« Allison Nazarian addresses the myth of work life balance | Main | Why Millennial Women Are Burning Out At Work By 30 »

Balancing extreme careers and home life

A few days ago, I set out to talk to Mireya Mayor who wrote a book called Pink Books and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer. I thought the book was about career transition and that the topic would make an interesting column. But when I first began talking to her, I found out Mireya had only been a cheerleader during college. Her entire professional life was as an scientist/explorer. I was a little disappointed that she didn't fit into the story I had planned to write. But the more I talked to Mireya, the more interesting she became. I realized a better story was how she balances her career as an explorer, a job that takes her into the jungle for months at a time, with motherhood. She has four young girls, all under the age of six (including twins who are four months old)

I dug a little and found other people who struggle with work life balance, juggling extreme jobs with a personal life. When my column appeared today, I received an email from Lilian, a mom who thinks it's horrible that people leave their kids to travel for work. Lilian wrote me: "I could not help the sorrow I felt for the little girls whose mother chooses to go to the other side of the globe to study wild animals, rather than spend time at home doing what a mother does."

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion on parenthood, work life balance, and choices. Here's the article and I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether you feel you could or would want to balance an extreme job with parenthood:


The Miami Herald

Balancing extreme careers and home life

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

   Mireya Mayor of Miami studies wild animals, like these leopards in Namibia in 2003, in their own habitat as a National Geographic explorer. The job may take her away from home for weeks at a time.
Photo provided by Mireya Mayor
Mireya Mayor of Miami studies wild animals, like these leopards in Namibia in 2003, in their own habitat as a National Geographic explorer. The job may take her away from home for weeks at a time.
Barely recovering from giving birth to twin girls, explorer Mireya Mayor already is planning her next adventure into the jungle. She may go to Africa to observe wild chimpanzees or to Madagascar to try to discover a new species of lemurs.

Clearly, studying animals on the verge of extinction as a National Geographic explorer has become more challenging since becoming a mother. With four girls under the age of six, Mayor feels a bit differently about making expeditions for two or three months in remote habitats — with little or no communications ability. But she has no plans to give it up.

“When I had children, I thought I had to make a decision to stay home or be an explorer,” Mayor says. “I realized that being an explorer is not what I do, it’s who I am.”

Ever wonder what’s on the other side of the cubicle? While many of us toil away at our computers, some American workers have jobs that involve travel, adventure and even danger. These jobs, intoxicating for the people who hold them, are becoming more prevalent with globalization and preservation. Yet, even the hardiest of adventurers find it challenging to balance their professions and home lives.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, has studied extreme jobs — those that require people to work 70-hour weeks and those that require long periods of travel. “These extreme jobs are tougher on women because they are less likely to have a stay-at-home spouse,” Hewlett says. “Men tend to have more of a support system at home.”

When she’s home in Miami, Mayor films wildlife specials out of local studios or writes article for National Geographic Kids. She combines that with brushing her toddler’s hair into ponytails or changing the babies’ diapers at 3 a.m. When she’s in the jungle, it’s all about work. “I’ve been charged by gorillas, touched poisonous snakes, slept across from lions,” she says.

After her first two daughters were born, Mayor was invited by TV producer Mark Burnett to join his TV cast for Expedition Africa. She went. While Mayor is away, her husband, Roland Wolff, and mother pitch in with child care. “My family finds a way to make it work,” she says. Wolff takes over packing lunches and shuttling kids to school, while working full time from home for Leica, a German camera company. “He does travel with his job, too, but we try to make it that one of us is home with the kids,” Mayor says.

The daughter of a conservative Cuban mother, Mayor realized in college she wasn’t going the safe route. As a University of Miami student, she cheered professionally for the Miami Dolphins. But upon graduating, her interest was in anthropology and science. She has documented her career highlights and efforts at balance in her new book featured at the Miami Book Fair, Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer. She writes this about her explorations, which have included crashing on a flight to the Congo: “The toughest part isn’t the mosquitoes or snakes or living in wet clothes or even the starving. The toughest part is being away from my family, and not knowing if I will ever see them again.”

Click here to





Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Ben  Summers

For me the general course or progression of one's working life or one's professional achievements.

Jes Alexander

Dear Ms. Goodman,

I could not help the sorrow I felt for a newspaper whose columnist chooses to go to the other side of the story just to spice up controversy and extend the web-hit life of their article, rather than spend time explaining to "Lilian" that your piece was about a pretty remarkable woman, and that she misunderstood. Of course, "Lilian" only knows about Dr. Mayor from your story, so perhaps you might have thought twice about printing "Lilian's" comment, as it devalues your own ability. How do I know this is true? Because you wrote the article mentioning that Dr. Mayor, "Was only a cheerleader in college." While this statement might be technically true, you missed the fact that while in college, Dr. Mayor was a PROFESSIONAL CHEERLEADER for THE MIAMI DOLPHINS. Not the same thing.

Since you blew the story and chose to toss "Lillian" out there in your defense, let me explain some things (for the record, Dr. Mayor is a friend and colleague of mine - FULL DISCLOSURE - that's how it's done): I know of no more dedicated a mother than Mireya Mayor, in fact, between Dr. Mayor, her husband, and her mother who lives with them, I don't know of four more loved, attended to, or engaged little girls on the planet. I really don't need to sit here and defend Mireya as her reputation precedes her - there is simply no more dedicated a parent or professional anywhere. Period.

"Lillian," try walking a mile in someone's shoes before passing judgement. Shame on you for putting down an over-achiever who is more capable than you. Wake up - it's not the 1950s anymore. A woman's place is ... EVERYWHERE.

Perhaps Amelia Earhart said it best, "Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn't be done." If you can't juggle an international career and motherhood, don't you dare criticize someone who can.

For you, Ms. Goodman, to not just allow "Lillian" to comment but to put her words in YOUR section of the blog, you reveal that as a journalist you don't stand by the words you wrote about a person you chose to write about. I hope you have another career in the wings, because nobody wants to talk to a pot-stirring interviewer.

Jes Alexander, Publisher
Herald de Paris et Cie.

Emily Willingham

What anachronistic nonsense. I wonder if anyone ever passed this sort of judgment on David Attenborough or the late Steve Irwin or Bear Grylls or Anthony Bourdain or any number of other men who also are fathers whose careers lead them around the world. What Dr. Mayor is doing is showing her daughters that women can be people who have high expectations of themselves and others and that those expectations do not need to be confined to one sphere of life or specifically to a sphere considered the "woman's domain." Men are parents, too, and these girls have a father. And thanks to Dr. Mayor and others like her, her daughters also have role models for how the world can be for them, not for how it was. Guess what? Role modeling for your children is another thing that "a mother does."

Emily Willingham

Mireya Mayor

Dear Cindy,
I loved the piece you wrote up and have gotten amazing feedback from readers. I wanted to clarify that while I was a cheerleader during the time I attended University, I was in fact a professional cheerleader for the NFL.
I also wanted to address the people who may have had a less than positive reaction to my career and how I balance that with motherhood. I thought her comment was not only judgmental and insensitive towards me and my daughters but also to all the working mothers out there.
My children are happy, confident, loved and well adjusted. They are fortunate to have parents who live for them and the luxury of a multi-generational, tight knit family that adores them. Unlike most kids, my daughters have had passports since the age of 6 weeks old and have traveled the world. They have spent time in wild places and witnessed the beauty and generosity of other cultures. My 6 year old prides herself in having been to Madagascar and watching the lemurs jump from tree to tree in their natural habitat, not a zoo. They have made friends with children who do not own a single toy because of economic strife and know that material things are not necessary for happiness.
I would welcome critics, such as Lillian who you mention in your blog, to spend a day with me and my girls. She would then realize that although I leave for a few weeks at a time throughout the year to protect the planet my children are inheriting, my daughters have the love, and full and undivided attention of their mother when I am here. When not in a distant jungle, I am doing what a typical mother does, dressing my kids for school, shuttling them around for their various after school activities, doing homework with them, tucking them into bed after reading them a bed time story. I am also a room mother, and team mom on my daughters’ cheerleading squad. In addition, my children love nothing more than when I give presentations in their classroom and share the wild places they have been to with their class mates.
I am a devoted and involved mother who wants to set a good example for her children. Perhaps Lilian would agree that role modeling for their children is another thing that a mother does. My daughters know that they can do anything they dream. If you were to break it down, I actually spend more time with my children than mothers who have full-time jobs and never set foot on a plane. So, there is no need to “feel sorrow” for my children. And if you don’t believe me, the invitation is open. Ask them.

Dr. Mireya Mayor


I love that Dr. Mayor is an excellent example of an educated woman reaching new exploring heights. Women can go to college, explore, have a family and continue to discover the world. Do men work under this same scrutiny? My husband travels all the time. When are we, as women, able to stop the judgement? When are we, as women, able to say "Right on with your family and your awesome exploring self?" I say now. Now is the time Lilian.

Ryan   Hartley

Probably, more mothers were working at home kids were walking/biking in groups to school and food was cooked and eaten at home.

Adt Alarm

The biggest challenge many of us face is how to balance the demands of family, friends, and career. While we want happy and fulfilling lives outside of work, we have to make personal sacrifices in order to achieve our career aspirations. How do you balance those sacrifices so they don’t greatly interfere with your personal goals? How do you fit roles such as wife, mother, and friend into an already hectic schedule? Since time is precious, keeping a balance between the two worlds can be a challenge.

Cindy Goodman

Balancing all the demands on our time may be one of the biggest challenges we face and requires some tough choices and sacrifices at times. But those choices are personal and I encourage all of us to remember that and refrain from judging others for their choices.

The comments to this entry are closed.