Adventures in Work-Life Balance: An Odyssey

A blog about one family's adventures in striving to achieve, and then maintain, a healthy balance between work and family life.

About Us

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Who We Are

Welcome to the Adventures in Work-Life Balance blog. We are a family of four, living in Atlanta, GA. Mr. WLBalance is a teacher in higher education, Mrs. WLBalance is a part-time assistant at local private school. Our daughter WLBalance_1 and our son WLBalance_2 are currently in elementary school.

Our Story: Why This Blog

Well, the short story is that I experienced burnout in my profession. To be sure, things had been building in this direction for the past couple of years and they reached a tipping point in 2017. The Spring of 2017 was a turning point for me (Mr. WLBalance). In addition to my normal workload of teaching multiple courses and chairing various committees, I was also in the thick of organizing a major Summer conference in my discipline and spearheading an effort to hire a new addition to my department’s faculty. I had also agreed to spend my Spring break serving on a review panel for several grant applications. Already stressed out by the weight of these various responsibilities, the tipping point came when, during panel discussions of various grant proposals under review, I received several emails from my boss regarding the itinerary of one of our job candidates. Our department’s administrative assistant was supposed to have handled all of this. So there I am, sitting at a table with fellow panelists sitting next to me, my laptop in front of me, thoughts racing through my head about how I was going to handle this unexpected and unwelcome situation…all the while chiming in about the strengths and weaknesses of the grant proposal under discussion. I swear I did not script this. And yes, it actually happened. Several emails to the administrative assistant of my department—to determine in which hotel the job candidate would be staying—went unanswered. A knot formed in the pit of my stomach as I frantically scrambled to discover where the job candidate would be staying and attempting to finalize the itinerary while simultaneously participating the live discussion of grant proposals. Did I mention that this was totally unscripted? After additional unanswered emails, I finally resorted to asking the job candidate if they had received any information about where they would be staying during the interview (yes, I was pretty desperate at this point). That knot in my stomach tightened further when the job candidate responded that no such information had been given.

Several thoughts raced through my head. Had no booking been made? Where would I take the job candidate upon arrival (I was scheduled to fly back to Atlanta that Sunday and would pick the candidate up from the airport about two hours after my arrival)? Would I have time to make a reservation for the job candidate myself (the answer was an emphatic “no”)? What to do? I reached out to my boss to inform him that I had no information on where the job candidate would be staying and, therefore, could not finalize the itinerary. My boss proceeded to call each of the hotels in which we normally put up visitors, until we found where the booking had been made. It turned out that the administrative assistant had made the booking but had not informed anyone, including the job candidate. Moreover, the administrative assistant decided not to check any email until after the Spring break. Needless to say, this was certainly not how I had envisioned spending my Spring break. Nevertheless, I breathed a sigh of relief as a catastrophe had been averted. Or so I thought…

The week before Spring break, I made a room reservation for the job candidate’s job presentation. So, on the day after Spring break (which was also the day of the job candidate’s presentation), I decided to double-check to make sure we had the room. Sure enough, my worst fear had been realized. My request had not gone through. We had no room for the job candidate’s presentation. I could not make this stuff up if I tried. After some running around (literally) I was finally able to secure a room for the morning presentation.

The rest of the job candidate’s visit went off without a hitch and not a single person within my department was any wiser about the catastrophes that had been averted or how close we came to an embarrassing episode for the department. As I reflected on all of this in the immediate aftermath of the job candidate’s visit, I was upset with everyone but myself for how things had unfolded. Disaster was imminent and I had flown in like a superhero and saved the day. Nobody knew or understood what I had gone through to pull off this job candidate’s visit (including disrupting my Spring break plans and running interference in the midst of a live discussion of grant proposals). But then a funny thing happened as I thought more critically about how I had gotten to this point. I realized that, at any point prior to this, I could have said “no” to having any of these things on my plate. I could have said “no” to the invitation to organize this conference. I could have said “no” to the invitation to participate on the grant proposal review panel (and instead enjoyed a lovely Spring break with the rest of the WLBalance family), and I could have said “no” to the request to lead the hiring effort for our open faculty position. I was already doing enough for the department, so I could have legitimately said “no” without feeling like I was not pulling my weight. And yet, in each of these cases, I had made a conscious decision to say “yes”.

As I thought about this more broadly, I realized that the activities on which I was spending much of my time were way out of sync with the activities I value most. I value spending time with the WLBalance family and yet I was spending more time at work (during and after hours) than with them. I value physical activity (e.g., running and cycling) and yet much of my time was spent sitting at a desk. I value doing research, analyzing data, and writing research articles and yet I was spending more time serving and attending meetings on one committee or another. I was earning more than enough money and, by all measures, was achieving tremendous success; and yet I was finding myself deeply dissatisfied and highly stressed out. In fact, I suspect I had started to reach the point of burnout (more on this in a later blog post). With this realization, I resolved to take control of my time and to devote my energy to the things I value most, even if that meant potentially less earnings.

Why Now is the Perfect Time

Why did I decide to write this blog and why now? Well, there are several reasons. First, I enjoy writing. I may not necessarily be great at it, but I certainly enjoy it as an activity. I perform a fair bit of academic writing of scientific articles for a living. It is nice to be able to devote that skillset to non-academic pursuits as well.

Second, it is an ideal time to test just how well this journey toward achieving work-life balance is going to work out. Mrs. WLBalance has started a new job, while also taking courses for her long-term career aspirations. This leaves ample opportunity for us to share in the running of the household. This is also the first time that both WLBalance_1 and WLBalance_2 will have some kind of weekly after school activity. This leaves plenty to be managed on the “life” side of the equation. On the “work” side, in addition to my normal day-to-day academic responsibilities, I am teaching three different courses (which is plenty for an academic who is research active). I figure that, if I can establish and manage the balance under these conditions, then I should be in a great position to sustain it under normal conditions.

What this Blog is About

The primary purpose of this blog is for me to chronicle my journey in achieving and maintaining balance in my present life. I have spent the better part of the past decade overly focused on the “work” side of the equation to the near neglect of the “life” side. Every person has a different equilibrium point in the work-life balance equation. As I stated earlier, I recognized that mine was out of balance when burnout hit me like a ton of bricks. The person looking back at me in the mirror was responsible for my getting to the point of burnout. That same person in the mirror had the power to get me out of the imbalance between “work” and “life”. I figured that if I am to take control, now is as good a time as any to begin bringing balance back to the equation by giving the “life” side its due attention.

In chronicling this journey, I do not claim to have any of the answers. I can only share what I have tried and how it has worked for our family. My hope is that by chronicling this process, it can offer some insights to others about what they might try and what they might avoid in their own journeys. At the very least it should hopefully be entertaining as I detail my missteps (of which I anticipate there will be many).

Another, long-term, reason for this blog is that in my self-reflection I recalled a few life goals that I identified in my youth. Now, decades later, I still hold some of those goals dearly. Unless I take concrete steps, those goals will never be realized. Therefore, I have decided to also chronicle my journey toward achieving those long-term goals. Succeed or fail, the record will be there for all to see. I will detail the goals in a future blog post.

 

The Pivot toward “Life” in Work-life Balance

So, I have summarized my motivation for embarking on this journey. I am fully aware that it will be an ongoing challenge of achieving and maintaining balance rather than a goal that is achieved and soon forgotten. At certain moments in time things may swing more toward the “life” and at others more towards the “work” side. During these moments, I will be sure to share how I am experiencing those shifts and what, if anything, I am doing to return to equilibrium. I also recognize that the equilibrium itself shifts for each person depending on the specific pasture of life one is traversing.

Where are you in your own work-life balance journey? What prompted you to embark on this journey? Was it a discrete event or moment in life? Are you one of the fortunate few who has always had it together? How did you start your journey? Please feel free to share with us in the comments below.