Did you know Australia's work-life balance is one of the worst of all OECD countries, ranking 8th last – not far above Korea*? And yet, when women return to work after maternity leave, often at full-time capacity but part-time hours, it is with an unwritten assumption that we must achieve this mythical balance in order for our families and our careers to thrive.
Kate Cashman knows all too well the real dangers of pursuing this unachievable 'balance'. In the stress of trying to do and be it all, Kate ran her own car off the road, believing she was having a heart attack not long after returning to work after her first child.
Now, as a multi-passionate entrepreneur, parent and partner, Kate has consciously designed an approach to the intersection between work and life that allows her to thrive in every element.
Having recently won the Juggler Award in the National Business Brilliance Awards for balancing work, business, motherhood, not-for-profit work and volunteer work, Kate also helps other women to find harmony and flow that allows them to have a meaningful career and be a present mum.
Kate Cashman from The Breath Between is a multi-award winning and internationally certified rest and renewal coach, educator, writer and speaker.
With a background in legal academia and a PhD in evidence law and forensic criminology, Kate finds balance, passion and flow in education, coaching, speaking and research.
As a mum of two, entrepreneur and multi-passionate professional Kate is very familiar with the challenges of integrating work, family and life in a way that allows flow and harmony.
Question: What are the dangers of the work-life balance myth?
Kate Cashman: The concept of work-life balance does not recognise that sometimes in work and in life we have ebbs and flows and actually NEED to be 'out of balance'. It implies that we have to keep all the balls in the air all of the time, and I know from personal experience that that just isn't possible. To have that kind of balance in a world where we take on so much professionally, in our family and personal lives and in our communities, is just a recipe for more guilt about what we 'should be doing'. The idea also separates our lives into 'work' and 'life' and with our work life demanding so much more of who we are (and often in an inspired and passionate way!) we just do not have that delineation anymore. We need to bring our 'whole self' to work.
Question: How can we let go of this defunct paradigm?
Kate Cashman: We need to acknowledge that instead of focusing on all the tasks we need to fit into a day (with a focus on the metric of time) we need to focus more on what gives us energy and ensure we have that across the week or month.
If we focus on a single day we lose sight of how being 'unbalanced' on some days, leads to an overall sense of balance in our lives in the bigger picture. I like to use the word 'flow', because by embracing the ebbs and flows and realities of work and our lives outside of work, we know that we actually get more done, the quality is higher and we are happy and less stressed.
Workplaces, businesses and we ourselves need to recognise that we do not live separate lives inside and outside of work and so we need to design our work life to reflect that. Rather than aspiring to 'balance' we can be more intentional about the kind of work-life we really want to create. Maybe you want work-life flow, maybe it's fulfilment, maybe it's wellbeing. But the concept of work-life balance, as we have seen historically discussed, just does not work anymore.
Question: How are you living a healthier and more successful lifestyle?
Kate Cashman: Once I woke up to the fact that my energy levels were dangerously low and I was exhausted while finishing a PhD and being a Mum to my 18 month old son, I focused on renewing my energy. It wasn't only physical energy - although more sleep and more exercise and great food helped - but also emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
I found that you can't have one without the other if you want to feel fully engaged. When I made time for connection, joy, learning, meditation and rest I found my business thrived, my relationships improved and I had a much more focused and strong sense of self. So now, these are the things that go into the diary first - without those moments of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy, the other parts of my life don't function nearly as well!
Question: What did you do to learn to thrive in every element?
Kate Cashman: I learned how to say no. That was a big one. And I stopped multi-tasking because I realised that I wasn't thriving in ANYTHING when I was trying to do it all at once.
That's what redefining balance and prioritising rest and renewal is all about. It's about recognising that in order to thrive in every element you need to cut back on how many elements you try to focus on at the same time. I had to change my expectations of 'doing it all' at once and instead focus on 'doing it all' over a longer period of time.
So long as at the end of the week or month I had sustained physical energy by getting balanced sleep (on average) and moving my body, I felt emotionally recharged by time with friends and/or family, I spent time doing things that bring me joy, that I had mental energy from learning something new, or reading something new, and that I had spiritual energy from meditation, visualisation and personal practices, then I can thrive in those elements overall.
Question: What advice do you have for parents hoping to achieve a successful approach to life?
Kate Cashman: Try not to focus on doing it all at once - I saw it referred to as 'tilting' once and I like that term. Sometimes you have to tilt towards one child over another if they're going through something; other times it may be the another child, then yourself and perhaps your work too. Don't feel guilt for that because that gets in the way of feeling successful - whatever that means to you - in your life and business.
Embrace balance over the longer term - each day is not meant to have every element of energy, but think of the ways you get energy and then set and prioritise those as immoveable appointments with yourself in your diary. That way you can be fully energised and present with your kids and with yourself. You also give your children permission to take care of themselves in that way too.
Question: What is The Breath Between?
Kate Cashman: The Breath Between is a unique coaching and events business that helps professionals and entrepreneurs feel more rested, renewed and re-energised by their lives outside of work. The Breath Between helps people with that shift of focus from time to energy - from balance to flow. Or redefining what balance looks like.
I work with people one-on-one, I'm in the midst of writing a book, creating online programs and I'm working on a really exciting live event in collaboration with another coach, Kate McCready. The event, called Work+Life X is the first of its kind and it's all about creating the opportunity for us to have a broader discussion about this topic of the new work-life paradigm. I still find it amazing that I get to create opportunities for such important discussions - anyone who works in any capacity - paid or volunteer - knows that how they design their work-life has a huge impact on their whole lives.
Question: What inspired The Breath Between?
Kate Cashman: The Breath Between was inspired by my own journey of rest and renewal after total exhaustion and burn out saw me having an anxiety attack and running my car off the road. My son was 18 months old at the time. So, the journey was for me, but it was also for him and everyone around me.
I saw law school friends and other professionals and business owners exhausted, focusing only on work and I knew that there was something more. I knew that purpose wasn't just something we chase at work, but could be something that came from within us in our every-day life. When I went on that journey of redefining balance, focusing on life outside of work and focusing on energy instead of time, I knew that I could support others to do the same thing. My vision is big - I want to inspire over 20,000 people to feel more rested, renewed and full of energy over the next two years. We need to curb the burnout and live in a way that feels good to us.
Question: How does it feel to have won the 'Juggler Award' in the National Business Brilliance Awards?
Kate Cashman: I felt shocked but very honoured to have won the award. To me the 'juggle' is not about doing it all at once, but getting that redefined version of balance, what I call 'flow', right. The award recognises the importance of life outside of work, and life outside of family. It's about me and all the things that I do that make ME feel good, including those things that help others like NFP work.
Does the juggle work all the time? Of course not. I go off kilter and the 'juggling' just about kills me. But that's a good sign from the universe to tighten up my boundaries, say no to the things that don't serve me (because if I'm feeling that way, there's something in there that has to go!) and revisit joy, connection, learning, rest and meditation. It's about coming back to those boundaries and that flow time and again.
Interview by Brooke Hunter