Warning: This is a super long post. I’ve put a lot of thought into it and although I realize it isn’t directly debt-related, I think its highly relevant, as it discusses the importance of finding balance between work and the rest of life, broadly defined. Time is finite, so extending hours in one area necessarily means cutting back in another. This has a big impact on income, finances, and budgeting. So grab a snack and prepare for a monster post. If you only want super debt-related posts, check back this afternoon and I promise to have something more relevant for your interests. Thank you!
The work-family-friends-personal time-life balance is such an elusive thing. Over the years I’ve read lots of articles about how to “have it all,” so to speak. And the main thing I think I’ve taken from the things I’ve read is that “having it all” is a total myth. You simply can’t have it all. No one can.
Former-BAD-blogger, Adam, pointed me toward this article that goes into more depth about the choices we have to make between work and family, and the sacrifices that are inherent in those choices.
When I graduated with my Ph.D. I had a mentor (who happened to be a female, late 30s, no children) who highly recommend that I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I checked it out from the library and was excited to dive in. The book had won all kinds of awards and the author has quite a successful business career (current COO of Facebook, former VP of online sales and operations at Google, former chief of staff for the US Secretary of Treasury). I thought the book would be empowering – motivating me to launch my career and be the strong academic professional I’d always dreamed of being. It didn’t. In fact, it did the opposite.
Let’s back up. You don’t know this about me, but I was a bit of a rock star in academia in my early graduate schooling years (*insert mental image of me brushing my shoulders off*). I routinely worked long hours and was proud of the fact that I was often the first one in, last one to leave nearly every day. I practically lived at the office. I’d keep a gym bag and take an hour break in the evening to have dinner, work out, and return to work. I decorated my office with pictures and plants and flowers and made it a lovely work environment. During this time I also killed it professionally speaking. I attended all the conferences, organized symposia, met all the big wigs in the field, and even forged many professional friendships over drinks. I published a lot. My first first-author publication was accepted in my first year of my doctoral program (nearly unheard of). I published often. I was a work-horse. And all this time I pushed myself because I wanted to buy myself options. I wanted to be the best so that, when I was done with graduate school, I would be competitive enough to land a job and slow down to a more realistic and sustainable pace.
Of course, that’s not how things went. In the second semester of my third year of my Ph.D. program (out of 4 years total), I got pregnant. Maybe it was the hormones. Maybe it was just a big wake-up call. But I looked around and all I saw was misery. Looking at the faculty, I noticed that only the males had children. Any females who had children had come to academia much later in life (they were not in academia when they had their kids). Most of the women in my department didn’t even have children and had no desire to have any. They slaved away day and night. Though I was physically at the office the longest they, too, were always working. I could send an email at 10pm or 6am and always get near-instant replies. This. This was their life.
A mentor invited me to a party he was throwing to celebrate he and his wife’s 25th wedding anniversary. It was a beautiful party. Toward the end, there were toasts. His son, 17, stood and took the microphone. He toasted his Dad, saying that his father was the smartest man he knew. His father (my mentor), beamed with pride.
I felt sick.
Is this seriously the best thing your son can think of to say about you? That you are brilliant? Do I want my kids to grow up and commend me on my intellect? Is that the end-goal in life???
Not for me.
I want to side-note to say that we are all free to make our choices and I do not look down on or condemn anyone for making the choice to throw yourselves into work with all your passion. That’s your right, and someone has to do it. I don’t want to vilify anyone for their choices or the sacrifices they must make along the way to achieve their goals. Also, one commenter pointed out that working long hours is not always a choice at all, but rather an economic necessity. Let’s be sensitive to others’ views. It is not my intent to degrade anyone by this post. I’m talking only about myself.
Back to the book Lean In.
One of Sandberg’s main messages in the books is that many women, upon getting pregnant, start leaning out of their job. She calls it “leaving before you leave” (as in, maternity leave). She argues that by leaning out, women are crippling their careers. If they would just lean in, then they’ll be in a better position to come back to work and hit the ground running once their maternity leave is over. Of course, Sandberg also talked about how she was working even from the hospital room immediately after having her kids. Although she didn’t jump right back full-time, she’d go to the occasional meeting and was working throughout her maternity “leave.”
That’s not what I wanted for myself.
When I was pregnant, I started looking around me and realized how unhappy and miserable basically everyone was. There was no “break” that came after landing a position. Then you work like crazy to get promotions, then tenure, and then grants, and so on (keep in mind, I attended a Research-1 university, so experiences are very different from a teaching-oriented university or even a smaller, lower tier research school).
One thing I learned about academia: The only thing between you and success? Time investment.
My peers and I were taught to invest heavily.
Want to know why I went into academia? I wanted to be a professor. I love to teach and I love the college-age, so I thought teaching them (instead of primary or secondary schools), would be the best! I also thought the hours seemed pretty incredible. In my own undergraduate experience it seemed as though professors traipsed into campus to teach their classes, hang out a bit for office hours, and then went home. They worked, what, like 5 hours a day? And summers off! A dream job for a Mom (which I always knew I wanted to be one day). Oh, how naïve and uninformed that undergraduate-version-of-myself was!
So when I got pregnant, I leaned out. Way, way out. This was when the honey badger videos were everywhere. My new motto: Honey badger don’t care! I cut back to a bare minimum of work just to get by. Even that work was typically done sub-par. I skated by on the fact that I knew I could. People knew I was a hard worker and was having kids. They’d cut me some slack. And they did.
And now here I am.
So what does “balance” look like for me?
I loved this article I read about a year or so ago (I googled my heart out and, for the life of me, cannot find it and do not recall the author – if you find it, please leave a comment so I can link to give credit!) Instead of the same, depressing message that you can’t have it all, the author took a different perspective. Of course you can have it all…just not all at once. There are different seasons in life. Four years ago my season was butt-kicking in academia and being an avid runner. I was competing in races and killing it professionally.
Fast forward four years and today I’m focused on debt-reduction. I’m also making time to bake again (something I once loved to do and forgot all about during my graduate school years), and spending time with my
babiestoddlers. I put a lot of effort into enriching my girls’ lives, be it through attending story time at the local library, making homemade experiments at home, or simply burning off energy playing at the local park. I’m also trying to balance as much work as I possibly can and make money so I can pay down our debt as quickly as possible. This is my reality today.
Where will I be four years from now? I suppose only time will tell. But I can give you a guess.
My hope is to be working full-time again. My ideal would be to work at a teaching-based university (so I can still have a strong focus on my family, but would be working a full-time position – a nice balance to the two). Even if I never land that coveted professor position I could still teach at a community college and keep increasing my online teaching portfolio for extra income. I want to own a home. Preferably back in Austin by family. I want to have a garden where I learn to grow beautiful flowers and fresh fruits and vegetables. I will still strive to be the best Mom I can be, but I’ll have more flexibility, as my girls will be older. They can work beside me in the garden and I can teach them the things I have learned. I won’t feel guilty for working outside the home because they’ll be in school during the day anyway. It’s a win-win.
Hopefully four years from now we’ll be nearly debt-free (aside from the house I hope to have purchased). A week ago I mentioned that if we kept our nose-to-the-grind we’d be debt free in 2-3 years. So why don’t I say that we’ll 100% for sure be debt free 4 years from now?
It’s a new season, my friends.
This is something I’ve thought a lot about. Even in my very first introductory post, I mentioned how I long to own a home. It’s something hubs and I have talked a lot about.
So, although there’s no telling what the future may hold, I’m thinking we will slow down our debt-reduction goals within the next year. Right now my plan is to continue throwing 100% of extra income toward the car debt, and then possibly to keep on until the license fees and highest APR student loans are gone. But at some point, we’re going to let up. Instead of putting all our extra money toward student loans, we’ll be splitting the cause between student loan repayment and savings for a house. I don’t know when that will be. I don’t even know what my job will look like this time next year (remember, I’m still on the job market and could miraculously land a position at any time which may or may not cause us to move). But this is my balance. Today = full steam ahead on debt reduction. At some point next year…..half and half between debt-reduction and saving for a down payment for a home.
I wanted to be open, honest, and transparent in my hopes, dreams and goals. They may affect the future of me blogging, or stopping blogging, depending on the “season” of life.
But right now I’m living in the moment, and at this moment in time I’m on a race to 20K. So buckle, up this train is going full steam ahead. Choo Choooooo!!!!!
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