Work Hard Play Hard

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Earlier in the academic year I was asked to give a seminar to our graduate students and early career staff on the topic of ‘work-life balance.’ When I told my lab this, they all laughed, confirming my own mystification as to why I was chosen to do this.

Having been asked to speak on this subject though has made me think very hard. What does work-life balance actually mean? Do I actually have good balance in my own life? And can I impart anything useful to junior colleagues?

After pondering this topic for a considerable time, I came to a few conclusions. First, I decided the title was all wrong. When I think about my career, balance is not the image that comes to mind, it’s much more like a rollercoaster. There are periods of relative calm and balance, but these are punctuated by exhilarating highs and sometimes punishing lows.

The other thing I realised is that work-life balance is not something I have, but is something that I am pretty much always working on. Sometimes I feel pretty sorted, other times far less so. And what I consider balance may be quite different to what others can live with. Each person needs to find their own path.

Finally, I thought perhaps the most important message to get across was that getting work-life balance is all about choice and compromise. I’ve learned that it really is impossible to ‘have it all’ but entirely possible to have a good compromise that results in a satisfying career and a happy home life.

How best to convey this? Well, as the seminar was aimed at students and early career folk I tried to remember what I most wanted to know back then. And what I wanted to know was how do successful people manage things? How hard are they really working? Do they ever have any fun? So what I did was put together a short story of how I got to where I am now, from my early days as a carefree speech-language therapist to my current role as Professor running a big research programme, teaching and enjoying motherhood. My lovely husband Ray has been with me for that entire journey and has been hugely supportive of my career. If there is any balance it is largely thanks to him.

A few caveats –my PhD student Charlotte thought it would make things more entertaining to include photos of myself at different stages of my career. There is far too much text on the slides but hopefully this means other people will be able to follow it. And the thought bubbles around Dorothy Bishop’s head are my thoughts, not hers. I thank her as always for teaching me so many useful things (including how to punt) and for continuing to be a great mentor.

In the end, not many people came to the seminar – they were all too busy working! But I thought I would post the slides, in case anyone does find it useful. I also thought posting this would be a good opportunity to ask other people how they juggle work and home, and what are your (loose) rules for maintaining a healthy perspective? Answers on a postcard please (or leave a comment below).

Seminar: work-life balance

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