The Balance Project, No. 103: Jackie Kolek, Communications Executive

Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance. I’ve always been curious about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified “doing it all” craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does “it all.” Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us all feel a little better. I hope the conversation will be steered toward that reality rather than toward the flawed and dangerous assumption that we should try—or even want to try—to perfectly do “it all.”

By the way, looking for THE BALANCE PROJECT novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.

No. 103: Jackie Kolek, Communications Executive

Age: 43

Where I live: Westport, CT

Job: Partner & Managing Director, Peppercomm Strategic Communications

Kids: A daughter, 9, and a son, 11

Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?

Jackie Kolek.

After my son was born I began working from home two days a week. It changed my life. With an hour and a half commute from Connecticut into NYC every day, those extra hours back in my week are invaluable and having the flexibility to be there when my kids are sick or in a school play is tremendous. Being in a client-service industry, I’m always trying to balance what days I’d like to be home versus when I need to be in the office for client or internal meetings. My view has always been that flexibility works both ways: there have been times where I’ve had a child with a broken leg and needed to be home for a week straight, and then there are times when client needs take over and I’m traveling for a week or in the office more hours than I’d prefer. But overall, it works out. In addition to having the ability to catch my daughter’s softball game or help my son with his homework, working from home is incredibility productive. I love my colleagues, but I tend to get a lot more done when I am home (and I can throw a load of laundry in at the same time).

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?

I think people have to define “it all” for themselves. No one is the perfect parent, perfect spouse, perfect boss, and perfect employee all the time. Whether you’re working in the office or an at-home mom, I think everyone has moments where they think “man, I wish I had done that better.” I think all women, regardless of their working status are making some compromises along the way so the idea of achieving an ideal of “it all” is both overrated and unrealistic. Everyone has different ideals and dreams, so “it all” can mean different things for different people. Men and women need to define what works for them and support each other in the quest to achieve their own personal sense of balance.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?

Dinner. I have this ideal in my mind that my family should sit down every night and talk about our day and eat a healthy meal. But on the days I find I have the time to cook, more often than not I’m missing a key ingredient, forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer, or I get an urgent client call at 5:30 pm, and my whole plan is shot. I wish I could plan my meals ahead of time and food shop with an actual list, but I just can’t seem to get that part down. At least three nights a week my husband and I are texting “dinner?” at 6:30 pm.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?

Asking for help. I live in a town where very few of my friends and neighbors work. It’s always been very difficult for me to reach out and ask someone to drive my child or take them after school if our sitter was out. My friends are incredible and have never judged me, but I’m always judging myself and never wanted to be seen as that working mom pawning her kids off on someone else. I’m definitely getting better at it, but still prefer not to ask unless I really have to.

Do you have a favorite time management tool, hack, or other strategy you use that helps you achieve balance?

I live and die by my Outlook calendar. I put everything in there from business meetings to my children’s playdates to paying bills and exercising. I send my husband appointments so he can never say “you didn’t tell me we were going there.” It’s all in the calendar. I’m also big on to-do lists. I make one every day day at the end of my workday. There’s something quite satisfying about crossing things off a list. Finally, while sometimes it’s unavoidable, I really try to put the phone down when it’s time to focus on my kids. Whether it’s family meal time, watching a soccer game, or just talking through a problem they’re having, I want them to feel that they have my complete and undivided attention.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?

From a mentor/co-worker? “Try to leave the office at a decent hour so you can go home and be with your kids, then log back on after they go to bed and finish up what you need to do.”

From your mother? “Stop feeling guilty.”

From your spouse? “Don’t feel like you need to compensate for the fact that you work by volunteering for every school PTA and athletic league position.” (I’m yet to listen to this one.)

From your kids? “Stop cursing so much.”

If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
Exercising! I try to work out at least 3-4 times per week and in addition to the physical benefits, it’s the greatest way to de-stress and work out problems. I came up with some of my most successful client ideas during long runs training for a marathon.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
Pick a career where you can turn it off for a day or two a week. In client service, it’s not possible to simply work 3-4 days a week. I would have picked a career that made that more possible.

What do you hope to know by time you’re 60?
That my children are happy.

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Food shopping.

Whose job do you wish you had?
I’d be a snorkel instructor. My husband and I have a dream of one day moving to the Florida Keys and opening a snorkeling and dive charter. We’d live on the water all day, meet new people every day, and get to do something we love and make money.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
Melissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! Mayer has become a lightning rod on the topic of women leaders. I certainly would not want to be in the position of being a global role model for women leaders. Personally, I think her actions (including returning to work days after having a baby and cutting telecommuting) have made her a villain among working mothers and hurt a lot of the hard-fought progress made by working parents, both male and female.

Favorite books?
I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

What are you reading right now?
The Stranger by Harlan Coben.

Biggest vices…

Activity? Spending time at the beach. Thankfully I’ve trained my kids to be beach-aholics too. We’ll spend 8-10 hours a day at the beach in the summers swimming, reading, playing, and sunning.

Food? Wine. Is that a food group? If not, it should be. Website? Entertainment Weekly TV Recaps. I’m usually so tired at night it takes me two or three nights to get through an episode of my favorite show. I lose patience with myself and just read what happened.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
6-7 hours.

What do you read every morning?
The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post.

Complete the following sentences:

I think I: am a good person. I hope that I am.

I wish I: could look into the future and see how this all worked out. Are my kids happy and healthy, is there a female President, have women achieved pay equality?

My kids: are my greatest joy and the source of my biggest worries. When I face a problem with work, I’m usually pretty quick to come up with a solution that I know will work. I wish I had the same confidence in my parenting skills.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
To each its own.

Anything else you’d like to add?
While I am glad so many people are having the conversation around balance for women, we do the issue disservice if we’re talking about it as a women’s issue versus a parenting issue. In most double-income homes, dads are often having to make choices, too. When I have an important client meeting, that sometimes means my husband needs to be home with a sick child or make that school presentation at 9:30 am on a Wednesday. This winter’s constant snow storms and school cancellations forced us to create a system for who stayed home when and sometimes, when we were both home, who had to take their conference call in which room of the house. We’re all trying to find some balance between work, family, and our health and wellbeing. I think we can advance the issue more when we recognize that both parents are often struggling to strike that balance.

About Jackie: Jacqueline Kolek is a partner and managing director at Peppercomm, a strategic communications firms headquartered in New York City. Jackie oversees the firm’s financial services clients and specializes in working with companies during times of transition to help them to develop and define their brand positioning and messaging and to create compelling stories that drive audience engagement and enhance business outcomes. She possesses a deep expertise in the financial services industry, with a particular emphasis on understanding the financial intermediary world of RIAs, broker dealers, and wealth managers and has a unique expertise in understanding how to leverage social media in highly regulated industries. In addition, Jackie serves as the firm’s chief marketing officer and is responsible for the firm’s strategic marketing and branding initiatives globally. An avid runner and spin addict, Jackie recently completed her second marathon. When she’s not out running, Jackie can be found at the beach with her husband and two kids. Find out more about Jackie:

Twitter: @jackiekolek

Facebook: jackie.kolek