Thursday, August 15, 2019

Just Plain Life Balance

Working in a garden is peaceful, fun, and productive

            In 2016 when I received the ALS diagnosis, people said to me, “Great! Now you can retire.”  Their well-meaning sentiments were influenced, probably, by the fact that work is something that is slightly onerous to them and to be avoided. If you have enough money to retire, why not? There are others in my life—usually research scientists like myself—who are still in the “game” even in their mid- to late seventies. They understood that I needed to decide for myself when it was time to close down a career that I’ve loved for more than 40 years. After a lifetime of go-go-go, its not easy, and we haven’t learned how to slow down and turn off our work.
            For scientists and academics who work with their creative sides most days, the division between work and not-work is blurred. This is most often referred to as work-life balance. I submit that it’s better to think of this as life balance. Many younger scientists have written to me recently intrigued by my stories of being a mom and a wife and even a woman, as well as a scientist. How did I manage this fairly successfully over the years?
Embrace the holidays!
            Don’t be afraid to be the Captain of your own Ship. Others can make you feel like you aren’t good enough or don’t work hard enough. This should be for you to decide. Although I worked a 50+-hour workweek for the majority of my career, I also took off completely for holidays, soccer games, and physical exercise. The short times away really don’t matter in the long run, because they serve to refresh your life—and maintain important balance.
            I have a couple friends who, even in their sixties, always tell us when I ask how they’re doing answer, “Out of control!” They both work 60+ hours a week, and really aren’t enjoying the effort all that much, because their work stems more from obligation than joy. More time spent working doesn’t necessarily mean you get more done that matters. All of us know folks who work themselves ragged, but never seem to submit the paper or make the revisions to get it published.
            Other friends, both science professors married to each other, have made a rule that one or the other of them came home to greet their children when they got off the school bus at 3:30 pm. A look at their productivity and accomplishments shows that although they may have had a longer “lag phase” in their early, baby years, they quickly made up for the “lost” time when the kids reached elementary school. The upside of a system like this is that because they negotiated life balance for their married life, they’ve developed a robust system for dealing with future life and career challenges.
            When asked, my husband attributed his life balance to the fact that he chose to remain in a job that gave him freedom to do what he deemed was important. No one wants a boss or supervisor breathing down your neck, telling you what to do. The other aspect of his life balance was to remain in a job that was not stressful. If there was stress, it was self imposed, not external. Not everyone is that fortunate, however, but it’s something to consider when making life choices.
            Some of my best ideas have come from times when I’m not at my desk or the laboratory. They occur when I might be relaxed, maybe even with a beer or two, when my brain eases up from the day-to-day “work” that makes life difficult. Control of your life, if you can get it, and freedom to do what you love, if you plan things and chose the right path, should ultimately lead to life balance—a combination of what you get paid for and what you don’t.

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