Reflections on Work/Life/School Balance

Note: I originally wrote this piece for a guest column on gradhacker during their parenting week, but they were full up on submissions, so it’s going on ze dadblog instead.

Think work life balance is tough?  Try adding a full-time doctoral program to the mix.

PRE-EDIT: Having read through this piece now in draft form, it occurs to me how much my privilege comes in to play here.  I am fortunate in that I grew up with many opportunities and access to education, a roof over my head, and today, as a man, I can make family choices without jeopardizing my career or being questioned.  I also work in a white-collar job that encourages me to pursue a terminal degree, and offers benefits and flexibility to take care of other things that matter to me.  I realize that many may not be in such positions, but the spirit is nonetheless important.

Goofy faces with Thing 1.

I have a confession to make: I’m spread too thin.  I have a wife who is currently putting her career on hold to raise our two daughters through elementary school age.  I work as staff 40+ hours a week for one of the largest university systems in the US.  Oh, and I’m enrolled full time in an Ed.D. program.  Not to mention the fact that I have other miscellaneous commitments.  This is no accident.  I have a bad habit of saying “yes.”  I guess you could say I’m a sucker for just about any opportunity to help others.  I’ve actually reached the point where my wife literally sat me down and told me that I had to begin refusing new commitments. Call it an intervention.  Helping others should not come at the expense of being unable to help my wife.

I recently read a post via LinkedIn calling into question the whole concept of work life balance.  The author suggested that when you prioritize work and “life”, the two bleed into one another coloring and potentially enhancing both experiences.  While I think the general concept of work/life balance is still something to which most of us aspire, it was comforting to reflect on the fact that I don’t have to fully shift gears to be effective as I jump from one responsibility to the next.  Of course, not everyone is as accommodating or as understanding as the people in my life.  I am indeed fortunate.  Drawing a line in the sand can and does help, however, and here’s the crux of it:

Deep into my second year of my Ed.D. program I can safely announce that while I haven’t figured it all out, I’ve developed a solid foundation with which to prioritize my commitments.

1. Family
2. Work
3. School
4. Friends
5. Everything else

Family comes first.  Everyone in my life knows this.  From day one at work and to orientation in my ed. doc program I have talked up my wife and kids like they’re my universe because they are.  If my family life is in disarray, you can believe the rest of the list quickly becomes impossible to manage.  When others understand this priority, it enables me to be present at the times when it matters most without being questioned or criticized (directly, at least).

QP Beard

Growing a beard means 10 minutes extra (of helping the kids get ready) per day!

I often joke among my cohort mates that while I can afford a “B” grade or to delay an assignment or miss a class, I can’t afford to do “B” quality work on the job.  As a result work naturally rises to the near top.  I am fortunate in that early on in my career I made a decision to more or less leave work at work.  Perhaps as I rise through the ranks this may change out of necessity, but for now, when I get to school or home, I’m able to focus and be present in the moment.  In fact, I’ve even made sure to turn work email access off on my smartphone.  Few of my responsibilities are so urgent that they can’t wait until I return to the office.

School is third on my priority list.  That’s not to say school is unimportant, but without my job, or my family, school is virtually impossible, so I take care of the other two before I focus on my studies.  I feel like this is oversimplifying it, but I can admit openly and fully that at this level in my studies, I’m okay with not always turning in my best work.  This is a journey and a process, and I can differentiate the means from the ends.  I suppose it’s a good thing I was never a straight A student to begin with, so I entered my terminal studies with reasonable expectations of my own performance.

Class projects oh my.

Everything else including friends, hobbies, and volunteering just sort of pile up on the wayside.  I get to them as time permits, but there simply isn’t room in the day for everything.  I’ve accepted that other commitments such as membership on committees, adult league softball, guys nights out, while important for nurturing the corer of who I am.

The majority of what makes it possible for me to do so much is having an amazing partner.

A supportive partner is a must.

A supportive partner is a must.

There was a great article that made the rounds a couple of weeks ago that talked about why stay at home parents were a luxury for traditional working ones, and it ever rings true.  Without my wife staying at home, a whole host of regular activities would be near impossible: business travel, marathon reading/writing sessions, office hours appointments, professional development opportunities, and other miscellaneous activities that draw me away from the house.

What’s your line in the sand and how will you draw it?


About AmateurParent

I'm just a guy.
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