Friday, January 11, 2013

The Having It All Project: James Kaplan

I met James on the sidelines of birthday parties that our younger children attended as classmates a few years ago. Our paths have kept crossing since, and let's face it, I'm a sucker for anyone with a blog. Here's how James is having it all. 

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I am the father of two girls (ages 7 and 4), and am married to a wonderful woman who works part-time (by choice). I am an attorney working at a large law firm in Boston, in a senior non-partner track position. I came to this firm from a smaller firm in Boston, based on the appeal of working at a large firm, but with the opportunity to work in a position requiring fewer hours than a typical “partner track” associate. Having been in this position for more than 5 years, it has worked out well for me and my family, as I have been able to succeed professionally while still maintaining good quality of life. I’m home for dinner and bedtime with my kids almost every night, and while work does carry over into nights and weekends sometimes, the balance feels overall reasonable to me.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?

One step that’s really improved our family life recently, and helped me feel more in control of the busyness of our lives, is that my wife and I set up a shared Google calendar that goes directly to both of our smartphones. Previously, in what I’m sure is a gender stereotypical way, I used to defer a lot of scheduling to my wife, but that situation became untenable for us. Once I made it about technology and fiddling with my iPhone, it became easier, and empowering. I’ve taken it as a challenge to make sure the calendar reflects everything that’s going on in our daily lives.

My wife and I have also figured out that each of us needs to have time to ourselves to do the things that will help us feel fulfilled as individuals, and that being able to do these things for ourselves makes us better spouses and parents. For example, I’m a big fan of comic books and science fiction, and I’ve found that my weekly trips to the comic shop (and the enjoyment of reading those fantastical stories) really add to my quality of life. In the past I’ve also trained to run a marathon, and taken writing classes at Grub Street Writers in Boston.

I guess the point is, as you’re busy living your life and fulfilling your obligations as a spouse, a parent, a professional or otherwise, not to lose those things that are fun and enjoyable for you. In doing so, I’ve actually been able to share that enthusiasm with my kids, who now appreciate superheroes and Star Wars.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
When everyone is feeling fine, our lives work pretty well. However, if one or more of the kids get sick (or if I or my wife get sick), it feels like there’s not that much “give” in our life and things start to break down. My wife and I will take turns being with the kids when they're sick, and we try to pick up the slack for each other when we can. The tasks I’m mostly responsible for (dishes, laundry) can quickly pile up, and I can feel overwhelmed. Often “getting through it” means just muddling through the best we can, and things (like home repair and maintenance) sometimes fall by the wayside.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
My wife is actually a role model for me this area.  She has for years tried to live her life in a balanced way, and I think it’s rubbed off on me!  I will also say that, growing up in my family, I learned that everyone needed to contribute to make the household function, and that’s a lesson I’ve carried forward with me.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?

In a lot of ways, at least on the surface, my life is a lot like I would have imagined for myself at 18. I’m an attorney in Boston, we live in a nice community, I have a lovely wife, great kids, and I’m involved in my synagogue. But digging a little deeper, I think my 18-year old self might have been surprised by some of the choices I’ve made. When I came to my current firm, I made a decision that I was not going to try to be a partner, and so I took myself out of the traditional career trajectory and into something a little more unknown. The sense of balance I sought was something my 18-year old self might not have understood, but which is central to my life and my family now.

Relate to what James is saying? Leave him some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at!


  1. I know James and his wife and have learned a lot about balance just by watching them lead their lives -- they are both masters at describing what really matters to them and taking the steps necessary to put those things on top of the laundry pile. It's an honor to know them and every time I see them in action I take mental notes.

  2. I love the photo of James in the soccer net!