I’m excited to wrap up my series about five female entrepreneurs actively shaping the future of work with a spotlight on Jessica DeGroot. Her work moves beyond creating a sustainable environment for remote workers or clamping down on the gender pay gap, and focuses on a fundamental issue: having time for life.
ThirdPath Institute: Creating Time for Life
Jessica brings small to mid-size organizations into the “21stCentury Workplace” where every member of the organization, entry level to C-suite, has an integrated work/life balance. She does this with her company, ThirdPath Institute, whose tagline is: “Creating time for life.” They help redesign work to create time for family, community, and other life priorities. In her own words, “We’re showing them how to do work in a way where they also have time for their lives.”
She started with a concept called “shared care” which developed resources for parents who wanted to share in the care of their children while both earning an income. ThirdPath expanded to support what they call “integrated leaders,” leaders who are successful while still having time for lives outside of work. When leaders value the ability to leave space for their life outside of work, they help to set a culture that reflects those values.
I spoke to Jessica about her mentor experience, the barriers she’s faced, and the culture of chronic overworking that’s dominating our workforce.
Jessica Talks About Her Mentor
In speaking to Jessica, I learned that her approach to work/life balance has academic roots. While in college, she wrote her senior thesis about women who could afford to stay at home after they had children, yet decided to return to work anyway. Jessica’s mentor was Lotte Bailyn, an MIT professor at the time. This is what Jessica said about her experience finding a mentor:
When I met Lotte Bailyn, it was one of those moments where not only did I meet someone who was thinking the same thing as I was thinking; she’d already written a book about it. I call her my mentor-godsend. What she did so many years ago was write a book about something that I felt in my gut, which is that because of the way the world is changing—because of changes in technology and changes in demographics—we really could do work differently, and that people wanted to do work differently.
The book Lotte wrote is Breaking the Mold. Jessica explained one of the book’s important messages:
If you encourage people to think about both what they want to do at work and what they want to do at life, and encourage them to have space to think about both at the same time, not only will they come up with ways to get both done. Sometimes they will also find ways to improve how work is done, so that they have time to get to their life responsibilities and interests.
While Jessica had her eyes on writing a book of her own, Lotte suggested Jessica start an organization instead.
How Jessica Created Safety to Think Bigger Things
The longevity and success of Jessica’s organization is due to her thoughtful strategies. Just as it takes a deeper look into the status quo of the working world to recognize where it needs transformation, Jessica took a deeper look into how to create a community that would help her thrive personally and professionally. To start, she explained:
I very carefully surrounded myself with out of the box thinkers. By surrounding myself by these small groups of very progressive minded people, it created a lot of safety for me to keep on thinking bigger about things.
This same thoughtful approach can be seen in her board of directors, who she considers awesome. Most nonprofits don’t feel that way about their boards, so this is a huge success! She said:
About five years into running my nonprofit, I created a handpicked board of incredibly smart, progressive, and forward-thinking people; my board has been a huge resource to me. I’ve learned finding the people who have had some success thinking differently helps us all think smarter.
Even her choice of mate is in alignment with her purpose. About her husband, she said:
Honestly, I picked my husband because he had dropped out of medical school because he could see that doctors didn’t have much time for other things in their lives. So I met a husband who said, life is also important, not just work.
Making a focused effort to align her purpose with her life decisions is inspiring. Taking her lead, if we look at each element of our lives, and stack them up against our values, our decisions will be guided in such a way that living with purpose can be reality.
I asked Jessica about some of the barriers she faced with ThirdPath. Not surprisingly, they had to do with age-old gender stereotypes. More specifically, she explained:
One of the big barriers is getting men and women to think that they can be a team at home. That is where a lot of people get stuck for all kinds of reasons.
Looking toward the future, Jessica teaches people how to think differently about what men and women can do around caregiving, and how they can work in unison to balance work and family. Success in this area would make a significant impact on what author Arlie Hochschild calls, “The Second Shift.” The second shift describes the reality of heterosexual couples, where women often spend more of their time on household chores and caregiving, despite both partners being in the workforce. This second shift, also known as the double burden, inhibits women from not only progressing in their careers (who takes a sick day when little Tommy falls ill?); it also inhibits the ability to have, as ThirdPath says, time for life.
It’s Time to Think Differently About Work
Jessica’s biggest challenge personally has been “helping people think differently about work so that it doesn’t take up more time in their life than they want it to.”
During the course of our conversation, Jessica asked, “Is there such a thing as too much work in life, and why does it happen?” I wanted to know the answer. Here’s her response:
Is There Such Thing as Too Much Work in Life?
Yes, there is. Take a simple example: Look at a tire shop where people take their cars to get tires mounted. There are only so many tires that people can put on a car in one day. If you expect them to replace more tires then they have time for, they then have to work late at night to get all that work done. It’s easier to see ‘too much work’ in this example. Where it’s not easy to see is when the work is less transparent, like knowledge work.
Jessica used an example from her life to explain her point. She spoke about what she named her “spring flood.” Two years ago her team committed to too many things. She said, “Every day we kept saying, if I can just reach a little further, I can get on top of my work. So all of January we kept reaching further and work was spilling into nights and weekends.”
They were trying to produce two events in conjunction with a book launch. But they had limited resources with which to commit. They were completely overextended. In her words:
Long story short: By about March my team was really exhausted. I could tell I was forgetting things. I was late. I was not on top of my meetings. I was way behind on my email. I was exhausted and kind of angry.
Jessica realized what was going on and told her team they needed to abandon their second event. She explained: “Suddenly our workload got much more reasonable. More importantly, we realized that if we had made that decision back in January, we would have made better use of our spring and all the book publicity we were getting.”
Today’s Biggest Issue
This brought Jessica to explain what she believes is the biggest issue of today:
What people don’t do is say, ‘There really is too much work; what is the best use of our time?’ What happens then is they are chronically overworked, and they never have time to stop, reprioritize and rethink. There are a lot of organizations and a lot of teams that are stuck in that chronic overwork pattern today. That is today’s biggest issue.
This chronic overwork doesn’t just affect people’s ability to live their lives; it also impacts organizations as a whole. For example, Jessica said:
Too many teams and organizations are chronically overworked and it’s creating a lot of inefficiencies for everybody. We haven’t accepted the fact that there needs to be some sort of parameters for how much we take on personally, as a team, and as an organization.
Can we take chronic overwork by the horns and toss it out the ring? There’s hope. ThirdPath is growing a community of leaders, organizations and individuals to influence wider change in the workplace on both a public and policy level. They want to give us our lives back!
Now that’s a future I can stand behind.