Sunday, February 05, 2006

Balancing work and life

It's nice to know what I want in life, at least for the moment. And it's good to have a truly supportive partner for a wife. We were talking about careers lately. She's a professional, in a field that happens to be more lucrative and more in demand than academia. But she's not wedded to her career (well, in fact, she's wedded to me).

Several years ago (before I went back to school for the PhD) she was miserable in her work. She had gone into her field in part out of idealism. She felt that she'd be able to help change the world for the better. A good reason to get into any field, I warrant. The reality of her first job out of grad school however was a shock to her. It was boring her, and seemed to have little connection with the greater good. She considered various alternatives.

She was ready for a change, and pushed me to go back to school, to follow my passions. The timing was good. Once the move became reality for her however she decided to take a conservative route. As she put it, so much in our lives was already changing; maybe she should stick with her field. She had experience in it; she did it well; and it paid better than most other things she was interested in. As it turned out, the new job and the new company were quite different from the first. She was no longer bored. And she felt genuinely appreciated, not only by her coworkers (which were wonderful even at her old job) but also by the company itself.

Then we had our first son. That only added to her degree of satisfaction in life. She was happy at work, but realized she didn't need to expect her job to fulfill all of her life's goals. And, while it's not exactly what she had envisioned as a young undergrad going into the field, the work she does does have a positive impact on society at large. I'm proud of her.

So it is difficult at times when I consider that pursuing two careers sometimes requires compromise. I hope against hope that we will eventually find one geographic region where we can both pursue our careers, and not have to sacrifice our family life. But that time may not come immediately.

I mentioned last week this post in the UK that I was pretty excited to apply for. It would be a good career move for me, but I was concerned about the prospects for her. With a spouse and children, you have to consider these things even before applying! (Nicely, there is work in her area in that region, but who knows how much in demand her expertise might be.) She said, she was eager to get through the current project for which she has lead responsibility. But after that, she'd be game to play trailing spouse for a little while. So, we'll take each step as it comes.

There are certain restrictions to what sort of job I'm willing to take. I'm not going to move the family for something I'm iffy about. If I am to take a chance on a gig, or take on a one-year post somewhere, I've got to make sure it's commutable, either within driving distance, or somewhere I could fly to, spending 3-4 days per week away, and the remaining time at home. If it's somewhere we have relatives, then the boys can come with me on alternate weeks. Not ideal, but reality.

I think one of the problems for academics is that sometimes it is hard to distinguish work from life. It is a skill I feel a need to cultivate. I've mentioned before how I reject the common advice that one should pursue a given path only if it's the one thing that could make you happy. There are many things one can do to make a living.

But life... see, I am a thinker. My eyes sparkle (so my wife tells me) and my heart races, and I happily spend sleepless nights thinking about certain things, coming up with new research projects, drafting grant proposals, reading books and articles, cursing and praising what I read, with the same vigor that most men talk about sports plays. I shine when I talk to people about it, whether it's one on one at a party, or in front of a classroom, or giving an invited lecture or conference talk. I truly truly love that work. I can't say that becoming a professor is the only thing I could do (I'm too much of a realist to pin my hat on an uncertain hope), but I'm not sure I'd ever be properly myself, or genuinely happy in life if I couldn't pursue my work.


trillwing said...

I think we're living parallel lives. (Then again, I also believe my husband is secretly blogging as Professor Bastard.) Seriously--we seem to have had the same rites of passage, right down to successful spouses and writing reflective poetry w/nature metaphors while living in the Midwest and then moving to California. The only difference is you're a year or two ahead of me.

So I'm counting on you to be successful. You must show me the way to find that elusive work-life balance, that dream job. No pressure or anything, but I'll be watching carefully. ;)

ArticulateDad said...

Thanks for the push. No pressure, eh? I'll keep looking ahead, and let you know how it turns out, and along the way . (But I'll be reading your blog too, just in case I can steal any inspiration.)