Cailin Ahern, a Lead Knowledge Analyst at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), has one of the most refreshing takes on what work-life “balance” means: “I think balance means looking forward to every part your day: going to work in the morning and coming home at night,” she says.
Ahern feels grateful that she’s been able to find that sense of “balance” herself while working at BCG, even if that sometimes means she’s working harder than ever. As she puts it, “I think the more you like your job, you’re able to work harder and have it still feel sustainable.”
Ahern recently chatted with Fairygodboss about the morning and nighttime routines that keep her grounded, how she thinks about her work priorities, and what she loves most about BCG (hint: it has to do with a lack of hierarchy!)
Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities?
I focus on People Strategy — a mix between culture and engagement, talent and leadership, and HR topics — for BCG teams and our clients globally. On a local level, I work with BCG New York’s Social Impact committee to promote and execute some of the work that we do with our pro-bono clients.
There are a lot of different and sometimes competing priorities in my role, but if I had to boil it down to one, I would say it is making sure our clients are putting their people at the top of their strategic agendas. This is always in the back of our minds anytime we pull together a proposal, deliver a workshop, conduct an analysis for a client, or write an article for publication: how can we make sure our clients are putting their people first?
Paint a picture of a typical day for me. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
I try to exercise in the morning or it doesn’t happen. Usually it is just a short run, but sometimes I’ll meet a friend for a spin class — peer pressure is a powerful motivator! Then, I’ll listen to the news or a podcast as I get ready. The last thing I do before I go to sleep is read something, often on my phone. I am not recommending this nighttime practice: sometimes it puts me to sleep, but sometimes it backfires and makes me more awake.
What does “balance” mean to you, and in what ways do you feel like you’ve achieved it?
I think balance means looking forward to every part your day: going to work in the morning and coming home at night. There were times in my career I’d wake up, think about my day, and feel a real sense of dread. This carried over into after-work hours as well, making it hard to enjoy my free time because I was worried about the next day. It took a lot of time and exploration to find a job that I enjoy, but now, even when I feel behind or overwhelmed, I have much less of the existential anxiety that used to have. I wouldn’t say I have achieved a perfect balance, but I feel very appreciative for what I have now.
Attaining work-life balance can’t be done solo. What people, resources, and tools do you rely on to get it all done?
If I do not have time to see my friends or family, I am not happy. So whether they know it or not, they are a very helpful resource: making plans to explore the city or have dinner with them is a great way to make sure I turn off at a certain time. It also pushes me to be more efficient: time-box my work, come up with creative solutions when deadlines are unrealistic, and lean on others when I need help.
What’s one misconception you think exists around work-life balance today?
That work-life balance means less work. I actually feel my work-life balance has increased as my workload has increased. I think the more you like your job, you’re able to work harder and have it still feel sustainable.
Let’s talk about BCG’s culture. What’s your favorite aspect of it, and how does your employer aid you in achieving balance?
BCG has a fantastic culture. With few exceptions, everyone is incredibly friendly, generous with their knowledge and time, smart, ambitious, and engaged in what they do. One thing I love is the lack of hierarchy. Of course, there are people who have more power than others, but I’ve been on multiple projects where the most senior person in the room is listening to the most junior, and that person’s opinion is welcomed and validated.
I also like that the company finds a way to let people work on projects they are passionate about. If you raise your hand and are willing to work hard, no one will say no to you stepping into a role outside your core area of responsibility.
What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to other women who want to excel professionally and personally?
To always keep learning. One reason I chose BCG as an employer was because they value learning and provided tuition assistance for my Master’s degree. Learning brings confidence, and women, like all people, need confidence to lead. The leaders I look up to the most are people who, even after rising to the tops of their fields, stay open to new ideas and sources of information and are able to question conventional ways of doing things.
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