Life in academia is lonely. The social-scientist/academic’s work-life revolves around creating new knowledge, generating nuanced understandings of social systems and communication, producing and or critiquing theories of behavior and relations. It is lonely because the academic sees something others don’t. We have ideas that most of our acquaintances do not understand or can’t understand without first reading a tome of context into the topic. We have magical revelations, but few to share them with.
I’ve been getting questions lately about how I’m managing to ‘balance’ my life as a working mother with chronic illness. So, I am taking a brief moment to share something that not only makes every Monday more bearable, but that has really changed my feelings of academic isolation.
Every Monday for the last 6 weeks, I have been meeting with a friend and fellow Ph.D. candidate to discuss the progress we have been making on our dissertations. We also discuss our non-dissertation work responsibilities, hobbies, manuscripts in progress, and the like.
Writing a dissertation is no joke. There are a million little steps involved and it is damn difficult to keep everything straight. During our meetings, we chat about the tough stuff, and then we make a plan for the week. We check each other.
In our meeting today, my friend said,
“Can I be realistic here? This is what it sounds like you’re saying…
…maybe take a break from dissertation stuff this week?”
We joke a lot and nervously giggle about the ridiculousness of the lives in academia we have chosen, sometimes unapologetically questioning “what is the point?”
I don’t think I realized how much I was in need of a friend who was aware of what I was doing on a regular basis. I didn’t realize how much balance would come from simply knowing that someone sees my work.
And right now in my life, when someone sees my work, it feels like they see me.
Today at the end of our call, we ended up picking mascots. She is a banana slug, and I, a walrus slug. I can’t even remember why. But it was fun laughing about it and now I feel more prepared to (even if sluggishly) do the tasks I need to complete this week.
For the first time, I am looking at the work-life balance not as something to accomplish, but something to share. Maybe it isn’t about what you do, but how you do it, and whom you do it with.
Sharing about specific work-related issues and goals isn’t the only factor involved in the concept of the work-life balance, but it certainly is a big one.
And today I’m feeling like a lucky bug because I have someone to share it with.