Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance. I’ve always been curious—and maybe a little obsessed—about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified “doing it all” craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does “it all.” Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us all feel a little better. I hope the conversation will be steered toward that reality rather than toward the flawed and dangerous assumption that we should try—or even want to try—to perfectly do “it all.”
BY THE WAY…
- Looking for THE BALANCE PROJECT, the novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.
- The Balance Project interview series recently celebrated its first birthday!
- Fortune ran a feature about The Balance Project.
- Want to be a part of The Balance Project? Complete the interview.
No. 85: Melissa Marks Papock, Founder & President of Cabana Life sun protective beachwear
Age: 40 (yikes)
Where I live: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida (Jacksonville area); recently moved from CT/NY area
Job: Founder & President of Cabana Life sun protective beachwear
Kids: A daughter, Devon, age 10, a daughter Sasha, age 7, and a son, Branson, age 2
Is the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
Right before I had my first daughter, I finally gave birth to my brainchild, Cabana Life. It had been incubating for years since I was diagnosed at age 26 with a malignant melanoma (sexy word for skin cancer). After much research and preparation, I incorporated Cabana Life sun protective beachwear. I thought that giving up my fashion magazine career to become an entrepreneur would provide work-life balance and flexibility. While becoming an entrepreneur did in fact deliver flexibility (the flexibility to work all hours tirelessly without anyone saying you are absolutely crazy), finding “balance” has eluded me for the last 10+ years.
Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
My husband recently relocated my whining, reluctant butt to Florida for a change of pace and weather. While we agreed to hold onto our house in Connecticut “just in case,” I have to admit that going from a 2-hour commute into NYC to a 5-minute commute from our new home near the beach has helped me achieve more balance. While I’ve slowed down by my standards, I’m still considered a workaholic in this more laidback lifestyle. The move rocked my world, but it forced me to figure out a new normal, and I’m now grateful for the change.
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
Both! I think having “it all” is realistic only if your definition of having it all is doing everything, but none of it perfectly. You have to be OK with imperfection because it is physically impossible to do everything well at all times. That’s also where “overrated” plays in. Behind every “have it all” façade is an admirable woman wishing she were doing things better, more or differently.
What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
Sacrifice. As a Libra, my life often feels like one giant, teetering scale. Unfortunately, I sometimes sacrifice my basic personal needs (i.e., sleep, food, exercise, and showers) in order to satisfy the demands of balancing work and family.
What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
Acceptance. It is the key to feeling any pangs of balance. While nothing is perfect, things are perfectly fine.
**I accept that I’m not the mother on Pinterest baking treats from scratch for a class party. I’ll bring the bottled water, which I’ll grab on the way and likely be 3-8 minutes late arriving.
**I accept that I’ll never be too far ahead of anything (most likely behind).
**I accept that I’ll always be thinking, and reminding myself to be in the moment.
**I accept that I’ll likely pass out from exhaustion before engaging in a 40-worthy bedtime beauty regiment.
**I accept that my kids aren’t going to see perfection, but hopefully they see a mom who is doing everything she wants to do with strength, perseverance, and passion.
What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From a mentor/co-worker? When I was single and 20-something at Seventeen Magazine, my perpetually harried boss would run out for her countless kid obligations muttering, “Na enough time in da day,” in a funny accent. She also admitted to applying a tampon in the car once because she “forgot,” and other behaviors that I found totally INSANE at the time. While it wasn’t necessarily advice, now that I’m in her same stressed shoes and find myself doing unthinkable things in my car (makeup, pumping, eating, and even the dreaded forgotten tampon), I feel a comforting sense of camaraderie. You have to accept the insanity and chaos part of “having it all.”
From your mother? My mother instilled in me unrelenting perseverance, as she knew how to get what she wanted done. She was also the “perfect” class mom, Brownie leader, and always available supermom. I now use my determination and self-imposed mom guilt to try to find balance with an impossible amount of demands on my plate. In doing this, I also remind myself I’m taking a different path and perfection isn’t an option.
From your spouse? My husband fortunately lets me do my thing, without giving much advice. As a man of action, he balances out my shortcomings by jumping in as the tutor, carpool driver, and other helpful household efforts (not always neatly I might add, but I’ll take it).
From your kids? My wise-beyond-her-years daughter recently served up the best life lesson. I was trying to illustrate by my actions the importance of not freaking out over little things, because all it does is get you upset and nowhere. One step ahead she said, “Let me bring it down to school talk: If you are getting the easy questions wrong, you are DEFINITELY going to get the hard ones wrong.”
Personally, I find it hard to actually listen to advice on balance, because in your head you know all of the things you are juggling and it seems impossible that anyone else can figure it out for you.
If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
Wow! Exercise, maybe yoga? Grab a drink with friends? Have ALONE time? Sounds decadent.
What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
Everything I know now! Perspective is an amazing thing. When you are in your 20s, you should enjoy every second being carefree, while alternatively putting extreme care into the decisions that ultimately impact the rest of your life. Nobody really comprehends the latter in your 20s.
What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
I hope I’ll know a whole lot more than I do right now. I’ll see with clarity the impact, shortcomings, and successes of my “having it all” pursuit of today. Fingers crossed that I’m pleased with my 60-year-old perspective of my 40-something actions.
What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Cooking and cleaning. Since my husband is relatively helpful and works from home with a flexible schedule, he is very picky about who is working in the home and the value they add. This hinders my dream delegation efforts and having total control.
Whose job do you wish you had?
Author. You rely on yourself, not overseas factories and a ton of other people around the world to execute your vision. Writing a book is on my bucket list. Starting Cabana Life has been an adventure with a cast of characters and mishaps that would make a hysterical business book. Perhaps I’d prefer being a children’s author instead (seems lovely).
Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
Teacher. I’d never have the patience. They are saints.
Admittedly, reading isn’t part of my “having it all.” However, I do belong to a wine-infused book club with very smart and inspirational women. The reality is I only attend 1 out of 5 meetings and never read the book, but at least I can speak knowledgably about The Goldfinch. It is the equivalent of my 40-year-old CliffsNotes.
What are you reading right now?
My book club will be reading Inside the Mind of the Western Jihadist by Shiraz Maher. Does that count?
Food? Cheese and nuts (preferably with wine and friends, who can also count as the nuts in this equation).
How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
Between factory questions from overseas, a geriatric dog, and a 2-year-old, I consider a spotty 6-7 hours a good night.
What do you read every morning?
As soon as I open my eyes, I read and answer emails from our overseas office to catch questions during their work hours.
Complete the following sentences:
I think I: am doing the best I possibly can trying to have “it all,” and I’m HOPEFULLY positively impacting the development of my kids, my self, my marriage, and my company.
I wish I: will look back on this time and be proud and content with my path.
My kids: are a pleasant reminder that I’m not totally screwing up this parenting thing, as they continuously amaze, amuse, and accept me.
Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done!
Anything else you’d like to add?
As I type these answers, it is 3:43 AM US time and I’m sitting next to my oldest daughter on a 16-hour flight to Hong Kong for some special mommy time (mixed with a little business of course). While it is not your conventional spring break, I hope our little adventure makes her feel special, opens her eyes to new places, and allows her a glimpse of the things mommy passionately works on. Sounds lovely, until you consider the stress of my passport arriving within 1 hour of our departure after a debacle with the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles. I’m glad I’ve learned to see the perfection in my “imperfections,” as that is the only way to ever have “it all.”
About Cabana Life
Founded by a skin cancer survivor Melissa Papock, Cabana Life combines fashion with function by providing 50+ UV protection throughout the entire collection. Widely recognized for its vibrant prints, flattering silhouettes, and stylish interpretation of the ever-popular rashguard, Cabana Life’s “beach chic” aesthetic fuses classical nautical elements with current trends in a timeless fashion.
As a part of its mission, Cabana Life regularly partners with like-minded charities to emphasize the importance of everyday UV protection and fund sun safety awareness initiatives. This summer the brand is very excited to partner with Stand Up To Cancer with a limited edition rash guard in which all net proceeds will go to melanoma research. The brand is regularly touted amongst fashion insiders with media features in O, The Oprah Magazine, Travel + Leisure, People StyleWatch, The Today Show, Wall Street Journal and on A list celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, and Nicole Kidman.
WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT WORK-LIFE BALANCE? CHECK OUT MY NEW NOVEL THE BALANCE PROJECT!
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Indra Nooyi on Balance
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