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.

Relapse Toward Imbalance

Prelude to a Relapse

I knew there would likely be moments like this. Up until this point, I have been rather enthusiastic about my ability to embrace opportunities to engage in more activities on the “life” side of the work-life balance equation. With each life-oriented activity I have felt a profound sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in this journey. However, over the course of this past week, I have experienced my first relapse into work-life imbalance. Before I proceed with my tirade, let me first acknowledge my own culpability in setting the stage for this relapse to occur. As the instructor for several courses that I am teaching this semester, I have control in determining when the mid-term examinations will be administered. I scheduled the mid-term examination for one of my larger courses for last week. This by itself is not problematic. But I set myself up for a mountain of work when I made the mid-term primarily short answer and problem solving in format. There is simply no way to create shortcuts in evaluating answers to such questions. It was going to be a long week and I knew it. As if setting up all of this grading work were not enough, I also accepted a request to teach a workshop via Skype. In addition, I scheduled yet another workshop on an entirely different subject for the same day. During that same week I agreed to present my research to a group of colleagues with similar interests. As I noted, I had a hand in ensuring all of these events occurred during the same week. I could have simply said “no” or “no thanks” to any of these without fear of reprisal.

The Meltdown

Okay, so on to the tirade. First, I spent the better part of last week and much of the weekend grading the mid-term examinations. It took a lot of will-power to get through all of them. To be fair, the students did a good job. I just have trouble with repetitive tasks. I was out of gas by the time the weekend ended and I did not have much time to spend with the rest of the WLBalance family. This did not bode well for the upcoming week. So, my week began with a research meeting (fun), followed by preparation for my research presentation (fun), followed by the presentation itself (fun). Okay, work…well, fun work…sooooo…so far so good. Then that evening I handed back the mid-term examinations (an event always guaranteed to evoke disappointment among a large proportion of the student body) and taught my class. The next day, I attended a long, rather dry meeting, followed by two make-up mid-term examinations that lasted about three hours each. This meant two dinners with the WLBalance family missed in a row. Surely, things would get better over the next few days…? Nope, next day, I left early for a series of meetings and a job candidate presentation, followed by work and preparation for the two workshops I would deliver during the next day. Another late night, another family dinner missed. Next day, another early morning. A brainstorming meeting with a young colleague about our research project. Fun, but I barely got to see my family that morning. Just dropped the children off at the bus stop and then dashed off to work. Taught class, then delivered one workshop and then another over Skype. It was 11:30PM by the time I was done. Another day, another family dinner missed.

Almost two weeks of non-stop work activity at the expense of family time took its toll. There was an unmistakable tension in the air within the WLBalance household. I was significantly stressed out and in disbelief at being in this position yet again after so resolutely embarking on this work-life balance journey (for more on why I undertook this journey read here). Moreover, Mrs. WLBalance was profoundly unhappy with my repeated absences from the dinner table for

(Image: Courtesy of Twenty20)

so many nights in a row. This was a clear indication that we were beyond our equilibrium point in work-life balance. Needless to say I–nay, WE–were so glad when Friday came around. I had one meeting with another junior colleague on a different research project (I enjoy these meetings because research is the primary reason I pursued this profession). Immediately following the meeting, I came home and took a nice long bicycle ride. Then, together, the afternoon was spent celebrating a neighbor’s birthday party, followed by a dinner out with close family friends.


As I reflect on how I let things fall out of balance (yes, it was my fault), I am sensitized to the need to be mindful about scheduling my time between work and life:

  • I need to be deliberate about scheduling and defending my time on the “life” side of the equation
  • I need to look far enough ahead to be mindful of not over-scheduling my work week
  • I must hold family dinners as sacred (sure, a dinner or two may be missed once in a while; but it cannot be for days in a row)
  • I can (and often am) my own worst enemy in work-life balance; I need to keep that in mind the next time I am facing a work-related request

A relapse into work-life imbalance was sure to come at some point during this journey. It likely is not the last time either. Now that we are on the other side of the relapse, I am steadily picking up and getting back on track. Fortunately, next week is Thanksgiving. I will be able to devote several days in a row to the “life” side of the equation. That thought alone constitutes a major psychological “pick-me-up”.

Have you relapsed in your pursuit of work-life balance? How did you bounce back and continue on the journey? Please share your stories in the comments below.