I don’t quite change color but I do change my persona. Do you ? Or do you pretend not to notice ?

I walk in the door and I leave behind the strong decisive aggressive Wendy and become the warm hugging and kissing wife, mother and friend. Every day. Some days it is not so easy and I find myself going to hide for a few minutes, in the bathroom or my closet, to let the chameleon out. Other days this feels like a seemless transition and my life is one. Why do I need to be two people?. I feel like I am two people with two lives that don’t intersect but live side by side. Not one more dominant or important than the other.

What I experience, and what many of you may experience is being referred to as “context switching”. This  is particularly relevant to successful business women who also maintain a strong connection with family. The idea of context switching originally only applied to computer functions , then spread to multi tasking and all the reports that found multi tasking to be unproductive. Now, we see the idea of context switching being applied to the way we interact at work as compared to our personal at home interactions. Switching how we behave in these two very different environments with very different rules and limits, in order to be successful.

When I am paying attention, I feel the change. The shift between being the business owner who is strong and assertive to being the soft, warm wife and mother. I think it happens so automatically that we don’t even really notice. Its our only way of being.  But is it ?

Its likely more noticeable if you work outside of your home and you “change color” in the car or train on the way to work. For those of us whose days intermingles family and work in a less structured environment struggle more with the constant switching. It is tiring !

Benjamin Cornwell, assistant professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell did a study and found that men and women experience some activities similarly. Time at home, with children and commuting times are not significantly associated with stress for either men or women. Yet, switching between these contexts is much more closely associated with stress in women than in men. While men are likely to report fewer switches overall, women are twice as likely as men to experience more than 20 switches in a day. Cornwell speculates that the multiple roles and contexts that working women juggle on a daily basis increase the unpredictability of their everyday lives more so than it does for men.

“Switching is a constant reality for women – morning, day and night – and they switch between more disparate social roles. They go from being at work, which is formal, authoritative and hierarchical, to being at home with a child within a matter of 10 minutes,” he says.

I went in search of successful business women to interview and find out how they deal with the concept of context switching in their lives.

Julia Pimsleur, successful entrepreneur (Little Pim language teaching for kids) and scaling coach (Million Dollar Women online business program for women entrepreneurs) says she chose to start her own business in part because it meant she wouldn’t have to do code switching. “My two boys were part of my business from the beginning – they were in my language teaching videos and as they got older helped me at home with everything from subtitling to weighing in on new characters we were creating. I felt I could be by and large the same person at work and at home. Of course, there were days I came home and needed to get into “kid mode” by dropping down on the floor to play with cars or drink a glass of wine with my husband to get out of “bosslady” mode but by and large the transition wasn’t that major.” Pimsleur says she thinks many women are drawn to starting their own businesses because they get to define the culture in their work culture (in her case she hired several other working moms and they all had a great deal of flexibility) and create an environment where they can bring their full- selves to work. And take that same full-self back to their partners and families.

Billie Anne Grigg,  mom and owner of Pocket Protector Bookkeeping says “For me, mindfulness is the key to successfully switching between my roles as mom/wife and business woman. I start my day with 10 minutes of meditation, and – whenever possible – I end my day with an additional 10 minutes. This time allows me a buffer between the two very different areas of my life. And it works great… when the kids stay out of my office. Since I work from a home office, though, I often have to make a context switch in under 10 seconds. Mindfulness to the rescue again. My family knows if I hold up a hand and take a deep breath,  that is my way of becoming fully present for them. The deep breath is my reset point. “

Ironically, the thing that allows me to live my life fairly guilt-free, says Samantha Ettus, bestselling author and CEO, Park Place Payments, is the same thing that makes “switching” relatively easy for me. It involves aiming to be all in wherever I am. If I am at home, I intend to give my full attention to the people in my home. If I am at work, I intend to give my full attention to work. The less I blend and the more I set boundaries, the easier it is to move back and forth fluidly. At times of course, you can feel a little bit crazy going from a serious business meeting to a school play and then back again. At those times, I laugh and think if someone were to watch this scene in a movie, they would find it inane. The less seriously I take myself, the more fun and less overwhelming life is!

Marlo van Oorschot, managing partner of Van Oorschot Law Group, PC, a boutique family law litigation practice, who is not a mother of children, but a mother to her dogs, and a wife,also faces these issues with balancing a very demanding career with her personal life.  “I struggle with this daily.  I go to work and have to be the protector and defender of my clients; be a mentor and a manager to my employees; be mindful of my obligations to my colleagues and of course the judge in our litigated matters.  After giving all day, standing strong against these storms, it is very hard to turn it off at home…and for myself. A regular routine of exercise, yoga and “me time” and “us time” with my husband is a must. Though knowing this importance of balance, I always find myself feeling guilty that I should be doing something else. “

In my quest to find a solution or a piece of magic, I found interesting, smart and successful women who are all aware and working on strategies for their chameleon self. Time for me to learn from the best and work on my own strategies. As a community, we welcome your thoughts……

About the Author

Wendy Barlin is a Certified Public Accountant with 20 years experience spanning diverse industries such as entertainment, professional services, hospitality, real estate and medical groups. Wendy is originally from South Africa and after a year traveling abroad, fell in love with the sparkle of the City of Angels and decided to make Los Angeles her home. Wendy is a member of the AICPA and CAlCPA societies.

Barlin Business Solutions is so much more than an accounting and income tax firm. They specialize in taking all the tedious financial chores off the shoulders of busy professionals so that they can focus on areas where they excel.