Tampa Bay area professional women share personal work-life balance stories

Do we really have more time for what's most important to us than we think we do?

Hundreds of Florida women will gather in September in Tampa to learn more about how to carve out more time for the things they value most as part of the 2015 Working Women State Conference. (Get 10 percent off registration using the 83Degrees2015 discount code.)

The conference is designed to enable women (and interested men) to network and learn from each other. The two-day event, which kicks off on September 10 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, features nationally recognized keynote speakers who will share experiences, advice and insights gained from very different paths to success.

Among them is time-management expert Laura Vanderkam. For her new book, "I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time," she had real working mothers keep a time log for a full week. What she discovered is that we often have more time available to us than we think we do.

"The first step to using your time better is to figure out how you're using it now," Vanderkam tells 83 Degrees. "You start to see what time is available to you that you might wish to use for other things, or things that are taking more time than you want them to take so that you can make different choices about it."

We snagged the insights of three Tampa area women who are in the middle of life’s juggle, finding some semblance of balance among home and office. Whether you're a female executive or work-from-home dad, their stories will likely teach you a thing or two about balancing it all.

Lissette Campos: Director of Community Affairs for ABC Action News and host of "Positively Tampa Bay" 

Before having her two daughters, ages 17 and 11, Lissette Campos was living in Miami and making a name for herself in local news circles. After spending time at Univision and CBS stations, the Cuban-American had her sights set on becoming a network correspondent.

"I would work weekend shifts, the morning shift, the overnight shift; I was willing to do whatever it took to move up the ladder of success," says Campos, who graduated from Florida International University with a degree in Journalism. "But when I had my first daughter, it changed my whole perspective on things."

For Campos, successfully balancing work and life away from work means being able to adapt. This has sometimes meant veering off of her intended path. Case in point: once her first little one arrived, she made the decision to work as a part-time reporter for almost three years. 

"Even though some people would call it a step back, for me, it was the best decision that I could have made at the time; and I've never regretted it," she says.

It was an anchor position with ABC Action News that brought her to Tampa in 2001. After leading the morning and noon segments for two years, she was promoted to the evening and weekend shift before having her second daughter in 2004. The move represented a professional dream turned reality, but it came with more demands. 

"With the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. being the main show, I always remembered the saying to be careful what you wish for," says the now 48-year-old. "The switch came with night beat reporting, which was unbearable, so my family time was majorly impacted. Here was a position that I thought I wanted, but it didn't work for my family."

Once again, Campos rolled with the circumstances to better balance her professional life with her family priorities. This translated to a brief departure from TV news in which she did media relations at USF before being recruited to work in public affairs for the Disney Company in Orlando. She eventually made her way back to USF a year later before returning to ABC Action News in 2008.

According to Campos, having the courage to venture into different industries boosted her confidence and showed her that her skills weren't limited to the newsroom. The experience was also the best fit for her family.

"When you're evaluating what's best and what works for your family and you're open to changing things and being flexible, that doesn't mean that you're any less career-oriented or goal-driven," says Campos. "It's just being brave enough to admit that you have  certain needs, and that those needs aren't always going to be career front and center."

Trimeka Benjamin: President of Swim Digital Group

Being a, wife, mother and business owner, Trimeka Benjamin often feels like she's being pulled in a hundred different directions at once.

"I never feel like I'm in the place that I should be in," says Benjamin. "When I'm at work, I feel like I should be at home. When I'm at home, I feel like I should be at the [Junior] League. It never ends."

In her experience, the only effective way to do deal with this constant tug-of-war is to devote herself fully to wherever she is at any given moment. Contrary to popular advice, multitasking is something she finds both ineffective and stress-inducing.

"The only way to get through it is to only deal with what's in front of me," says the mom of two boys. 

Benjamin has been doing the working mom juggle since her oldest son was born six years ago. Her little one is just 9 months old. She quickly learned that in order to achieve any sense of success in either role, self-forgiveness was key.

"The world will not stop spinning if you make a mistake," says the 36-year-old. "It's about not being so hard on yourself and recognizing that you can't do everything."

Benjamin likens herself to a duck in the water; on the surface, everything looks calm and together, but under the water, that duck is flapping hard to stay afloat. She adds that her husband, Anthony, has also been a constant support.

What has really been an eye-opener for Benjamin has been her work with The Spring of Tampa Bay, which works with victims of domestic violence. 

"It really puts things in perspective and makes me hug my husband and kids very tight," she shares. 

Originally from Tennessee, Benjamin earned a master's degree in Public Health from USF. Prior to that, she received her bachelor's in Marketing from Bethune-Cookman University. Today she's the president of Swim Digital Group, a Tampa-based digital media firm specializing in inbound marketing and sales funnel development.

Rita Lowman: Chief Operating Officer for C1 Bank

For Rita Lowman, who's been a female trailblazer in the banking industry for over 38 years, there isn't really any such thing as work-family balance.

"So many things flow from the family to the work to the work to the family that I think when you look at it as a whole, it just means being there when your family truly needs you," she says.

Lowman, whose two sons are now in their 30s, believes that it simply isn't possible to do 100 percent of your job and 100 percent of what needs to be done at home. Her own success has involved sharing responsibilities with her husband of 44 years, Gary.

"35 years ago, when we were starting our family, we agreed that we both wanted careers," says Lowman."Therefore, it was give and take on both our parts. I might be the one that was dropping the kids off in the morning and Gary was picking them up in the afternoon, but when it came to the major things, we were both very much a part of their lives."

In other words, balancing work and family all comes down to partnership and teamwork. It also means not being afraid to say no. Lowman believes that individuals can only do so much and still do it well. While raising her boys, whenever she felt herself reaching her maximum, she made it a point to back off. 

Today, this may mean politely declining an invitation to sit on the board of a great organization so that she can have more time for family.

Prioritizing family doesn't always have to do with children. When Lowman's father was battling his final days with cancer, she took three weeks off to be with him in Georgia before he passed.

"I still am so thankful that I did that because I could have easily said that I was busy and had to work," she shares. "Again, it goes back to doing what's really important to you so that you always put your family first. And then, of course, your work and other activities will fall into place."

Lowman, who lives in St. Petersburg, was recently elected to be the chair of the Florida Bankers Association in 2017. She'll be the third female to hold the position in 126 years.

"I'm very thankful and blessed with my career," says Lowman, who earned a degree in communications from Columbus State University. "I've been extremely successful and have had some great people in my life that have helped lead me in the right direction."
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Read more articles by Marianne Hayes.

Marianne Hayes is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.