Debra Henley

Debra Henley headshot, Caucasian woman photographed outdoors in front of a plant, she's wearing glasses and a navy suit

Name: Debra Henley
Job Title: Executive Director, Florida Justice Association
City: Tallahassee, Florida
Number of Children/Other Dependents: 2 children

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated? Why?
You can be successful in your Professional and personal life, but there will be tradeoffs and sacrifices.  It is not a question of balance as much as it is a matter of prioritization.   You will always need to be weighing what is urgent and important vs, what is urgent and not important or important and not urgent and making choices between personal and professional obligations.

What does having “it all” mean to you?
Having a job you want to go to 90 percent of the time, having financial security for yourself and your family and being there for your family when you need to be there.

What is the best advice you have ever received on balancing your personal and professional lives?
I don’t recall ever getting any advice, other than on occasion colleagues offering their opinions on when being with the family should be the priority, and offering assistance to cover something.

If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?

Reading, studying, learning something.

Looking back at when you started in the profession, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
I would have done a better job of building a support system, spending more time talking with other parents dealing with the pressure of the job and the obligations of family. Sharing solutions, baby sitters and tips. It is probably much easier to do that today with email, social media, etc.

Do you deal with guilt in trying to balance your personal and professional lives?
It’s really tough. There are many times when you are at work or out of town and things are happening at home and you feel bad, and times when you are home when your work team needs you.

What single change do you believe would have the biggest impact on work life balance or quality of life?
More acceptance and understanding by employers and co-workers of flexibility in work schedules. People who are trying to ” have it all” are usually high achievers who would never intentionally let their employer or family down. They need and deserve more understanding and support at home and on the job. The co-workers without children eventually will find themselves with struggles outside the work place, caring for an elderly parent, or another friend or family member needing their assistance during work time. However,  co-workers without children should not be ” dumped on” .

What part of “balance” do you struggle with?
Spending time and staying in touch with family who are not living in the household.   I am concerned that we are not spending time with our relatives, parents, siblings, who live far away.  There is always a reason we can’t get together, but we should.  It’s important.

What part of “balance” are you improving at?
“Being” where you are.  If you are with your kids and spouses, put the phone down and BE THERE!   But don’t spend time on lengthy personal calls when you are in the office. It is rare that I will talk with my husband or children while at work.

As a working parent, how do you balance your career and your role as a parent?
I am almost an empty nester at this point and I am not looking forward to it.

How important is civic and/or professional involvement to you and why?
This is a part of being an empty nester soon that I DO look forward to. Getting more involved and helping organizations that support causes I care about and this beautiful community we live in. It is very important, but there is a time for everything. You should not spread yourself too thin when you are raising a family and developing your career.  My experience is that it doesn’t work well to do to much extracurricular activities during that phase of your life. Something will get the short shrift, and it won’t be good.

What’s the advice you would give a young lawyer seeking to strike a “balance” between family, self, and the practice of law or achieve better quality of life?
When you have children, make sure that this time in your life is not a blur.  People used to tell it it goes so fast. Occasionally I used to think, ” not fast enough ! ” I deeply regret that now. You don’t get that time back. I hope that as more women gain positions of power in the work place, the road will be a little less stressful for young professionals raising families, because their bosses will have a better understanding of the dilemma. I acknowledge that there are also more male managers and employers today who understand this as well and are making things better.

Any other parting words of advice?
My favorite phrase right now is “Everybody’s going through something “. You are never alone and should remember that we are all in this together. There are so many good people all around you who want to help and want you to be successful. There are truly Angels all around us. I see them coming through for people and myself everyday.