"Julie, here is my advice for you. In life, there are rubber balls and glass balls and you are always juggling. Your family is glass, so you can't drop them. Many of your work projects are rubber balls—the assignment will still be there tomorrow and you need to plan in advance. And sometimes a work project becomes a glass ball, and you have to let your family know you need to put them down for a day or three. Because they know they are "glass" to you, they are more likely to understand and respect that you have a glass project this week."
Those words have stayed with me ever since I heard them, told to me by a man I met at the Price-Babson Fellowship Program in 1994.
But the day this advice really hit home was on September 12, 2001. I was looking in the mirror at the Washington Sports Club in downtown D.C., trying to pull myself together for a board meeting. Even though it was the day after the 9/11 attacks, I hadn't cancelled the meeting because I thought people would need an opportunity to congregate and talk. We also had a responsibility to children and discussing their safety as community leaders.
I had been in Manhattan the day before when I got a call on my cell phone from my husband Marc: "Julie, a plane just hit the World Trade Center!"
Everyone ran to the conference room and we turned on the news. I thought Marc had meant a small, private plane—but no, it was a jet. We saw the images of the World Trade Center burning as a second plane came into the picture. We heard a pop from outside the window and then the TV shut off. I looked outside over the South Street Seaport to see burning and charred papers billowing down from the sky.
My phone rang again.
"Julie, you have to get out of there. We need you to get out of there," said Marc. "A plane just hit the Pentagon! Go to your Mom's apartment." Everything felt surreal, as if I were living the stories I could only imagine from my father's life in Hungary during World War II.
We agreed to stay put. We had food and shelter, while there was only chaos and perhaps very real threats outside. I looked out the window into a swarm of dust; it seemed like thousands of people were walking on the street below like a parade of zombies. If I went outside, would it burn my eyes? Was it toxic?
It was a good idea to stay inside, as the towers would soon be falling.
It took me six hours on foot to walk to my mother's apartment on West 79th Street. Along the way, I was touched by the generosity of New Yorkers. "Do you need to make a call? Can we get you food or water?" they said to people who had been walking from the scene of the disaster.
I went to Penn Station the morning of the 12th and luckily got on a 5 a.m. train, praying that it wouldn't blow up. I know that sounds melodramatic now, but nothing seemed safe at the time.
Soon our board members began arriving. We talked and hugged and shared stories and fears. Seeing them again centered me. We decided that we needed to redouble our efforts and that our kids in D.C. should be made to feel safe.
There was a time when I thought I should just serve and help people, and that maybe I wasn't going to have my own family—maybe that wasn't my role in life. I worked hard and passionately and I loved what I did. But, that morning, I realized that there was nothing more important than choosing family and I chose that moment in the gym to defiantly throw my birth control pills in the garbage.
That was a great move as less than two years later, we had a beautiful baby girl, Justine.
Young women often ask me how I balance life and the "doing too much" syndrome many of us fall victim to. I share this story and an honest assessment of trying to juggle balls, learning not picking up rubber balls that are C priority until they become B priority, and my efforts not to drop the carefully selected "glass balls" of life.