Kathleen Byars – A Corporate Woman 'Unleashed'

Photography: Corporate Women Unleashed™

Let's be honest with ourselves: There is a lot of talk going around about how work-life balance is 'overrated' in this day an age, particularly because we are so hyper-connected.

Everything needs to be delivered quickly, we all feel obliged to respond to all our emails, messages, calls, engagements and social media notifications etc. – Is this really the case? Are there better ways to address this? 

As a Women of the Modern World issue special, PAUSE speaks to Kathleen Byars, Founder of Corporate Women Unleashed™, about 'Work-Life Balance Coaching', her journey of self-discovery, authenticity and her advice for women who find themselves stretched thin and 'stuck' between a successful career, family commitments and a life they hope to live. Kathleen also shares about what she does to #pause and how meditation plays a central role in her day.

We all have 168 hours per week; it’s what you do with that time that leads you into or out of balance. And balance is achievable!
— KATHLEEN BYARS; Founder, Corporate Women Unleashed

PAUSE: How can work-life balance be achieved when there are just so many demands? Please share with us what solidifies your conviction. 

KATHLEEN BYARS: The answer to work-life balance lies within our human biology and psychology; which is why most of us find it so elusive because we have never been taught this.

In today’s societies, we are taught that success lies solely in our ability to meet our need for security and through security our need for esteem. We do not realize that we must balance all seven of our biological and psychological needs. These needs include health, connection, autonomy, purpose, leisure, along with security and esteem.

Work-life balance isn’t about having more time. In its simplest form, work-life balance is about your ability to meet these seven human needs using the most effective means possible.

We all have 168 hours per week; it’s what you do with that time that leads you into or out of balance. And balance is achievable! Many confuse balance to mean putting equal attention in all seven areas of need and this leads to (being overwhelmed) overwhelming instead of contentment and joy. The goal is not to place equal time toward doing all of the things you love…it’s knowing which of your needs are most important at a given time and then choosing the actions best available to you to meet those needs.

Using human nature as a guide, you can experience balance by simply striving to meet your needs with the most effective choices possible.

For example, you can meet your need for leisure by binge-watching Netflix in an exhausted heap on the couch every evening. Or you can spend twenty minutes enjoying an activity that gives you flow like reading a favorite book or walking the dog. It’s not the amount of time; it’s what you are doing that allows you to align your actions with your nature, which then pulls you into balance and that wonderful feeling of fulfillment as you enjoy the moment.

Even ten minutes a day of focused, quality time with your partner will elevate your sense of well-being and be more productive to meet your need for connection than putting off that connection for an elaborate date night once per month.

As for technology, it’s simply a tool and must be recognized as such. In some cases, technology helps us meet our needs, such as when you can stay in touch with a friend from college via social media or quickly resolve a work-place issue via text. If you allow technology to become an ineffective strategy for meeting your needs it will indeed be invasive and prevent you from feeling at ease.

The goal is not to place equal time toward doing all of the things you love…it’s knowing which of your needs are most important at a given time and then choosing the actions best available to you to meet those needs.
— KATHLEEN BYARS; Founder, Corporate Women Unleashed

PAUSE: Briefly, how did you come to choose this path of helping women achieve work-life balance? What strategies would you recommend to women who would like to embark on their personal journeys of achieving work-life balance? 

KATHLEEN BYARS: I began my own journey to create work-life balance in 2001. I was a newly minted Vice President and close to burnout. I had spent 12 years skyrocketing up the corporate ladder as a single mom and had missed out on the simple moments of my daughter’s childhood.

I was angry that my only choice seemed to be either giving up a successful career I loved or lean in and deal with the guilt and regret of not being the mother I wanted to be. I became absolutely focused on figuring out how I could enjoy a powerful career and an engaged, fulfilling personal life.

I spent ten years researching, studying, and investing in more trial and error than I care to admit before I figured it out. What I finally learned is that the answer to the elusive work-life balance riddle resided inside – understanding my human needs and choosing the actions and behaviors that would best meet those. Once I let go of looking for external answers in the form of a job, time, or money, I found what I was missing.

After sharing this discovery with family and friends, they began to rapidly change their own lives to be fulfilling and began to thrive! At that point, I knew my husband and I had found a solution that would work for everyone.

I chose to focus my advisory and coaching services to executive women after former Pepsi CEO, Brenda Barnes, passed away in 2017. I remember when Brenda stepped down from her position as Pepsi North America CEO in 1997 to be with her children. As Brenda stepped back, I was stepping up in my own career. After Brenda passed away at the relatively young age of 63 her decision to savor time with her children became all the more poignant.

I realized that we need to help prevent corporate women from burning out and missing the richness of life before it’s too late. There is no reason that women cannot have it all – a high-powered career and a beautifully balanced personal life. There is no sense in creating all that success if you cannot enjoy it.

In terms of general advice, I have 4 main strategies to share: 

  1. Rewire your belief that work has to come first and life second.
  2. Rebuild your belief that success requires sacrifice. 
  3. Understand that a balanced life isn’t about having equal time to do everything you want to do. 
  4. Realise your intrinsic purpose, your personal values, and work towards aligning yourself with them.

On how to go about the above, I have written an article on the '4 Mental Strategies to Balance a Successful Career & Fulfilling Personal Life' – I go into a lot of detail there, so if you're interested, you can view it here.

PAUSE: I understand that you focus on coaching a diverse group of women in different stages of their lives / who have different life circumstances. How can a woman benefit from coaching with you / alongside other women in the CWU programme? 

We work exclusively with female executives and high-achieving women who do not have much time. They live relatively complex lives with many demands and we teach them how to create more time for play and how to best utilize that time so they experience the effects of a balanced life.

Our clients learn how to confidently disconnect from the office, create a balanced personal life, and navigate their high-powered careers with new skills that put them back in control of their career.

Learning to disconnect is essential so that when a woman steps away from the office she is mentally free and can live in the moment. Women can find it difficult to unplug as many have underlying performance anxiety and fear they must prove that they deserve a seat at the table. Without mental freedom, it’s nearly impossible to enjoy personal time and many women have strained relationships with their partner or children as a result.

Creating balance is a learned skill and we teach our clients a customizable framework so that when they do step away from the office, our clients know exactly what actions and choices will best serve their needs. Many of our clients are surprised that creating balance isn’t about doing more or doing less, it’s about doing what is most effective based on their needs. Instead of running from one area of life to the next our clients know how to level up their actions across their life simultaneously which is what creates calm and inner peace rather than feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

Navigating a high-powered career requires new strategies and thinking as a woman climbs the career ladder. High-achieving women struggle to empower themselves with the strategies that give them leverage and control in their career. Our clients will often admit to being addicted to work or cite a high-pressure environment as the cause of the imbalance. Yet, we quickly show women how their own thinking and behavior is the real issue and we teach our clients how to shift their behavior to leverage their true value while utilizing their newfound understanding of human behavior to influence their environment. It’s a lovely transformation to witness and the resulting empowerment is priceless!

At this level, coaching is imperative to ensure a client creates the behavioral changes and masters the work-place strategies. Our clients are accustomed to excelling at whatever they do. They recognize that if they could have figured out how to create a balanced life, they would have done so already. These women want the shortest, fastest, and most effective route to create sustainable change in their life. They know that working with an experienced advisor, they will get the guidance they need and not fall back into former habits.

I believe working with an executive coach is similar to being a pro basketball player on a professional team. The basketball coach has knowledge and expertise the players don’t possess and can see what adjustments a player needs to make in order to reach her goals. Without a coach, it’s difficult to optimize success and often women will quit when unforeseen challenges arise.

In only eight weeks, our clientele get results and move on to enjoy beautifully balanced lives without disrupting their enviable careers.

PAUSE: What are your tips to avoid burnout? How can we constantly keep ourselves in check?

KATHLEEN BYARS:  You want to continually refine the actions you choose to balance your seven needs. And when you find a choice that works create a habit to lessen the effort.

Many women fall into the trap of trying to get their work done before they can relax. Yet, this often backfires as there is always more work to do! Rewire that impulse to “get it done” and find a strategy that allows you to step away. You might take a 10-minute walk, call a friend, or spend thirty minutes reading a favorite book. Even if you cannot physically leave the office, you will experience greater contentment and peace - and ultimately be more productive – when you recognize your other needs require attention, too!

It also helps to envision yourself as a woman in balance. If you believe that being a successful professional requires you to sacrifice and suffer, then you will. If you believe that you can be a highly successful professional who enjoys a high caliber personal life, then you will.
— KATHLEEN BYARS; Founder, Corporate Women Unleashed

Stop trying to put into motion external measures that will force you into balance or give you permission to have balance. It’s not about a specific company culture or turning your smartphone off in the evening. The women we work with are successful because they are 100% committed to creating an incredible life and want to be in the driver’s seat of designing their own success.

Get an accountability partner and reach out to that person when you are overwhelmed. The women in our program have a private group portal where they can go for advice and accountability both during and after they graduate.

Unplug, disconnect, and be gentle with yourself as well. You’re not running a race…you are living a life and you get to live it however you choose.

PAUSE: What is your message to women who are on the fence about asking for help, despite feeling overwhelmed with their responsibilities?

KATHLEEN BYARS:  The only person who can make your life better is you. While it may have been bred into you to serve others, put your own needs last, or set aside your desires for the sake of the family you absolutely have to realize these are simply stories and stories can be rewritten.

Women are notorious for not investing in themselves out of guilt. Yet, we see over and over again that when a woman invests in her own personal development her family thrives as a result. Women are the touchstones for most families and when she is fulfilled her cup overflows to everyone around her.

Realize that when you invest in yourself through mentors, coaches, and learning new skills everyone wins. Especially those most precious in your life.

Your boss, your family, and your friends do not want you to burn out, waste away, or live a life of regret. Making excuses is simply wasting precious time.

At Corporate Women Unleashed we only work with women who are 100% decisive, committed and resourceful. It’s never our role to talk women into our program. We only invite in women who believe in themselves and are ready to live authentically fulfilling lives.

PAUSE: What is your favorite way to PAUSE and center yourself during a busy or stressful period?

KATHLEEN BYARS:  Walking my French Bulldog, Mr. Peabody. When I am feeling pressure or stress, I immediately unplug and grab the leash. Even if I have a conference call in ten minutes, I’ll play with Peabody outside or play favorite songs while he and I play fetch. If I am feeling especially stressed, I will make sure to schedule a day of fun with my two boys, ages 9 and 7. We might hit the trails or go kayaking or play at the beach. I also have a close-knit group of confidants, starting with my husband, who I will reach out to if I need a sounding board or hug.

On a daily basis, I practice mindfulness and meditate as well. It centers me and sets the tone for the day. We teach our clients how to incorporate mindfulness and get in touch with their feelings on a daily basis, which is absolutely game changing!
— KATHLEEN BYARS; Founder, Corporate Women Unleashed

Kathleen Byars is an expert in work-life balance and professional well-being. She helps female executives avoid burnout and enjoy fulfillment and balance. Kate is an advocate for redefining the corporate landscape and empowering women leaders with the tools and mindset that will allow them to enjoy successful careers without sacrificing themselves. She coaches women executives to disconnect, find their unique inner purpose, and live a purposeful life that is authentic, joyful, and successful. Have a question for Kathleen? Find out more here, or contact her directly. If you prefer, you can drop us a mail at hello@thepausemag.com – we'll be sure to get your message to her.  

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