The infamous work-life balance and mentors

I just got back from a week long trip with my family. We drove down to Florida and back visiting Disney along the way. It was chaotic, exhausting, and wonderful.

Over the next month, I will be traveling a great deal for work. I enjoy getting to see other universities and building new collaborations, but I hate being away from my family. One of the big reasons I moved to this area was so I could go to study section and the like without having to fly.

During the Spring, I also teach at 8:30 in the morning which means I cannot do drop off. It also means that if my son wants to cuddle in the morning, one of our favorite things, he has to get up early. He does like clockwork because it matters to him.

There are also a lot of meetings in the Spring. AIMBE, SfB, ACS. I skip them to be home with my family.

In the meantime, I wonder what I’m missing. Will the world of science still be there when I go to those meetings again? Will anyone care about the work my lab is doing? Will it matter?

I think we’re doing incredibly important work, but it can be easy to convince myself otherwise. We don’t get a lot of accolades. Grant reviews are often incredibly brutal, and we still haven’t licenced a therapy after a long and intense number of years.

Like so many people, I feel guilty for being away from work, for traveling, for being away from my family, and I wonder most of the time whether or not I’m doing what I need to do to make the world better.

In the midst of this, I received an email from a colleague who apologized for not being available when I come to visit in the next few weeks. I told her I completely understood, no worries. She asked if I would be at one of the meetings I am skipping, and I apologized and said no. She wrote back to say that she’s trying to back off on obligations to spend more time with her family. She’s the head or chair of so many things, and she’s phenomenal at it. Hearing her say that she was going to make more time for her family gave me the space to breathe and feel better, for a small moment in time, about it. It was a huge, incredible gift. She has always been an incredible mentor, but she was never more incredible than in that moment.

The trip was wonderful. I think I’m more tired after it than before, but for 7 days, I spend every day and every evening with my son. We held hands, hunted for adventures, and snuggled. I’m looking forward to getting back to my lab and our work. I’m guessing my group enjoyed a few days off, too. I hope so.

There is no real balance, but I hope I can learn to appreciate the choices I make and at least push the worry about it to the side whether I’m in lab, visiting colleagues, mentoring people, or on holiday. I hope so. I also hope that I can help others to put aside the anxiety and do the best they can without guilt or insanity.