Zurich’s Taffy Jo Mayers lets her faith and her faithful lab outweigh the BlackBerry

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From checking email in bed to conferencing behind the stroller, work-life balance can be a struggle. We’re asking Chicago business leaders how they fit their careers in with everything else. Welcome to “Day in the Work/Life.”

As Zurich North America’s regional sales director for the Midwest, Taffy Jo Mayers’ job keeps her running around. To squeeze in the things she finds most important — women’s issues, involvement in her church and her dog, Bella — Mayers has learned how to juggle. And to get up really, really early.

Mayers shames the rooster when she sets her alarm at 4 a.m., and she greets the dark with 45 minutes of self-reflection and meditation. “I make no apologies for being a person of faith,” she says. “I start my day with that in mind.”

With her head screwed on straight, she packs in a power breakfast and takes her black lab to the beach or to the park. “Bella really does dictate most of my decisions,” she says. “I don’t have kids, but I have this creature that I’m responsible for.”

Once her pup’s tuckered out, Mayers packs up and heads to the East Bank Club to hop in the rat race of her own. “A couple of the brokers I work with, we’ll sit on the opposite sides of the room in a spin class and we’ll challenge each other and race each other.”

Astonishingly, post-workout is the first time Mayers will reach for her BlackBerry. “I don’t want my personal time to be thrown off by what’s happening at work,” she says. “The work will be there. It won’t get done as effectively if I’m not healthy.”

Mayers then speeds over to Zurich’s West Loop office — on foot if she has the time, or in a cab when things are tight — and dives right into phone calls, sales meetings and making plans for Zurich’s Thought Leadership events. Her days are often paced by meetings with women she mentors through her church. Recently, Mayers wanted to fit in a chinwag with a mentee but had to hoof it across town to a broker’s office. So they grabbed coffee and walked together.

“You can’t block out 30 minutes to meet with all the people you want to. So how do you get those connections to fit into your life?” she says. Answer: tweak the semantics. “I really deliberately took the word ‘but’ out of my vocabulary. And re-framed the conversations that I’m having with myself with the ‘and.’”

Mayers’ afternoon begins with another round of self-reflection with team members. “What have we accomplished today? What got us off track? What do we have to do to get back on track? Looking at metrics and numbers and coming up with a great plan, which will probably get thwarted the next day.”

Her late afternoons used to lead her to Zurich’s boxes at United Center or Soldier Field to entertain clients. Lately, though, she’s been using that time for her other obligations. “I can’t be at the United Center or the Skyline Suite every time the door’s open,” she says. “[That] gives me some time to do other things I want to do with the community.” Namely, her work with Zurich’s North America Women’s Innovation Network leadership team, which helps women advance their careers, as well as planning the annual service trip her church takes to slums in Nairobi.

When stress comes to a head, Mayers sends out an SOS text to her closest friends, whom she’s nicknamed her Board of Directors. “As a single working woman in Chicago, I don’t have the personal relationship to go home and … center me with that. I do have great family and friends to bring me back.”

Evenings are quiet time for Mayers. “I’ll sit on the roof with a good friend, a cup of coffee, a good book, Bella by my side, and just kind of go through the day, just kind of reflect and wind down and take the moment to celebrate my success in that day. Every day — no matter how bad the day was — there was always some success.”

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