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How Tragedy Helped Me Find My Work-Life Balance

By Felicia Malloy


I was standing in my living room, as people gathered to offer their condolences to my son and I. My husband had died. What was important to me? Where was my life going? How was I going to raise my son alone? He was only 10. I was an administrator at a school district. How will I be able to have a work-life balance now that I was a single mom?

Going back in time, I was always motivated for the next move. I started as a teacher. Then I enrolled in my master’s program. I was looking towards that step increase in pay. I was and am very practical in my decisions. How will this degree benefit me in the future? I enrolled for my master’s in educational leadership. I had no intention of becoming an administrator. I loved teaching.

In my first administrative class, the first question from the professor was, “Why are you in this class?” Almost unanimously the students’ answers were for step and column increase in pay. I was completing my field hours and an “opportunity” came open for me to apply as an assistant principal. How could I turn down an opportunity to practice my interview skills? I applied, interviewed and was offered the job. I was 29; how cool is that to be named an administrator before I was 30?

I was now on that upward track and stepping up that career ladder. I didn’t think about work-life balance. Work definitely defined who I was. I wanted the next title, the next goal. What should I strive for next? Family life was definitely suffering. I was an assistant principal at a high school. All the supervision requirements were daunting: band, choir, prom, softball, baseball, football and basketball. It was all-consuming. I kept telling myself and my husband that all these activities were requirements of the job; didn’t we enjoy the pay that came with the job? Seems like there were many arguments and “discussions” about how much time I was spending at work. “But It’s my job.” That was my excuse.

We made it through assistant principal jobs at schools from K-12 and a director position then a principal position. Principal of a high school, the only job I had not held in all my years in administration. It was a preferred experience in order to move up to assistant superintendent. I was focused on the next position. I prepared myself to move from a director position at central office to principal of a high school. I interviewed and was offered the job. I gladly accepted the position as I knew that it would help me in the future to become an assistant superintendent.

Then, Christmas break came and family was actually the priority. We were going to go camping. My husband had not been feeling well for some time, but we wanted to spend some time enjoying our toys. We were going to go off-roading in Ocotillo Wells. We were passing through Palm Springs and my husband became ill. We had to pull on the side of the freeway. Our son was only 9 and my husband did not want our son to see that he was sick. He went up the sandy hill and I watched from the truck and saw that he passed out. I called 911 and there began my five-month journey with a sick husband and eventually his death.

During these five months, I was trying to manage my duties as a high school principal, mom of a 9-year-old, and wife of a husband that was in the hospital. I had plenty of sick time, so I started to take half days so that I could monitor the progress of my husband and pick up my son from after-school care. What a change that was! My son had never been in after-school care. Now it was a necessity as I was principal of a high school. I remember that my son and I were struggling to meet our day-to-day needs. We were surviving. Work-life balance was definitely a stretch at this point. I was learning and realizing how much of family life I had been missing out on because now I was completely in charge of all family responsibilities.

During this crazy period, I was taken out to lunch and offered a leave of absence because I was taking time off. I certainly understood why this happened, but it was a blow to my career. What was happening to my upward track? I had just been knocked off my career track pedestal. Now what was I to do? How would this affect my career? I felt as if I had been sucker punched, even though I understood. My ego was hurt and now what?

My husband died in May following that Christmas. Work-life balance was now important because I was left to raise my son alone and I definitely did not want to just jump back into my career. My son was dealing with the death of his daddy, too.

I needed to discover who I was and what was my future. I decided to return to things that I wanted to do outside of work. I started piano lessons, voice lessons, running marathons, Hapkido and hockey mom. Yes, I tried lots of things. All these things started getting me to realize there is more to who I am than work. What makes me whole is not just my career. I discovered that it is a necessity to have outside interests from work. My realization was that I was happier in my career as long as I had other interests.

Taking care of your needs is integral to your success at work. Jimmy Casas said at the Teachers Institute and Leading Change Conference 2023, “Take your best version of yourself home” (Casas, 2023). I take this statement to reinforce that we must have a work-life balance. Don’t go home with nothing to give your family. Both work and home have to be a priority.

According to FMP Global, “The work-life balance theory means promoting a positive balance between work and home, for your staff. The idea is that those who know how to get a better work-life balance will be more happy and satisfied with both elements of their life, and therefore be able to thrive in both areas.” (FMP, 2021). FMP Global goes on to say that the benefits of work-life balance are:

  • Better staff retention
  • Increased productivity
  • Higher employee engagement
  • More profitability
  • Strong brand reputation and more applicants
  • Increased morale
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Better time management
  • Personal growth
  • Better focus
  • Higher engagement
  • Personal health and well-being
  • Feel more valued
  • Reduced stress

FMP Global reiterates that if there is a balance between work and home, there are also benefits to your work environment and home environment. It is also stated that if bosses allow a balance between work and home life, employees will perform better.

“A Healthy Alternative to Work-Life Balance” (Frommert, 2023) cites Ann Klontz, headmistress of Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio: “I don’t like the word balance. It implies that there is a perfect state where all the plates are in the air.” “Defining balance with hard rules such as ‘No work email on the weekend’ can feel quite unbalanced when you unexpectedly have to prioritize a personal task, such as having to meet the plumber at home during work hours. Work and life are not a zero-sum game.” (Frommert, 2023). Edutopia suggests that balance can be better described utilizing the Eisenhower Matrix. This system allows you to take on tasks in four quadrants defined by Mark Nevins as importance and urgency. (Nevins, 2023)

Forbes presented this matrix and asks, what quadrant do you live in? The matrix requires you to prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. “Most of us spend too much of our time in the wrong quadrants.” (Nevins, 2023). For our work-life balance “the matrix can help determine how the tasks of your work and personal life should be stacked. It can get frustrating when a new urgent and important task gets added to the top. That can feel overwhelming because the numerous less urgent and less important tasks are getting buried.” (Frommert, 2023).

FMP Global clearly states the benefits of a healthy work-life balance. Edutopia and Forbes describe two ways to help achieve the work-life balance. Edutopia describes a process where we stack our priorities in both work and personal life to achieve balance. Forbes asks the question of which quadrant is your priority. In the end, my personal experience has taught me that I must have outside interests aside from my career and I must be able to prioritize both work and my personal life. My definition of who I am cannot be solely tied to one aspect of my life.

However, you want to define your balance, find your way of defining yourself as a complete person-this includes both personal and work life. That is where “your” balance is.



Casas, J. (2023, June 9) Culturize – Every Student, Every Day. Whatever Day. Whatever It Takes [Conference presentation]. 2023 Teachers’ Institute & Leading Change Conference, Tucson, AZ, United States.

Fmp, I. (2021, November 19). 7 Business Benefits of a Good Work Life Balance | IRIS FMP Global. IRIS FMP. https://fmpglobal.com/blog/business-benefits-good-work-life-balance/

Frommert, C. (2023). A Healthy Alternative to Work-Life Balance. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/work-life-balance-teachers/

Nevins, M. (2023, January 5). How To Get Stuff Done: The Eisenhower Matrix (a.k.a. The Urgent Vs The Important). Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/hillennevins/2023/01/05/how-to-get-stuff-done-the-eisenhower-matrix-aka-the-urgent-vs-the-important/?sh=5e8e89ea1b58

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