little older, phone calls became really important when I was travelling. No matter how tired I was, I’d try to spend a lot of time with them on the phone.
4word: When you took time away from work to vacation and recharge, how did you keep work from invading your time of rest?
Anita: Vacations have always been very important to me and became much more so after the girls were born. Vacation should be a time to “exhale,” to relax and focus on your personal priorities. When I was able to spend vacation time this way, I was always very re-energized and happy to return to work.
I learned early on in my career that you need to set boundaries. I always prided myself on building a strong team and leadership team, and when I was away, I would specifically grant authority to key direct reports or colleagues for things that might need to get done. I trusted them to know when I needed to be contacted and when they could make a decision on their own. My assistant always knew who had the authority to call me on vacation, so if I was needed, I was available.
4word: What advice do you have for professionals plotting their career journey?
Anita: I have always encouraged people who are serious about developing their career to be open-minded to opportunity. Career development is not always a straight path. If you think you can define where you’ll be in ten years, you’re wrong! When presented with an opportunity, ask yourself, “Do I bring enough capabilities and skills to be successful at this, but will it also develop new skills and capabilities for me?” If the answer is yes, don’t worry about whether it’s a “promotion.” Lateral moves can be very good for your career!
You can also move between functions. This type of development can be very powerful. I also encourage people to be open to relocation. Being unable or unwilling to relocate can hold a career back and working in another country or another part of the U.S. can really help to develop you as a person and as a professional.
4word: What tips can you offer for balancing work and life?
Anita: First, define your support system. I know we were blessed to be able to have my husband stay home when our girls were born. Not everyone has that option. But you must put a support system in place that can handle your career. If your hours are unpredictable or you need to travel, you may need a nanny or flexible childcare, or perhaps extended family support. Finding daycares or schools that are near work or home can help a lot.
Scheduling is critical! When you are at work, be there. When you are with your family, be there for them. If you try to mix too much, it doesn’t work for either. When you’re having family time, turn your work phone off if at all possible.
And you need to take care of yourself too. Figure out what helps to keep your stress level in check. Daily exercise is good for your health and gives you time to think. If you take care of yourself, you will be much more effective at work and with your family.
Does your work/life balance need a check-up? Take Anita’s advice and see what areas of your life need some attention!
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After a 34 year career, Anita Phillips decided to retire early to spend the rest of her 2 daughters high school years at home. The girls have now graduated and Anita knows that was the best decision of her life. Anita retired as the President and Chief Operating Officer of TGI Fridays U.S. Company restaurants. Prior to that Anita was SVP and Chief Financial Officer for TGI Fridays worldwide. Anita served in many Finance leadership roles in Minneapolis, MN, London, England and Dallas, TX following a ten year career in Public Accounting.
Having waited seven years for her daughters, Anita cherishes her family and is deeply grateful to her husband , Jim who retired to be a stay home Dad when their first daughter was born.