I have a mentee. She is 25 years old and reminds me of myself when I was her age — except that she’s far brighter, mature and more focused than I ever was.
Like myself, she has drive; that fire burning inside when you know you are destined for greatness. At 25, you’re invincible. You crush every obstacle and overachieve at every challenge that comes your way. Your eyes are wide open for opportunities and you have such a bright future you can’t possibly choose which wonderful direction to take.
There is another commonality between my mentee and myself: the burden that every woman faces when looking down the path of executive life. It is how to have it all. How is one supposed to manage a high-powered career while having babies and raising children?
It’s quite simple, really. Just like managing a team or a project or a crisis, you need to set expectations with your partner early, and then delegate. Share the load and compromise. Once you have it down pat at home, this will be the least of your worries.
Exec life is alluring and impressive and aspiring. But it’s not always as glamorous as it seems. Here are seven things young women need to know about exec life:
1. There is no such thing as a 40-hour week
If you want the exec life, you will only master your craft, exceed expectations and achieve amazing results faster by putting in extra hours. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to reach executive status at a 40-hour per week pace, but it’s likely you’ll be there earlier in your career by investing the time in your performance.
And once you arrive, work can strike at any time and sometimes at the times that are super inconvenient. My weekends are often filled with running around from gym sessions and food shopping, a stop off at the park with the kids and a TV interview in between. This is when your superior juggling skills and sharp focus will be crucial to getting the job done.
For me to get in a few extra hours of work each day, I jump online after the kids are in bed and the hubby and I have had dinner and spent some time together.
2. You will sleep less.
I used to "need" at least nine hours of sleep every night or I thought I couldn't function well. Until I had children. Then I realised how little sleep I can survive on and I'm so grateful for that. It gave me a gift of allowing me to spend more time doing something that I love – working in Public Relations at comparison website finder.com – and in return I improved my skills and learnt how to be a better manager.
There is also equal opportunity for sleep-ins at my house. My husband and I share the weekends for sleep-in time. Saturdays are his sleep-ins while I'll catch up on sleep with nine or 10 hours and up by 9am Sunday morning. This has been our routine every weekend for five years since we had kids.
LISTEN: Caroline Cresswell from Carmen's Muesli on how to juggle motherhood and work. (Post continues...)
3. Business travel is overrated
It's exciting to visit a different city or a foreign country, but not as much when it's for business. Business trips usually involve a lot of preparation in the few weeks before, including planning your itinerary, organising meetings and prep for those meetings.
My overseas work trips are usually for a week on the ground and are non-stop. There's no time for partying or sightseeing, unless you include a glimpse of the Hollywood sign from the back of an Uber on the way to a meeting. Once I hit home, there's another full-on couple of weeks following up with people I met and producing new research, blogs and press releases. I'm exhausted just thinking about it! Despite all the negatives and time away from family, it's still great fun and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
4. You're not here to make friends
Well... you can still make friends. I consider several great people I work with as my close friends. But when you move into an executive role, you need to understand that your number one priority is what's best for the business and sometimes that means having hard conversations that you don't want to do and people don't want to hear. If you're the bearer of bad news, you can be seen as the worst person on earth.
However, you will make real friendships with people who you support and help guide to the next level of their careers. And in return, they will be there for you too. (Post continues after gallery.)
5. You need to grow up fast
One of the hardest things about exec life is having the maturity to strip emotion out of decisions. And if you're lucky enough to be thrust into an executive role early on in your career, emotional intelligence is no doubt something you will need to work on. You will be challenged on a daily basis and the way you handle situations and react under pressure can be something that makes or breaks your career.
For me, it was learning when to escalate an issue or try to solve it myself. Or how to take a step back and reflect on a situation at a high level: stripping the emotion and staying focused on the overall goals. At the end of the day, it often doesn't matter how you got there, as long as the goal was achieved.
If you're learning from mistakes and making a conscious effort to leave emotions out of your communication, you will be just fine.
6. You will need a fire hat. And a hose.
I often joke that I should get a fire hat because as an executive, proverbial "fires" roll up hill to where you're standing. People turn to leaders in crisis situations and no matter how small the issue, you will have to deal with it so make sure you bring a hose to put out the impending flames.
I learnt early on that you should always come to your manager with a suggested solution to a problem. This was terrific advice because it forced me to work problems out for myself and the faster you can do this, the faster everyone can move on.
Watch: Mia Freedman shares her thoughts on whether crying at work is appropriate. (Post continues after video.)
7. Long day care will be your saviour
Looking to your future as an executive and a mother, you will quickly learn that day care with long hours – usually open from 7am and close at 6pm – will be your saving grace.
There is nothing wrong with children who go to daycare five days a week from an early age, there have been many studies to prove this fact. And while you will sacrifice time spent with your young offspring to have a career, which was looked down upon for past generations of women, you will no doubt make up for it by spending quality time with them, showering them with love and a financially stable future. Because after all, this is the reason why we push ourselves so hard. And if you can find a job that you love, you will enjoy exec life even more.
Michelle Hutchison is Global Head of PR & Money Expert at finder.com.au, one of Australia's biggest comparison websites, and finder.com in the USA. As well as being a bargain hunter and self-confessed data nerd, she's passionate about helping families save money and make smarter financial decisions. She writes regularly about finance, property and other passions like gender equality, is a former magazine editor, mum of two, and thinks it's never too late (or early!) to start learning good money habits.