Thursday, September 24, 2009

Does balance exist?

A year or two ago I overheard two faculty members discussing the start of another busy semester.  One said to the other “Every semester I think it will get better, but it never seems to.  I find myself with just as much work, even though I vowed to cut back.”  This is a bit of a paraphrase, but you get the idea.  These were not junior faculty.  They were not disorganized faculty.  They were not unaccomplished faculty.  In fact, they were the kind of faculty I aspire to be when I grow up.  Which brings us to today’s question: is balance between work and family/life/play really possible?  The answer has to be yes, but at what cost?

Some doctors I’ve spoken with choose to prioritize their lives outside of clinical work, and often make conscious decisions to be excellent clinicians while acknowledging that they will neither be experts in their field, nor will they publish papers about their work.  They see patients, often in generalist clinics, enjoy their work, and lead happy lives.

Others, who hold both research and clinical positions, manage a small generalist clinical practice while engaging in collaborative research projects.  They are able to prioritize their lives, but often at the expense of being organized and having a sense of control over their lives.  This is my sense, at least, looking in from the outside. 

Few even manage to truly escape for a few days or a few weeks in the summer and really rest and recharge with family and friends.  Returning to the “real world” after that seems almost impossible however, and things are missed. 

Nearly everyone that I’ve talked to has struggled with balancing their work lives (whether research based, clinical, or some combination their of) with their personal lives.  The two options I’ve described above are simply two strategies for carving out time.  It’s clear to me that the hours in the day are finite, and that the opportunity costs of any choice are high.  I suppose what it comes down to in the end, however, are priorities.  Where do expertise and prestige fall in comparison to sleep?  How do children and home life compare with patients and paperwork?  What kinds of work are reimbursed in what ways, and how does that limit the choices we make?  Are there other rewards that motivate us beyond fame and fortune?  Apart from family and friends?

There is no easy answer, and I’m finding this term as difficult as any other.  What must unite us all, however, is that we keep struggling.

1 comment:

  1. I've been seeing a lot of Maslow's hierarchy of needs lately, as well as similar work stemming from it. I have been happy to see work as a need along with doing nothing explicitly recognized. Overall, the list is long and clearly some of our activities need to fill many slots in our needs list. I think this is why office work can be so draining; the sterility makes it harder to meet multiple needs at once.
    Hopefully my dream of working part time and still paying the rent, eating, traveling etc can come to pass...

    Then there is finding time to knit...