Wash U has appointed me to their work-life balance committee. It makes me a little nervous, because I’m not sure what I think about this. In my group I want the people with passion for research and for new ideas. I want the people that are always thinking about new ways of understanding social evolution. I want the people that discover cool new papers, close or far to our central questions. I want people that embrace all sides of the academic enterprise, from discovering and experimenting to mentoring, teaching, and guiding. In short, the balance I want is a passion for research and an ability to read broadly to get new ways to discover. I am not interested in people that go home at 5 or 6 and don’t think about social evolution until 8 or 9 the next morning.
Does that mean I don’t really care about balance? Perhaps. Don’t the best ideas come from passion, from tireless pursuit of a difficult and new idea? Haven’t I watched my husband cover page after page with equations, pausing for dinner, but continuing in the airport, on the plane, until late in the evening? Haven’t I seen the frustration, the many times things go poorly before they go well? Can you have that and a work-life balance? What does the term mean, anyway?
Well, we don’t work night and day. We get enough sleep. I love my garden, my birds, and my family. I love to cook. I love Italian class. So, what is the difference between balance and a lack of a work ethic? I think the answer lies in the difference between what you are doing and what you are thinking about. If your passion is social evolution, you will be thinking about it while you are doing other things. When you walk to work, you will ponder a question. While you are cutting up the squash, or picking their blossoms, you will be thinking about that paper you read in Science. When you stretch your muscles in downward dog and breathe deeply, some part of your mind will be on a rich biological treasure, whether you want it to be or not. So, you may look like you have balance. But there will be that corner of your brain that loves your research questions that never quite turns off. It’s that passion and drive that makes excellent research thrive. Even when you are not at the lab, you keep working away at least some of the time on your big ideas.
So, I guess the secret to balance is to keep thinking about research while you are doing other things. If you don’t do this, if you aren’t driven to this, then how will you shine? How will you really discover? I always tell my students that they should do what they love, for then thinking about it all the time, worrying away at complex questions will be fun. If they don’t love it, they should find an easier job that pays better, like medicine.
Where does that put me on the balance chart? Probably right in there with Cin-Ty. To my way of thinking, balance is not so important as stress avoidance. I believe in that because it is hard for a stressed mind to be creative.
A lot of other people have written about work-life balance. Maybe you’ll like what some of them say more. Here’s one from Neurotic Physiology. Here’s one from Bigger Brains. Find your own balance or lack thereof. I doubt anyone else can solve this problem for you.
- Ain’t No Such Thing As Work-Life Balance (powerofslow.wordpress.com)
- Decline Meetings Whenever Possible to Help Maintain a Work-Life Balance [Work Life Balance] (lifehacker.com)
- Should work-life balance be broached during a job interview? (business.financialpost.com)
- Work-life balance needs recognition (todayonline.com)
- Why I Don’t Believe in Work/Life Balance (eblingroup.com)