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


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

AUDIENCE: Meeting your work and your own goals.

CAROLINE FLANAGAN: Meeting your work and your own goals. Excellent, thank you. What’s your name?


CAROLINE FLANAGAN: Neru? Thank you, Neru. This is a snapshot of a conversation I had with a client early on this year. So you want better balance, better work-life balance. What does that mean to you? What does it look like? My client– well, I want my life to be balanced. So I’ll feel much more balanced Me– OK, so let’s dig a little bit deeper.

What does it actually look like? On a day-to-day basis, what are you doing? Client– well, at home, I’m doing all the stuff that makes me feel balanced. And work– yeah, work’s balanced. Yeah, I know I’ve got work-life balance because I’ll feel balanced. That conversation is surprisingly typical with my clients. It’s quite hard to define, and I think Al and Neru did a very good job of coming close.

Now this is a problem because as research shows– as you would have almost certainly have heard– if you want to achieve goals, it really helps if they’re smart goals. So they’re specific, they’re measurable. They are achievable, they’re realistic, they’re time bound. Research shows that that increases your chances of succeeding in achieving a goal. And it also shows that if you can write down what your goal is, you can articulate it, that increases your chances of succeeding even more. When was the last time you sat down, you wrote down your specific goals for having work-life balance? Lady in the pink who answered the question first ever? Anybody ever do that? It’s hard to define, and that makes it even harder to achieve. The myth of work-life balance.

The second reason why it’s so hard to achieve, no one size fits all. What works for me just might not work for you. You may prefer to work from home five days a week, but perhaps your preference is actually to be in the office those five days, get all the work done so that you’re much freer when you’re at home. And just to complicate things more, if you have children, what works for you when your children are really young won’t necessarily work when they’re older, when they’re teenagers.

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So what does this mean? It means we have to create our own personal solution. We can gather together all the different components, the productivity apps and the time management strategies, and the well-being routines. But the important bit is how we bring all of these together. And there’s no universal blueprint for that. You have to find our own way.

So the third reason why balance is difficult, and arguably the biggest, it’s just the nature of the world we live in and the way we work today. All those wonderful technological advances that have brought so much freedom, connected us in ways we could never have dreamed of, even 50 years ago. They’ve all come at a price, haven’t they? We are always on, always connected, constantly working, constantly moving. And of course, the demands of our working environment, competitive, the importance of performing or proving your value, competing against our peers. And add to that what’s going on internally. This is the battle, the second battle. This is the two fronts, what’s going on on the outside with work environment, but also internally, our inability to restrict, control how much we use technology. We’ve become slaves to it.

And add to that, even our feelings of I’m an impostor, impostor syndrome, perhaps. Or just your innate need to achieve, to progress, your innate ambition. All of this conspires to make it very hard to walk out of the office, switch off completely, and enjoy the bits of your life that don’t involve work.

I want to tell you three stories that underline my message about how you can win this battle for balance, a battle which, as I’ve just explained, is a difficult one. It’s a battle against the odds. It’s the 28th of August, 1963 Martin Luther King, leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s in America, he’s standing on the new Lincoln Memorial.

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There are 250,000 civil rights supporters there in the crowds. And he delivers this iconic speech: I have a dream. For those of you who don’t know or recall what that dream was, it was a dream for equality. It was a dream for a day when the children of black slaves and the children of black slave owners would be able to go to school together, be treated equally. It’s hard to imagine a more challenging battle than the one they faced at that time.

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