Caroline Flanagan: Babyproof Your Career @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of speaker, bestselling author and coach Caroline Flanagan’s presentation: Babyproof Your Career @ Talks at Google conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the bio here.

CAROLINE FLANAGAN: I want to start by telling you what it’s like to be at boarding school and get a parcel in the post. Now this is not something that happened to me very often.

So when at the age of 15, a small package arrived with my name on it, it was literally the most exciting thing of the year. I remember it so clearly, the box, the brown box with my name on it. Half a dozen or so of my best friends, all really excited. We’re still in our pajamas because the post arrived after breakfast, everyone jumping on the bed, “Open it, open it!” because they were sure there’d be sweets, there’d be chocolates for everybody to share.

So there I was. I turned over the box ready to break the seal, but something stopped me. The writing on the back looked cold, unfamiliar I read it with despair. Her Majesty’s Prison Service, Holloway, London Anxiety choking me, I tentatively opened the box and a pile of letters cascaded to the floor, all with this same familiar handwriting on it, my handwriting, all addressed to one person—Mum.

Is there anything more devastating when the moment when something you’ve been trying to hide and hide from reveals itself for all to see? There was a letter inside. Dear Caroline, your mother is no longer in our custody, so we’re returning your letters to you. Yours sincerely. Devastating.

According to the children’s charity Barnardo, the UK charity, children of offending parents, parents who spent time in prison, are twice as likely to have mental and misconduct problems. They consistently underperform at school, and they’re three times as likely to end up being offenders themselves.

Growing up as a black kid, as a daughter to a mother who was barely there, to parents who never lived together, let alone were married. As the sister to siblings who themselves were constantly arrested, to a sister who had a teenage pregnancy, all her children taken into foster care. Being cousin and niece to relatives who valued teenage pregnancy and state dependency more than they valued achievements, education. Aspiring to succeed, to do well, to be secure, to be free in that environment was a battle of extraordinarily difficult odds.

My name is Caroline Flanagan. As you’ve heard, I’m a coach, I’m a speaker, and I’m an author. But I am extremely passionate about empowering people to fight and win battles they think they have no way of achieving.

That day I opened the box, I discovered a secret, the secret to toppling giants, to winning battles that you think you have no chance of winning. And it’s the single most important factor in my journey to date and every success I’ve achieved.

Getting used to scrolling down here because the clicker isn’t working. It’s also the single most important factor in helping me to succeed as a mother of four fantastic boys. This picture is amazing. Not just because it shows my lovely boys, but to have all four of them in the same picture, still for long enough to take the picture and actually looking at the camera and smiling, is nothing short of a miracle: Dylan, Noah, Luca, and Maxwell.

Today I want to share with you the secret to fighting difficult battles and winning. That secret is this: No matter how hard the challenge, how strong your opponent, or how daunting the circumstances, you can win that battle if you do one thing– if you focus only on what you can control. Focus your attention on what you can control. Balance is definitely a battle.

It’s hard. It’s so hard, in fact, we almost don’t even talk about it anymore. I find when I go in to meetings and I talk to my clients about balance– and particularly corporate clients, they say no, no. It’s work-life integration, working agility. No one’s talking about balance anymore.

I feel like, have we killed it off? Is it something that’s so hard to achieve you decided to just brush it under the carpet? Just for fun, I did a Google search on work-life balance is dead — 56 million results. I didn’t look at them all, but certainly the first page was all about the end of work-life balance. It’s a battle of extraordinary odds. Why is that? The way I see it, there are three reasons.

The first one is that work-life balance is quite difficult to define. Can anyone give me a quick definition of balance, work-life balance? You don’t have to prove me right. If you’ve got the perfect definition, then please come forth with it. Anyone? Anything come to mind immediately?

AUDIENCE: To find an equilibrium between two forces.

CAROLINE FLANAGAN: To find an equilibrium between two forces. Brilliant Balance, in other words. But what does that mean in real life?

AUDIENCE: To spend as much time on your personal life as going to work.

CAROLINE FLANAGAN: To spend as much time– for those of you who didn’t hear– on your personal life as you do on your work life. Thank you for that. What’s your name?

AUDIENCE: Al.

CAROLINE FLANAGAN: Al, thanks for that. That’s pretty good, pretty clear. Yes?

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