How She Does It : Julia Batchelor-Smith 1

March 9, 2016

Julia Batchelor-Smith and I have known each other for a long time. We went to the same primary school. My enduring memory is of a magnificent cake her Mum made for one of her birthday parties – an upright lolly shop (made of sponge cake), filled with dozens of sweets, exactly like the one featured in this post and she still has a letter from me, aged 8, approx, detailing just how beaaauuuuuuuutiful I thought she looked with her hair crimped. We lost a few years, due to school changes and home moves and the absence of facebook, before reconnecting recently to discover we lived in the same neighbourhood, both with two daughters of similar ages. Time for a chardonnay and a chin wag…

 

Julia running

 

Even before crimped hair days, Julia has always been gorgeous, driven, energetic, fun and all-round inspiring. It was unsurprising to learn that she had, in the gap in our friendship, become a successful lawyer, lived abroad, run marathons, travelled the globe and created two humans. Oh, and written a book. As you do. Though the title, Balancing Work and Life: A Practical Guide for Lawyers, suggests specificity for lawyers, Julia originally conceptualized the book with a general audience in mind, which is evident as you read it. This book is for all new parents and anyone trying to balance and juggle work and home and kids. It is THE GUIDE for “How She Does It” so of course I had to interview her for our series.

 

How did you come to write your book and can you give us an overview of its contents?

 

It’s fair to say the book has been a while in the making!

The catalyst was the birth of my eldest daughter Allegra in 2010. Like most new parents and I found that my perspective had been radically altered, and when I returned to work, I knew my career trajectory would be too. I was grappling with all the things that I guess we all struggle with from time to time: how can I fit it all in? How can I manage my time better? Is it really possible to have it all?

I realised that these issues were plaguing the legal profession, so I started writing a regular column for NZ Lawyer magazine. The column proved to be really popular, and I was genuinely surprised that its appeal seem to transcend gender lines. And off the back of the column, my publisher (Lexis Nexis) approached me to write a book.

Balancing Work and Life: A Practical Guide for Lawyers provides pragmatic tips for succeeding in your career without compromising your home life. My overarching objective was to create a practical resource for busy professionals navigating challenges in their daily lives.

As well as providing constructive advice on prioritising daily workload, dealing with stress, nurturing family and friends and striving for balance personally and professionally, five of the 30 chapters also explore issues relating to women in the law. I also included case studies from a wide spectrum of lawyers from all over New Zealand and further afield. That was such a valuable process, as the book includes what I think is an incredible collection of wisdom of over 90 personal insights from 60 members of the Judiciary and lawyers at all stages in their career.

What I hope I have achieved is a really practical, helpful resource that will be useful for lawyers and other busy professionals at any stage of their career.

 

Can you describe your experience of getting your book published and the events since? What was most surprising to you about the experience of writing and publishing a book?

 

That writing a book is *&^% hard work! {side note: Julia would actually swear in “real life”, that’s why I love her.}

Of course that sounds obvious, but because I love writing so much, I definitely underestimated the hard slog inherent in the process. It was a long and drawn out affair: conceptualising and planning all 30 chapters; undertaking research from a wide range of sources and interpreting the underlying statistics; contacting, chasing, receiving and editing over 90 case study submissions; actually writing it (!); going through the editing process; rewriting parts of it; going through the second and third editing rounds; and of course that great moment when the manuscript is FINISHED. And that not-so-great moment when you notice a QC’s name has been spelled wrong, and it’s too late to correct it.

The most surprising thing to me was how enormously satisfying I found the final result. I’ve been humbled by how candid people have been sharing their experiences with me, by the positive reviews I’ve received, and lovely feedback that my book is genuinely helping people. Publishing Balancing Work and Life is my most significant professional achievement to date.

 

During the research and writing of your book what was the most common piece of wisdom about how to manage the demands and conflicts? What was the piece of wisdom that most impacted you personally?

 

Hmm, gosh there were so many sage pieces of advice from many wise people. I think the overarching theme was the importance of embracing a few home truths, in a positive way. If you can accept that life isn’t perfect, that things change, and that some things you can’t control (as anyone trying to get a tantrum-throwing toddler into a car seat will attest) then you can focus on finding solutions rather than tying yourself up in knots.

Another common pearl of wisdom was how important it was to avoid comparing yourself to others. It’s so tempting, but it’s fruitless (and exhausting!). Instead, focus on you, on your family, and what works for your unit. What others think of the choices you make is irrelevant. It’s impossible to get that right all the time, but if you can be flexible, change things up if they’re not working, overcome life’s disappointments with grace, and be prepared to re-evaluate your position based on how you’re tracking, then you’re going to have a significantly easier road with the proverbial juggle.

 

Family shot

 

Because your book relates to managing a work-life balance, do you feel any added pressure to “do it all” or “have it all”? How do you respond to this idea of “having it all”? Do you think there is a better way to present to women their choices and opportunities to achieve home + work happiness?

 

Of course! In fact when I speak on this, I always start with the personal disclaimer that I struggle with these challenges just as much as the next person, and I certainly don’t profess to have all the answers. There’s no silver bullet.

I’m a strong advocate for a mindset change on work/life balance. A particular concept of mine that has resonated widely is embracing work/life blending, rather than chasing work/life balance. I love explaining what that means for me, and how people can apply the concept to their own lives. Put simply, work/life blending focuses very much on seeking one contented life, rather than separating two spheres. Given the technological advances of the past two decades, I think balance is something of an outmoded concept – we just can’t demarcate “work” from “home” that rigidly anymore. I think blending is a far is a more realistic and achievable goal in our modern environment.

I’ve also found it helpful to accept that not all career trajectories will be linear. It’s OK to manage things a little differently for a period – and it’s a really positive thing to do that if it works for you and your family. My advice to women in a similar position would be to give serious thought to what will work for you right now and then do your best to structure your life accordingly. On a personal level, what works for me is spending part of the time at work and part of my time at home. So I work three days a week and have a four day block with Allegra and Zoe. I’m fortunate that my law firm (Minter Ellison) has accommodated me in that respect.

Finally, I’m a big proponent of not ramming a stake too firmly in the ground – our lives are in a constant state of flux and things will always change.

 

Since publishing your book you have been asked to present at several events – who have you met that inspires you and what have you learned from this experience of presenting your book / work / ideas?

 

As a lawyer, public speaking has always come with the territory. But I’ve never had the chance to speak publicly on something I’m so passionate about (unsurprisingly, you don’t get a whole lot of creative licence when appearing in Court, or presenting a seminar on dry legal topics). So my speaking engagements have highlighted how much I love connecting with an audience. It’s been thrilling to have the opportunity to canvass ideas, hear from people who’ve read the book, and toss around creative ways to live a happy life.

I’ve also been lucky to meet fascinating people along the way. I recently spoke at the CWLA Professional Women’s conference in Christchurch alongside some inspirational women, including Rabia Siddique. Rabia is a human rights lawyer who previously served in the British army (no mean feat as a Muslim woman). She has overcome incredible adversity in her life, including being held hostage in Iraq, and now dedicates her time to speaking on equality and diversity. I felt privileged to be sharing a stage with her.

 

Zoe and Julia

 

As a complete departure and aside – I have been to some AMAZING kids parties and dinner parties at your place. You clearly inherited your Mum’s party prowess. I want (need) to know your tips for hosting a fabulous kids’ party… 

 

Chris and I LOVE a good party (and are both big kids at heart!). So kids parties are the ultimate in fun times in the Smith household.

I have three key tips for a seamless gathering for little monkeys. First, planning, planning, planning. Do a run sheet (yes, really) so you can plan out what will happen, and when. I generally do food the minute all the kids arrive (pre-plating as much of it as possible), then the cake straight afterwards, then the entertainment. Second, shorter and earlier in the day is best. For young kids, I reckon 10am – 12pm is optimal (they are not too tired, and it’s all over by lunchtime). Finally, if your budget permits, then arrange for some form of entertainment that fits your theme. You’ll be amazed how much the kids love having a special guest to show up. And finally of course, don’t forget to enjoy it all as the chaos unfolds around you, and cake is mushed into every corner of your home…

 

Sum up your life right now in three words.

 

Blessed, full, happy.

 

I love Julia’s mindset of work-life blending (rather than work-life balance) and particularly love the idea of not “ramming a stake in the ground” as life is always in a state of flux. So, so true. I’m constantly reminding myself “This Too Shall Pass” when the blending becomes a lid-off-the-food-processor, food-all-over-the-ceiling kind of disaster and the same too when the blending is sweet and smooth as a milkshake [*Public Health Warning: sleep deprivation causes excessive extended metaphor use]  

Balancing Work and Life: A Practical Guide for Lawyers is well-researched, packed full of personal experiences and, as the title suggests, downright practical. Techniques and tips for SMART goal setting, applying the Eisenhower principle for prioritizing tasks, tackling imposter syndrome and nurturing relationships (plus many more) are all included in the book, as well as a frank and informed discussion about women’s experiences in the workplace. Simply put, it’s a thorough, thoughtful, valuable piece of work. Check out Julia’s facebook page for more details including related articles and her speaking schedule. 

With love,

Hannah

PS. Don’t forget to follow Fork and Fiction on Facebook and Instagram for more updates and wisdom from our incredible contributors who share how they do it. If you liked this post you might also love this one from Suz Cleary (Mum, ceramicist and accident survivor / thriver) and Zoe Daniel (Mum, foreign correspondent and author), as well as many others from our series.

1 comment

1 Ria Voros { 03.09.16 at 4:57 pm }

Thanks for giving us this interview, Hannah! I especially loved the tips on kids’ parties. 🙂 Thank you, Julia!

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