August 28, 2013

The Ever-Sought, Seemingly Elusive Work-Life Balance

The Ever-Sought, Seemingly Elusive Work-Life Balance
Sara Stasik, University of Notre Dame
Kristy Benoit, Virginia Tech
(Clinical Science Vol. 15 (3): Fall, 2012)

Perhaps like many of you, I entered graduate school with a somewhat na├»ve excitement and intense motivation to get started on this academic adventure. Admittedly, I did not spend much a priori time thinking about how I would balance my school commitments and my personal life – in fact, at the time, I probably viewed them as one and the same. Quite quickly, however, I found myself amidst a sea of requirements and deadlines – proposals, defenses, clinical work, writing commitments – and it seemed the line between “work” and “life” became even more blurred, while the need for a distinction had never been more important. Over the past few years, it has been my experience that, the better I am able to balance my work and my personal life, the happier and more effective I am in each. There was a time when I would feel guilty engaging in social activities because I wasn’t working, or would have trouble concentrating on my work because I felt I was neglecting family and friends. Several things have been helpful to me in learning to balance each of these aspects of my life, at both the conceptual and behavioral level. First, I try to schedule several blocks of personal or social time each week and I commit to preserving that time only for the scheduled activity. This allows me to be fully present, without thoughts of the work I “should” be doing. Second, talking to faculty members about their journeys into their careers has been eye-opening and informative. I was encouraged to learn that professionals whom I admire also face similar work-life challenges and were not afraid to insist on balance in their own lives. Finally, as I did when I entered graduate school, I often do come back to conceptualizing my professional and my personal life as one entity. Indeed, I use both to define myself and enjoy my role in each of these domains. Of course, it is important to delineate time to dedicate to each, but I find that the more fluidity there is between how I think about myself within each domain, the easier it is to define the ways in which I can achieve an acceptable balance for myself. Certainly this is an ongoing challenge for each of us and I wish you all the best in finding your personal balance! ~Sara

I had a difficult time writing this article because they truth is, I feel that work-life balance is an ongoing struggle for me and there are many times when I feel I have it completely wrong. That being said, when I reflect back on graduate school and now the first few months of internship, I have learned a thing or two about this topic (even if I don’t always practice what I know is best!). I took an amazing grad.
class on “Work-life Balance in Academia” and one of the first things the professor talked about was the “myth” of work-life balance. The idea is that any given snapshot of your life is likely not going to show a perfect balance between the two. When internship applications are due, “work” is going to feel like it’s taking over your existence; when you are in the midst of plan-ning a wedding, “life” is going to figure more prominently in the equation. So don’t be too hard on yourself when things feel out of sync, the idea is that over time you should be work-ing to even out a balance that is constantly changing. The next thing I learned in this class was the “good enough” principle. With every-thing we have to juggle in graduate school, it is literally impossible to put as much as you would like into every endeavor. So instead of spending 6 hours prepping a lecture when I taught a class the first time, I had to set a limit of 3 hours, tell myself that it was “good enough,” and go to bed so that I was not totally exhausted the next day. The perfectionism that likely helped the major-ity of us get into graduate school, can actually become the bane of your existence in graduate school. The class also pushed me to think about how I define success in my career AND my per-sonal life. It was a sad realization that I found it very easy to delineate what career success looks like (publications, grants, etc.), but I struggled with the personal side. Once I had given both sides equal attention, I worked on goal set-ting: listing goals in both my professional and personal life for the semester, year, and next 5 years. Then I learned to create links across these categories, with the idea being that the majority of my work and personal time should be dedi-cated to short-term goals that will eventually lead to achieving my long-term goals. Finally, I would advise to keep this important issue in mind as you apply for and interview for intern-ships. Ask faculty and current interns how long a typical work week is. Can you write notes and reports from home? Do interns get together for happy hours? Best of luck in your own work-life balance journey! ~ Kristy

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