By Mason Braasch
For Tu Le, finding work-life balance was not always a priority. Today, however, it is essential for her because it means more valuable time with her children, as well as more moments she can devote to herself.
In her mid-30s, Le, who was working as a fashion designer at the time, made two big decisions: The first was to move from New Jersey to Madison for a job at Lands’ End. Then after working for more than 20 years in apparel design (with brands such as Liz Claiborne, Gap and Lands’ End), Le switched career fields and became a realtor. The job offers her more flexibility and less time behind a desk, which also allows her to be present with her children.
“[When] I switched careers … it was scary to do that, but I’m so glad that I did. It’s important to find a job that satisfies you and is rewarding,” says Le.
Now, she spends more time with her children, Kai, 17; Tru, 15; Hanna, 15; and Ellie, 12. Le takes them to events and museums in Madison and uses their time together to discuss important topics and movements — such as attending the Stop Asian Hate March on State Street earlier this year. As a mother, she says that it’s important to her that she exposes her children to as much as she can.
While family is definitely a priority for Le, she’s also come to discover that work-life balance means more than simply being a mom outside of work; it includes self-care as well. Le explains that in her past life as a fashion designer, she struggled with the idea of taking time for herself, citing the guilt that many career women and moms feel when taking alone time. But Le realized that taking time for herself would not only make her a better mom and realtor, it would help her feel happier overall. By allowing herself to take small breaks throughout the day and utilize her flexible schedule, Le has created a routine where she can do things that bring her joy.
“You generally get to a more peaceful place when you take priority in your own life,” she says.
Le has taken up tennis and Spanish classical guitar in her free time, but explains that alone time can be as simple as getting a cup of coffee, walking around the city or sitting in a park. She also describes Madison as the perfect setting for achieving work- life balance.
“What’s great about Madison is that people here do a better job of embracing what’s here and what’s available to us,” Le says. “There were times when I was very limited with my resources as I had career or life changes, and I figured out that there’s tons of free events here in Madison that you can go and enjoy, and it’s just for a couple hours a day.”
Through all of her life challenges — a demanding job, a divorce, a career change — Le explains that learning to accept herself and making self-care a priority has changed her life significantly.
“I am completely happy,” she says, “I’m at the point where I do say to people if I were to die tomorrow, I want to make sure I live without any regrets. I’m completely happy with what I’ve done so far.”
What advice would you give your 20-year- old self?
“People always say ‘I want to be 20 again.’ I don’t, because I was so hard on myself in my 20s! I was finishing up school or starting off in college, and I couldn’t decide [what I wanted to do]. I thought I was going to make this major mistake in my life if I took the wrong path. And I think I would have said that it’s OK to do that, you know, go down the wrong path, and then just steer yourself into the right way and to go enjoy life.”
What would you say to people who are struggling with finding work-life balance?
“I would say reevaluate the job that you have. Is it giving you that flexibility? Negotiate with your current [employer by] saying hey, ‘I’ll give up a little bit of my salary for more vacation time.’ Or, ‘I’d like to split up my salary so every other Friday I get a half-day.’ Or, ‘Every Friday I work from home so that I can get rid of that commute time and do something just for myself.’”
– Tu Le