Peggy Davenport is a Partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Her interview is part of a package in anticipation of a special event on Tuesday night, June 23, 2015: a panel on work life balance featuring Susie Orman Schnall, author and creator of The Balance Project, along with Jennifer Allyn, Diversity Strategy Leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers; Kristen Bellstrom, Senior Editor of Fortune; Peggy Davenport, Partner of Debevoise & Plimpton; Jillian Griffiths, Chief Operating Officer of Clayton, Dubilier & Rice; and Terrianne Patnode, Counsel to Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. The panel will be moderated by Chris Riback, Author, Commentator and Executive Editor of Working Capital Review,
Where I live: New York, NY
Job: Partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
Kids: A son, 18, and a daughter, 21
Have you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
I returned to work full time after my daughter was born since, at that time, the only route to partnership at our law firm was a full-time work schedule. After about six months, I felt like I was underachieving both as a parent and as an employee, and I made the decision to move to a part-time work schedule.
This was a bit of a shock to the partners at my firm at the time. Partnership decisions were just a few months away and the change in my full-time status took me out of the running. Ultimately, the partners changed the firm policy so that part-time lawyers could be considered for partnership. I got promoted that year, and ended up working as a part-time partner for 11 more years.
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I think that on any given day—or even week—it’s really hard to be a great mother, wife, professional, friend, athlete, relative, artist, etc. There just aren’t that many hours in the day and there will inevitably be greater demand in one segment of your life than in others, creating “imbalance.” But I think that if you take a much longer view—a year, let’s say—and ask yourself whether you were able to fulfill your aspirations across a spectrum of areas, then it’s possible. To me, that overarching balance is a more realistic, and perhaps more satisfying, goal than trying to achieve day-to-day balance.
What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
I am now an “empty nester” (which is a book to itself), but when our kids were still at home I was never able to do everything I wanted to athletically. If I managed a quick run (no stretching!) a few times a week and a little tennis now and then, I was grateful.
What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I used to think of balance as the conventional three-legged stool: kids, job, and husband. My goal was, on balance, to contribute as much as possible to each. Over time, I have developed a complementary concept of balance—another three-legged stool—which relates to health: sleep, eating well, and exercise. All of this, of course, takes time, which is a precious commodity, but I think it’s difficult to perform exceptionally well for a sustained period time without an eye on your health.
Do you have a favorite time management tool, hack, or other strategy you use that helps you achieve balance?
When my husband and I are in the car together and he’s driving, I make a point of not checking my phone. No work unless it’s an emergency, and no personal emails or texts. He gets 100% of my attention. It’s a small thing obviously, but I am generally addicted to my iPhone.
What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From a mentor/co-worker? I think that came from one of my law school roommates who became a working mom a few years before me. She told me: “At the end of the day, I think about the two or three things that I got to do that day and for which I am grateful. I try not to focus on what I didn’t get to do.” Over 20 years later, I still practice her advice and I’ve always appreciated the perspective it brings me.
From your mother? My mother was a great example of someone who went full tilt at everything she did—raising six kids, teaching the flute, trekking all over the world, writing books—but she didn’t do it all at once. She achieved balance over the course of a lifetime, which I really admire.
From your spouse/partner? I don’t know that this is advice on balance per se, but my husband is supremely good at being able to say “this doesn’t matter.” He does it in a way that enables me to just dispense with something that I am anxious about and move on. Sometimes that’s exactly the perspective I need.
If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
I would take painting and photography classes.
What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
I was 20 in the early 1980s and, back then, it really seemed like the choices for women were so limited. You could stay at home and raise kids or be a fierce career woman with maybe one child. I worried about that a lot and didn’t have the foresight at the time to consider myself a trailblazer. If I could tell the 20-year-old me something today, it would be to think big: know that it’s possible to have the impactful career you want and an engaged family life.
What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Cleaning out closets. Both my husband and I tend toward the “pack rat” end of the spectrum and, as a result, our house can get really cluttered. It feels great whenever I take the time to clean out a closet or a bookshelf or a set of drawers. So, it’s a necessary job, but one I haven’t figured out how to delegate.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.
Activity? I have to confess that I am 100% caught up on Game of Thrones episodes.
Food? Oh gosh—cookies, cake, candy—I really do love sugar. I am trying to do something about that.
Website? Amazon.com. I am continually amazed at what is available on that website.
How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
If I am in the middle of a deal at work or if I am out late for an event, then often very little, especially as I like to get up early to exercise (run, spin, yoga or swim). Whenever I can though, I really try to get 8 hours.
What do you read every morning?
Candidly? My email. Then more email. The news (The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal) follow distantly, I’m afraid.
Complete the following sentences:
I wish I: could listen to and dance to live music every night. I suppose when it comes down to it, that might not be as perfect an idea as it seems now, but it’s fun to think about!
My kids: are awesome—really smart, funny, empathetic, and brave.
Born and raised in Concord, Massachusetts, Peggy went to Amherst College and then the University of Chicago Law School. She has worked at Debevoise & Plimpton since 1987 as a corporate lawyer, specializing in M&A, particularly for private equity clients. Peggy married Kirk Davenport in 1991 and their kids were born in 1994 (Lydia) and 1997 (Addison). She became a partner in 1995, later co-chaired Debevoise’s Private Equity Group, and is now Co-Chair of the Corporate Department.
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