About US - Julia & Beth
Why we started Balancing Bravely
The short story is that we, Julia & Beth are women in our mid-thirties. We are both mothers of 2 children. We are both wives. We are both highly educated (with a PhD and a Master’s). We are driven and have careers we enjoy.
But life threw us both a wrench.
Julia discovered she was massively underpaid. The researcher in her started reading everything she could about women, careers, finances, and family. Her conclusion – to live more intentionally, to bravely balance career ambitions and quality family time.
Beth burnt out trying to do it all - supporting her clients (she’s a psychotherapist), raising her two kids, and caring for her aging parents.
We know we are not the only ones struggling with work-life balance, so we hope to share what we are learning along the way to inspire others to create a life that reflects your work-life values.
I spent my early and mid-twenties focused on my career. I did an undergraduate degree in child psychology, worked for a year (and met my future husband Adam, then went to graduate school to do a Master’s and PhD. I moved to Pennsylvania for grad school and maintained a long distance relationship for 4 years. It was hard, but it was also amazing. I loved graduate school. I felt like I found my people (i.e., other women who want to debate nuances of complex psychology articles and think how we can improve the world). During those years, I was deeply focused on school and career.
In 2011, the last year of my PhD, my life shifted a lot. I moved back to my hometown. My future husband, Adam, and I got engaged. We bought a house together. I was on the job market figuring out my next career steps. I had gone from being very career-focused to splitting my time between career, money (mostly related to our mortgage), and figuring out life as an engaged couple.
In the fall of 2011, I got a good job as a research manager. I was just wrapping up the end of my PhD and the timing seemed perfect. We became a two-income household, so I stopped worrying too much about finances and focused on my career.
In September 2013, I became a mom to an amazing baby boy, David. My world shifted. What I cared about and prioritized totally changed. Family moved to the forefront and for almost a year I put my career, finances, and taking care of myself on hold. But I also struggled that first year. While I loved getting to know my baby, I didn’t love all of the changes that came with motherhood. I became a little obsessive about being a mom and trying to control the uncontrollable. When David wasn’t sleeping well, I read all 12 books the public library had on baby sleep looking for ways to drag myself out of extreme sleep deprivation. I thought constantly about the things many moms think about – developmental milestones, whether he was eating enough, connecting with other moments, overcoming boredom and isolation.
In the middle of 2014, my mommy brain fog began to lift and family time finally became fun rather than stressful. I shifted back to focusing on my career, trying to balance work and home. To offset how hard it was to achieve work-life balance, I completely neglected taking care of myself and thinking about our finances.
Life continued like this until September 2015, when I had my first miscarriage and then went on to have 2 more. Despite having 3 miscarriages that fall/winter, I stayed focused on my career. I only took off one day of work between the 3 miscarriages. I was also obsessed with getting and staying pregnant – without any luck. By the summer of 2016, I was in a bad mental headspace. I reached a breaking point and realized I needed to start caring for myself. I worked hard, really hard to change my thinking, shift my mindset, and find happiness even on dark days.
That fall I got pregnant again and in May 2017, my son Michael was born. I was elated, thinking everything was finally going to fall into place. It didn’t quite work that way. He had colic and food intolerances and cried/screamed for 2-6 hours a day for months. He did not sleep well at night or during the day, he screamed while he nursed, his reflux was so bad that I put towels underneath him while he slept so I didn’t have to change the sheets at night. It was a rough 6 months, but it was an opportunity to really appreciated all of the hard work I had done in the past year to practice mindfulness and gratitude. I truly believe this saved me from sinking into a deep depression.
I started 2018 feeling great about my own self-care. Family stuff was getting easier and easier. At the same time, career things were shifting. The job I had loved for 6 years was no longer as inspiring. I had a huge successful team of 20 people, but I was spending my time doing administrative work, rather than the things I was passionate about. Then, by accident, I found out I was vastly underpaid. My counterpart, a woman who had a similar job to mine made 47% more money than I did. I was shocked. I was angry. I figured out that if I had been paid the same income as she had for the past 6 years, we could have paid off our mortgage. I started doing the thing I do best – I started reading everything I could about women, leadership, pay, and careers. In the process of researching and learning, I realized was also a little embarrassed. I thought I was successful and empowered, but I spent years not standing up for myself and asking for what I wanted or needed.
At first, my research was about figuring out how to ask for more money, but the more I read, the more I stepped way back and started asking myself, “what do I really want to do at work?” and then, “what do I really want from life?”
I realized that what I really wanted to was bravely try to create a work-life balance that embodied my values and priorities. My goal wasn’t to “have it all”, but to maximize having the things that I love most.
Two months after I found out I was underpaid, I quit my job and gave my boss a month’s notice. I didn’t take another job, but instead started my own consulting company – doing essentially the same job, but working for myself. The goal of this big career shift is be paid what I’m worth, and bravely try to balance my work and home life.
I don’t yet have an answer or magical solution – I’ve realized there is no one miracle cure to achieving work-life balance and happiness. I can see that it is a journey, not a destination, but I’m excited and inspired about my next steps. I have already learned so much. I have so many moments when I think “I should have done this” or “I could do that”. I’m trying to stay positive and not regret the past, but see this as an opportunity to grow in the future.
As I’ve gone down this path, it’s made me realize that I’ve learned a lot of useful information for working mothers that I can easily share with others, so that hopefully you can learn too and figure out how to make your life what you want it to be.
At 36 years old, 15 years into my career as a mental health professional, I had a wake-up call that shifted my perspective on how I approach my career, relationships, parenting, and even compassion.
To give some context, in July 2018, I was working full time at a community mental health organization as a counselor, was building a part-time psychotherapy private practice, raising two children under age 6, living in an increasingly crowded city, with a 2 hour round trip daily transit commute, had aging parents, a tenant in our basement apartment, and was trying to maintain a healthy marriage and friendships. I thought that drinking plenty of water, squeezing in a weekly yoga class and monthly massage was self-care, and it was, but what I required was self-compassion, a term I realized I understood academically, but was having trouble applying to myself.
On the brink of burn out, I went to see my doctor who told me I have a mood disorder. My therapist said “take a little time off of work”. My initial reaction was that it wouldn’t be necessary to step away from my work. People are counting on me – my clients, my colleagues, my boss, my kids...
After chatting with my husband (a fellow psychotherapist), I reluctantly agreed that a couple weeks off could be beneficial. My doctor had a different idea—a minimum of 6 weeks off and she wanted it to start later that week.
It felt like a metaphorical brick hit me in the face as I walked home from the doctor stunned by the recommendation. Returning home to my husband and telling him the recommendation, he said “I agree completely”. As it turned out, every person I mentioned it to, including my employer, a few trusted colleagues, some friends, family members and of course my therapist were completely on board with the idea. The only one who gave any push back at any point was me.
I knew that my way wasn’t working, so I trusted the professionals and loved ones in my life and took 6 weeks off. My instructions for this leave (per my therapist) were to “be messy” and “feel your feelings”. It felt intangible and unnecessary – which paradoxically was why it was so necessary.
Like I have through my entire life, I turned to writing as a method for exploring my thoughts and feelings. I wrote daily in a journal, read a large stack of self-help books, listened to self-improvement podcasts and started opening up about what was going on for me to people I trust and respect.
The 6 weeks actually turned into 14 weeks. It was exhausting. It was enlightening. It was healing.
I got back to my values and priorities.
It is the hardest work I’ve ever done.
It is the hardest work I continue to do.
Because, I am a work-in-progress.
I want to focus my energy to what matters most to me. I don’t want to be approaching retirement and be a shadow of my younger self. I want to be the best version of me.
I want to demonstrate self-compassion to my children, my clients, my friends, and not just talk about it.
I still work at a community mental health organization as a counselor, am building a part-time psychotherapy private practice, raising two children under age 6, living in an increasingly crowded city, with a 2 hour round trip daily transit commute, have aging parents, a tenant in our basement apartment, and am trying to maintain a healthy marriage and friendships. Now I’m doing it with a fresh perspective, a shifted mindset, and with significantly greater self-compassion.
That’s what work-life balance means to me. I am honored and thrilled that Julia wanted to bring me in on this project of Balancing Bravely. Julia and I are very different people united by shared values of authenticity, ambition, learning/teaching, and self-improvement.
Balance is a practice, not a destination. That’s why it takes courage to commit to balance.