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It’s Just Life (and Other Lessons from Top Women in Tech)

I don’t believe in ‘work/life balance’ – it’s just life.

I used to dread the question so many female leaders are asked which sounds something like: “What’s your approach to work/life balance”? I dreaded it because I didn’t have the magical answer. I was stuck. It wasn’t until I realized it’s not even the right question that I finally felt ready to answer.

I’ve learned to accept that playing different roles in life — being a mom, a daughter, a friend, an executive — doesn’t mean that I need to separate everything to have balance. What is work/life balance anyways? Actually, it’s just life. AllI really needed to do is to follow my own beliefs in trust, respect, transparency, and doing the right thing at the right time.

It’s so simple and empowering — but took me 20 working years to come to this realization. The assumed expectations of our culture dictated to me that I had to answer in a certain way — that I had to figure out how to have it all, all the time, and never be compromised. I’ve spent a lot of time with people in business all through my career, and I believe one of the biggest obstacles women face is their own doubts about their ability to succeed (as they define it). To paraphrase an amazing leader and author of Rebooting Work, Maynard Webb , people get in their own way.So how do you overcome your doubts? You voice them and work on them with someone you trust, someone you admire, someone who’s overcome challenges of their own. A mentor.

I’ve been very fortunate to have special mentors throughout my career — diverse men and women who have helped me learn what kind of leader I want to be. I see those mentors now as my own personal Board of Directors. They are there for me and our relationships have become invaluable. My personal Board of Directors has former bosses, leaders I admire, and, well, even my Dad!

It turns out those I admire most are never ‘done’ and continue to seek their own path with curiosity, ambition and care. Last week I was honored that three fantastic female leaders joined me for a women’s mentoring event at Jive to share their successes, challenges and advice. Our panelists were Elissa Murphy, CTO & EVP of Cloud Platforms at GoDaddy; Elisa Jagerson, CEO and Owner at Speck Design; and Lisa Stone, CEO and Co-founder at BlogHer.

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Here are my top three take-aways from this terrific event:

1. Self-awareness and empathy are key qualities for success.Half the battle of becoming an effective leader is happening inside your head! Whether we are dealing with a tough situation, building relationships with the right people in our lives, or learning how to quiet the inner voice of doubt — self awareness is an important key to the process. As said so simply by Elissa Murphy, “Be yourself, don’t question who you are, don’t forget what makes you great. If you’re a person with a soft style, use it. Who said that label was bad? Know who you are and be aware of it.”

2. It’s just life. Being in charge can be freeing; you’ve got to own what you want to do and who you want to do it with. Yet the opportunity can be daunting. Sometimes life doesn’t end up looking like you thought it would. Elisa Jagerson pointed out that she had visions of what her life would look like, dreams she had. She made peace with the fact that her life wouldn’t look exactly as she’d pictured. “There is a generational gap between our mothers and ourselves,” Elisa said. “We are pioneering in this age, and our daughters will know a lot better from our example.”

3. Take the hard job and push boundaries. Whether it’s taking a seat at the table, standing up for what you believe in or conquering your own inner defeating voice, becoming a successful woman leader is not going to be handed to you on a plate.Lisa Stone summed it up “we need to stand up and take steps to lead in our society. Run for office!”

Thank you to these amazing women for bringing the conversation to the top! We’d love to hear what you think in the comments here — about work, about balance and…..well, about life!

To see more highlights of panel, view this SlideShare presentation or the recap video.