How a CPA approaches work-life balance: Kelly LaVallie

CPA Kelly LaVallie discusses how she achieves work-life balance in her career.

  • Title: Partner
  • Organization: Collins Barrow LLP, Calgary
  • Year joined: October 2006
  • University grad year: 1993
  • Designation year: 1995

Kelly LaVallie has made history at Collins Barrow LLP. She is the first partner in the 80-year existence of the firm to become pregnant.

The mom of three step-children and a four-year-old gave birth to a daughter in 2008, two years after joining the Calgary office.

"My partners have been wonderfully understanding about my family demands," she says. "When I announced that I was pregnant, they took it in stride. The partnership focuses on results, not time in the office.

“Their expectation is that I provide quality service to my clients, and it's my responsibility to achieve that and meet the needs of my family."

She is reluctant to reveal she usually works "only" 40 hours a week.

"As I was building my career," says the University of British Columbia grad who put in four years at Deloitte & Touche and nine years at Johnsen Archer, "I worked far more hours. I am going through the period of life where family commitments take up a lot of time. I will likely return to longer work weeks as my family stages change."

She commends her husband for his contribution to their manageable work-life balance. "When you have two people pulling on the rope, it seems far easier," she says.

They have dinner and put the young ones to bed by 7:30, then LaVallie tidies up, checks her mail, ensures the older kids are doing homework when they are there, works if necessary, walks the dog and works out in the home gym.

She ran her third half-marathon over the Thanksgiving weekend. "I want my kids to see me active, competitive, committed to my health.

"For me, the difference between enjoying the process and becoming overwhelmed is all about my attitude," she says.

"If I don't take life too seriously and look for the fun in everything — even making dinner — and focus on how much I love the people around me, then I really do enjoy life's craziness."

She keeps her time with the kids simple. "We play at home, go for walks, go to the pool. I focus on relating to them while getting things done — they play in the kitchen while I cook."

Last year, she took her first 10-day vacation with no office contact. "It was liberating," she admits. Most family holidays are spent at their place on a lake in Montana; the couple jets off by themselves a couple of weekends a year.

One important lesson stands out and doubles as advice: "Create a life that meets your needs and don't feel guilty or anxious about it. I have only found peace after hitting the right balance for me and letting go of any anxiety that it might not be viewed by others as the 'right' choice."

She believes newly anointed accountants may feel exhausted but that balance will evolve as they gain seniority and attain more control over shaping their professional lives. It's worth "paying the dues" for the "great career they can shape for themselves."

As for future family goals: " let go of setting goals!" she says. "I want to 'be' more than 'do.' To appreciate my life and the amazing people in it."

— Lorie Murdoch