By Rachel Luckenbill, Instructional Consultant for TAs at the Center for Teaching Excellence and English PhD Candidate, Duquesne University
Like most of you, I’m in the midst of attempting an impressive balancing act. I’m two years into writing my dissertation, working hard to finish within the next year while presenting at conferences and attempting to prepare an article manuscript for review by a scholarly journal. I have a graduate assistantship at the Center for Teaching Excellence. I’m beginning to prepare job materials since I’ll be on the academic market this coming fall. I’m a newlywed, approaching the four month anniversary and appreciating every day with my husband but realizing that balancing two schedules instead of just one is quite a feat. And then there are the “extracurriculars” that help keep life full and interesting: I play piano for my church, spend time with my adorable two-year-old goddaughter, volunteer, read books, exercise, cook, paint, and more.
Time. There is never enough of it to do all the things that I want and need to do.
Two weeks ago, I facilitated a faculty/graduate student workshop at Duquesne University called “Keeping Work/Life Balance Alive.” I found the perspective and advice offered by our four panelists to be realistic, encouraging, and useful. So in today’s post I want to share with you highlights from the workshop in the hope that you will feel better equipped to approach your busy over-full days peacefully and mindfully.
I structured the workshop in response to a December 9, 2014 CNN article titled “Work – Life Balance Is Dead” by Ron Friedman. Friedman questions the value of trying to keep work and personal life separate from one another in an age when we have the option of being always connected to technology. He writes, “We can bemoan the blending of our professional and personal lives, or alternatively, we can look for innovative solutions . . . Workplace flexibility has been linked with a host of positive well-being outcomes, including higher job satisfaction, lower stress, and reduced work-family conflict.” Not everyone has workplace flexibility, but academics often do. I asked participants in the workshop to begin by writing in response to the prompt, “In my life, achieving work/life balance means . . .” so that each person would have a chance to articulate for themselves whether balance means separation, integration or some combination of the two. Following the writing exercise, the four panelists spoke. Here are some of the highlights:
- Dr. Heather Rusiewicz from Speech-Language Pathology embraces the blending of work and personal life. Her energetic young children often provide apt examples of speech development and she’s thankful for students who enjoy babysitting. She has also sought out quiet places where she can focus intently on work, increasing productivity and freeing her mind for time with family. Heather reminded everyone that loving what you have and being grateful is key to finding a sense of balance and peace in the midst of a busy life.
- Dr. Ira Buckner from Pharmaceutics tries his hardest not to multitask and prefers to keep some sense of separation between work life and personal life. He recommended that faculty and TAs identify their limits for each task they have. What tasks require excellence, and for which ones is “good enough” sufficient? He recognizes that requiring excellence of yourself for every single task often leads to burnout and a lack of balance between work and personal life.
- Dr. Sarah Wright from English underscored the importance of “dedicated” work time and “dedicated” personal time. She also called our attention to the importance of daydreaming. Some of the workshop participants talked about feeling guilty if they weren’t always working, but Sarah presented research which suggests that daydreaming and sleeping make our minds more productive. It’s not just okay to rest; it’s good to rest.
- Dr. Benjamin Burkholder represented both a graduate student and parent perspective. He pointed out that the flexibility of an academic schedule can actually facilitate time with family. When writing his dissertation, Ben would wake up two hours earlier than his daughter so that he could put in solid focused work time and then be completely free to be with family without feeling like the two were competing. He also offered the welcome reminder that taking a day off every now and then doesn’t just help a person relax, it can help a scholar be more mentally productive.
I walked away from the workshop with a sense of relief. Whether balance means building a protective barrier between work and personal life or whether it means deliberately integrating the two, it is possible to find a balance that is meaningful for your own experience. But it takes letting go of the myths which so often persist in academia that those who are most productive are always working or that perfectionism always leads to higher-quality work. So join me today in taking some time to daydream, to sip a cup of tea while listening to the birds, and to get that extra hour of sleep instead of staying up to try and write one more page or finish grading one more exam. The work you do tomorrow may very well depend upon the rest you take today.