Lyle Horsley is a lawyer and a businesswoman, who has worked at a top-tier law firm and clerked at the Constitutional Court. In less than a decade, she’d climbed the ladder in one of South Africa’s most prestigious public institutions, the Reserve Bank. She is, as loyal members of our community will know, also the co-founder of The Thread. A mom of two young children, Lyle began the year by doing something radical for so many of us building a career—she quit a job.
With the Covid-19 pandemic raging on, this year feels a lot like last year. How did you find a sense of renewal beyond the calendar change?
I was really fortunate to go on a family road-trip at the beginning of the year – we literally hit the road on 1 January 2021. It was the first holiday in forever where I didn’t have to check in with work, check emails or follow-up on something work-related that was inevitably not finalised. So I think I managed to get a decent break, filled with lots of hikes, amazing sights, breathtaking views and incredible landscapes and swimming in the river, which is so rejuvenating! So I managed to rest and have a sense of peace that was invigorating and coincided with the start of 2021. But I think we can find renewal or a sense of rejuvenation in small and continuous acts of self-care and we can do that at any time of the year. And I know the idea of renewal can seem tedious when this year is already marred by so much of the same misery from 2020, but I think we can always pause and reset – not necessarily through grand acts of indulgence, but even in small ways like acts of meditation; new exercise routines; mindful practices; venturing outdoors; dancing classes and so on.
One of my favourite words is “fulfilment” and I think we need to be aware of what fills us – work is one component, but there are other parts to living a fulfilled life.
Like many women around the world, you quit your corporate job and decided to “lean out.” What drove the decision and how much did the pandemic influence your decision?
There were aspects of the working-mum-wife-woman dynamic that were challenging before the pandemic and certain “red lights” were starting to show up that required a pause for further thought and reflection on my part. With the onset of the pandemic and the lockdown, I think many of those challenges became heightened. I think the growing statistics around the number of women that have “leaned out” during the pandemic is very telling and points to certain structural inequalities that still exist in workspaces and home spaces.
One of the challenges I experienced working from home was the constant feeling of wearing all my proverbial hats at once – attending to the kids’ online schooling, helping with the numerous schooling activities, being a parent, preparing meals and listening to their stories and requests, whilst on back-to-back zoom calls well past 5pm when I would typically leave the office. And even with the most hands-on supportive husband by my side, I really felt that my balance was out of kilter and the equation just did not add up to me. I also think our bodies communicate with us all the time and your body is the most useful gage for whether you’re on the right path – simple questions around sleep patterns; peace of mind; levels of physicality and so forth are accurate metrics for me around my levels of wellness and joy.
This new stage in your life also means that for the first time since Kindergarten, your day isn’t structured around deliverables. What does that feel like?
It is liberating and daunting at the same time. I do think we’ve become too conditioned to measure ourselves by our performance at work and not how present we are in our own lives, both to ourselves and our loved ones. It also raises interesting questions around how we value women and the worth placed on family and home-care, not only from a monetary perspective. I also think we have an opportunity to recalibrate after the destructiveness of the pandemic and perhaps as part of the recalibration, we can stop glorifying burnout as a badge of honour and redefine what success looks like to each one of us. One of my favourite words is “fulfilment” and I think we need to be aware of what fills us – work is one component, but there are other parts to living a fulfilled life. So I am excited about learning a new language, experimenting in the kitchen and exploring exciting side hustles along the way.
Renewal should really be grounded in self-love
So often, when we talk about renewal to women, it’s an inadvertent indictment that who we are, as we are, is not good enough and we need to be a newer version of ourselves. How do you find renewal without falling for that?
I think so much of being a woman is about being bombarded with constant reminders or instructions of how to be – it’s no wonder we often feel inadequate. For me, renewal should really be grounded in self-love and looking for ways to find deeper meaning, more joy, better wellness in your life – not from a place of self-loathing, but from a place of deep care for self. And I think that renewal looks different for each woman and it’s continuous. The ebb and flow of new discovery and rediscovery, reinvention, changing, becoming, getting up, starting again. I think these are exciting parts of your journey and not signs of failure.