Saturday, October 11, 2014

Those two things

A few years ago, as I was near the end of my graduate training, I had a rare conversation about finding balance in life with my graduate mentor. The conversation was sparked by a group of graduate students and postdocs meeting with a speaker who was visiting to talk about her research. During the back-and-forth about the data from a recent paper, a newer assistant professor came into the room to say "hi" to the speaker, wearing her newborn son. What was suppose to be a quick chat, turned into both women sitting in the middle of the room doling out life advice about how to balance all the craziness that comes with pursuing a career in science. It was a discussion that my graduate advisor would continue with me and another graduate student later that afternoon and well into the evening.

The advice was simple. In order to be successful in life, you have to pick two things to focus on. Be it family, career, social life or a certain hobby. Because the reality was, in their opinion, that in order to do things well, you have to devote yourself. And there is only so much one can be devoted to.

I remember being shocked when I heard this. Especially from this group of highly-intelligent, well-respected women. The feminist ideal on so many levels. And yet the advice they were giving was completely contradictory to what had been drilled into my head for over 20 yrs. That it wasn't possible to be everything and anything I put my mind to. That in order to find balance, some things would have to fall to the wayside.

I've been reflecting on this conversation a lot recently, given that there has been a lot of change in the Cristy-Grey household. A couple of weeks ago, I started teaching again at one of the local universities, be it on a part-time basis. Two days out of the week, the whole family is packed up and commutes to work/school for a few hours, during which time I get to wear the hat of "professor." The other three days I play the role of SAHM, filling my days with trips to the library, walks to local parks, doctor's visits and unscheduled playtime. Nap times are spent grading, preparing lectures and applying for permanent positions as well as dealing with the usual grown-up logistics. In short, I'm far from bored.

The thing is, though, as I reflect on my life pre-TTC, during TTC and now, things are so drastically different. The life I knew before was one where I had substantially more free-time and one that was much less structured. The idea that there would be only two things I would be focusing on seemed ludicrous.

But now....

On a lot of levels I'm struggling with this idea that we only get two things in life. Some of it is due to this feeling of inadequacy that I'm truly unable to do everything I set my heart to. But there's also quilt that goes with this too. Unlike before, where I had both time and energy to nurture friendships, pursue hobbies, broaden my mind and explore the world, I feel almost autistic with my focus. I know a lot of it has to do with the fact there is so much change happening within my world. Change in big things that will not only benefit my family, but will lead me to the goals I've held in my heart for so long. But it's hard not to pine after what is being lost in the process.

Grey and I have been talking about this more and more, particularly with application deadlines looming. On one hand, he's not had to deal with certain aspects simply due to his gender and how society views his position in the world. But on others, he is struggling too, feeling older and more grumpy with his daily dealings. Part of it he blames on age and becoming a grown-up. The other part we're both still trying to figure out.

I have no regrets about the choices I've made in life. Granted, there are moments I wish would have turned out differently, but I know ultimately each of those decisions lead me to where I am today. Still, I'm struggling with this idea of only getting two things. Struggling to find that other things I value so much are going to the back-burner. And wondering how others do it.


  1. This post is such a timely read for me. I am struggling to with balance and wanting the things I want. I've worked hard at my career thus far and i've worked even harder to be a mom. I want to be the best mom I can, the best wife I can, but I know this will leave me behind my peers at work. Things are drastically shifting for me... I think it will take some time to sort it all out. Thanks for writing this!

  2. Oh this is so hard.I guess if you feel fulfilled by those 2 things, that's all that matters. This is why I started my non profit ... because my family is obviously one of my things and I wanted to make sure I felt fulfilled outside my family life as well. Like you, I often wonder how people do it!

  3. Do we really only get two things?!? I'm not yet in the "mommy club" but I'm certain that I would struggle with this concept as well. Unfortunately, I have no words of wisdom but if you have it all figured out before I get there…please share. Hugs!

    1. I should clarify. This isn't limited to those who parent. Both my advisors are childless by choice (no experience with infertility) and they subscribe to this. Hence it has nothing to do with being a part of the mom club and more to do with choosing priorities and being a "grown-up." For me, family and career have become the priority. For others, it will be family and social connections. Fr. my advisors, it's been career and X, with kids never being part of the equation.

  4. First off, I have read your blog for awhile, but never commented. I want to thank you for this post! My DH and I have been having serious talks about life changes and putting them in motion. My career as a quality engineer is demanding and DH is a self-employed truck driver/farmer. We live 5 days of the week apart (up until 6 months ago, we would go 3-8 weeks apart) and he is home on the weekends as my career has never been where the farm is located. We have 2 girls (3 and 1) that I do everything for and have a career that requires more than an 8 hour day. I have picked family and happiness as the 2 things that I deem important. I do not love my career anymore and every day feel like it is a losing battle. I'm constantly having to pick the career over the girls. That is not the mother I ever wanted to be, but vacation days disappear faster than candy when I solely am the one with the girls when they are sick. I spent 4 years of infertility wanting nothing more than to be a mom and I'm watching it go by, not enjoying these precious moments because the stress of a career I hate.

    Hats off to you ladies who know how to balance it!

  5. I wonder if growing up thinking we could "have it all" is a sort of disservice to women. Like you, I'm figuring out that each time I pick one thing, whether that's what to make for dinner, where to go to school, who to marry -- I'm also saying no to countless other options.

    I do think, though, that over time you can have more than two things. But maybe only two things at a time because of the 24-hours-in-a-day limit.

    Example: before kids, we were world travelers -- that was one of the things we devoted ourselves to. Not in the last 15 years, though, as our priorities shifted toward family. Someday, when the chickies are well-launched, I hope to return to exploring the world as a priority.

  6. This is really thought-provoking (including the comments - and LLL's first sentence), and I'm going to think on it. When I look back even at just the last ten years though, I can see I managed to focus on maybe two things (maybe three), but other things were left by the wayside.

  7. Yeah, this seems completely true to me. For me right now, it's family and social stuff. I work very, very little. I don't exercise at all. And actually, even the social stuff is super limited. These are tough but important thoughts and questions. Thanks for introducing this idea.


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