The Often Elusive Balance Between Work and Life


After preaching work-life balance for over a decade, honoring Shabbat ended up being the catalyst for career coach Julie Cohen to walk her talk. 

What is a secular, 40-something Jewish business owner, community activist and generally too-busy mom doing taking it easy on Shabbat? Not checking email or voicemail? Not going into my home office? Not even checking my book sales? The anwer is surprisingly simple: I’m enhancing my work-life balance, my professional effectiveness and my overall life satisfaction.

After teaching and preaching work-life balance for over a decade, it turns out that honoring Shabbat was the catalyst for me to actually walk my talk!

Over the last year, work-life balance has become a national issue with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Marissa Mayer’s maternity leave and change of Yahoo’s work-at-home policy and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” These visible women have raised the volume on this conversation with Sandberg and Slaughter offering solutions, and Mayer making business decisions to serve her company. They each bring a unique perspective into the dialogue —yet something is missing.

All three women come from the top echelon of their fields and of the socioeconomic scale, and have many more resources than most of us. How do we real women navigate the daily challenges of making choices that satisfy us personally and enable us to excel and engage professionally the way each of us wants? Sandberg and Slaughter offer many useful cultural, political and organizational changes that may help. Yet these changes are unlikely to happen for quite some time, and we don’t have the luxury to sit around waiting.

Each woman needs a path that she can create now that supports her current unique set of priorities, goals and values. This is what has been missing from the conversation — the understanding that work-life choices are personal. Hearing Sandberg and Slaughter’s solutions, and Mayer’s personal and business decisions can be useful, but can also be demotivating and frustrating. What they want for themselves and others may be very different from what we want for ourselves.

In my book, Your Work, Your Life…Your Way: 7 Keys to Work-Life Balance, and in my workshops, I help individuals — including dads — define what they most want from the precarious work-life mix we all juggle. Regardless of career, level or income, almost all my clients have voiced some level of dissatisfaction with their work-life balance situation. Who among us hasn’t?

So, back to Shabbat. While serving on the board of Congregation Kol Ami in Elkins Park, I was taken aback when our new president requested that we refrain from sending synagogue-related emails or doing congregational business on Shabbat.

My initial reaction was almost hostile, and went something like this: I am a busy woman running a full-time business, involved in my son’s school, active in my community, and I need to use every minute possible to be at my most efficient. I need to be able to manage my non-work commitments when I’m not working, and that’s usually on Saturday. If he wants me to live up to my board commitments, it needs to happen when I can do it, and that just might be a Friday night or Saturday!

And then I paused and thought about the words I write, and the message I tell others. Work-life balance is a lifelong journey that needs to be navigated with deliberate choices, hard decisions, difficult conversations, occasional sacrifices and regular evaluation. Work-life balance satisfaction does not happen by following a one-size-fits-all approach espoused by anyone. And, to make this journey as satisfying and manageable as possible, I need to pause from the often overwhelming business of my personal and professional life to assess what is important, enjoy all of the good around me and re-energize so I can make it through the next crazy week.

Sounds like Shabbat, doesn’t it?

So, now, on most Friday nights, I turn off my computer when my son arrives home from school, put my iPhone and iPad on the baker’s rack away from my easy reach and view, and let the phone ring unanswered. I still have errands to run for the house, baseball games to cheer and meals to cook, but I’m focusing on making my work-life balance journey what I want it to be. An occasional oasis of peace and family in the busy-ness of my life’s work. How will you define your Shabbat?

Julie Cohen, is a career/leadership coach and author of Your Work, Your Life … Your Way: 7 Keys to Work-Life Balance. For information about an upcoming public event in Philadelphia, go to:


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