Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post from Greg Crowther.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about work-life balance — in particular, about its continuing absence from my life.
This is not a pandemic problem per se. Since the arrival of COVID-19, my young children have continued to be in the excellent care of my mother-in-law, and my job — teaching biology to undergraduates — has not changed that much. The lack of balance in my life is my fault. Or, in non-pejorative language, this is something that is within my power to change.
Again and again, I devote unusually large amounts of time to certain work-related tasks, leaving less time for sleep, exercise, family, friends, and so on. You name it, I’m neglecting it (at least intermittently).
If this lament sounds like a humblebrag, well, I don’t mean it as such. I don’t like the health-neglecting, people-neglecting version of myself, and I’m about to get professional help.
One might think that I could just decide to work less; after all, academics do not need to work 60-80 hours per week to be successful. But here’s the dilemma: the optional time-sucking tasks are ones that I greatly enjoy and would hate to give up. It’s as if my most fulfilling “hobby” is sinking lots of additional time into my favorite peripheral aspects of my job.
For example, as a biology instructor at Everett Community College (north of Seattle), I’ve been told repeatedly that I don’t need to publish anything to get tenure. Yet in February and March I poured dozens of hours into writing a pedagogy paper (now in press) because I had a good idea for improving biology tests, and I enjoy expressing myself in writing, etc. etc. The decision to write the paper seemed rational, and I don’t regret doing it, but it added greatly to the stress of transitioning to all-online teaching at the end of winter quarter and spring break.
Then last week, I spent a half-day reviewing a paper for a science education journal and another half-day creating a music video for a 13-second mnemonic song for my anatomy students. More interesting, worthwhile tasks that are not requirements of my job and that I didn’t really have time for.
I think these examples capture the situation pretty well. My strong enjoyment of teaching biology — generally a good thing — spins off, tornado-like, into side projects that I seem unable to control.
No one should feel sorry for me for having a life in which I choose (more or less) to fritter away my time on such things. All the same, the problem is real; I’ve been living with it for years.
As I head into therapy, I’d welcome any thoughts that others have on staying on the right side of the line between healthy devotion and unhealthy obsession.