Laura Vanderkam ’01
Like most people, Laura Vanderkam ’01 has two worlds: personal and professional. She’s the mother of four children, and she has a successful career as a writer and productivity expert. So Vanderkam takes the lessons she learns from those domains to her podcast, Best of Both Worlds. Every week, she and co-host Sarah Hart-Unger talk about their work-life balance, parenting, time management, and more — with an optimistic lens. “Part of my mission is to present a different picture than I certainly was getting,” Vanderkam says. “There’s plenty of people who are making it work, so my co-host and I want to share their stories and share our stories as well.”

Having it all

“I’ve always known that I wanted to share my ideas with the world. I’ve also known that I wanted to have a family. I’m happy that I’ve been able to do both. I wrote one book called I Know How She Does It that came out in 2015: I looked at 1,001 days in the lives of women who had six-figure jobs, and their lives looked pretty good. I think we tell ourselves stories about everything being crazy and impossible, but these women were generally getting enough sleep, most had some amount of leisure time, they were seeing their families. So I guess I come at this from a different perspective that I think any given woman (and any given man for that matter), if you think about what you’d like to do — if you’d like to be professionally accomplished and if you’d also like to raise a family, if you’d also like to do things in your community and take care of yourself physically — all these things are definitely possible. That’s my definition of having it all.” 


Three more podcasts to check out this month

1. ABC’s RICK KLEIN ’98 interviews former baseball commissioner Bud Selig on Powerhouse Politics.

2. Freelance strategist DALIA KATAN ’15 discusses more inclusive workplaces on The Way We Lead.

3. Endurance athlete CLARE GALLAGHER ’14 talks about becoming “part of the landscape” in ultrarunning competitions on Backpacker Radio.  

‘Best of Both Worlds’

“We talk about issues of work and family from the perspective of people who love both. We love our jobs, we love our families, we don’t see those two things as contradictory. We are also interested in helping our listeners live their best lives, so we tend to be pretty optimistic, pretty practical. We view that whatever issue somebody’s having, there’s some way you can improve the situation. We certainly think that there are problems in larger society — I’m not blind to those — but on the other hand, we also do think that there’s a lot people can do to make their own lives good and that being strategic about your time and about the various systems you have in your life can help a lot with that.” 

Planning for work-life balance

“A lot of the literature aimed at new moms is profoundly negative: ‘You’ll never have time for anything ever again.’ I read that and I certainly hoped it wasn’t true. Then I had children and found that I was still able to do other things that I enjoyed, as well. My life didn’t completely end, which is great. Can you imagine how terrible your life would be if it just ended when you had kids? Who would want to have a family then? I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how possible it is to keep building your career and also have a very fulfilling family life. Listeners are drawn to us because it is a different voice. We’re trying to showcase women who are doing it and are having pretty cool lives. I think our younger listeners view that as something very hopeful.”

Gendered worlds

“In general, our focus has been on women because this topic is still one that primarily does involve women. I think this is changing — I think that young men are more thinking about these issues. But I would say that men still grow up with the message that working for pay is how you contribute to your family, that this is something you’re doing to help your family, whereas a lot of women get the message that working for pay is somehow taking them away from their family, that it is hurting their family. Until those messages completely change, you are always dealing with that backstory that a lot of women have and I don’t think that that’s a story that many men grow up hearing.” 

Choosing a career

“One of the upsides of choosing a high-powered career is that such careers often come with the resources to make such a life possible. I think that is an unfortunate story many women get that, ‘Oh you should look for the smaller, seemingly more family-friendly career,’ but then that career might not pay you enough to afford the help you will need to continue building your career. One of the things I discovered in I Know How She Does It is that often big jobs are more family-friendly than jobs that are seen as more family-friendly. If you’re the CEO of the company, you can have whatever work-life balance [you choose] — the meeting happens when you want it to happen, right?” 

The takeaway

“I would hope that listeners would decide that it is possible to have the best of both worlds, that you can have a career that you love and that is meaningful and hopefully well-paying, too, and you can also have a satisfying personal life — that these are not either/or choices. Success doesn’t require the harsh tradeoffs that you often hear.”