Earlier this year I was privileged to host a visiting lecturer to our institution. I have been trying for some time to be an advocate for gender equity in our workplace and the idea of a Women’s Lectureship was suggested to me – bringing a role-model down to Tasmania to encourage our female PhD students. I won’t go into all the reasons here, maybe I’ll leave that for another blog post, but I jumped at the chance to organise this visit.
Professor Michelle Coote agreed to visit with us for a week and I dove into the organisation. I had no idea just what was required for the hosting of a visiting lecturer. There were the flights and accommodation of course, I didn’t book those but I did liaise with our office staff to make sure we got it right. Then I had to decide on when to hold the public lecture, when to hold the seminar, when to hold the gender equity forum. And where.
And then things got a little more complicated. After choosing a time for the public lecture, booking the lecture room (and making sure that we’d booked it with a little lee way so that we could easily get set up), and advertising on all the university websites and Facebook and, well, everywhere that I could think of, we found out that we had cleverly booked the lecture room for 7am rather than 7pm. And that the lecture room was already booked for another group at 7pm, and that the other booking couldn’t be changed.
Then try not to let the panic show, and try to calm everyone down, and don’t let Michelle know that anything had gone wrong with the plan, and head for plan B.
We had a couple of options for plan B and we went with the lecture room that was available and closest to the original room. The only problems being that 1) it was a much larger room than we really wanted so our crowd would look tiny, and 2) it was booked right up until our opening time and the group before us would be having wine and cheese in the foyer as our attendees were coming in to our (wine and cheese-less) lecture. But it was the best option so we went with it.
The night arrived. However, the pizza that we had ordered to eat for tea in-between work and the lecture did not arrive so I was fairly hungry. What did arrive was the rain and the bitter cold, which made me wonder if any audience members would decide to arrive. But we battled on.
The lecture happened and it went well. Of course. Michelle is a professional and her research is fascinating. We had a reasonable audience (more than five anyway). We even managed to pick up a couple of attendees from the wine and cheese event. They came and sat in our lecture with their glasses of wine and hopefully learned something about self-healing polymers and solar cells.
The next day was the gender equity forum and I was busy buying cakes and snacks to encourage people to come and trying to fit that in around my regular work. And the day after that was the seminar that I was also chairing, and the special lunch afterwards.
It was a busy week. I didn’t have time to breathe. There was definitely no work-life balance that week. No gaps between appointments. No time to evaluate whether this or that was what I wanted to do or not.
But I am very glad I took on the challenge. Really grateful for the opportunity and the lessons learned.
The term ‘work-life balance’ can sound static. Like it’s a set point that we’re trying to find that we can set our thermostat to and have the same balance all the time. But life isn’t static. Even when our days are good life has its ups and downs. Maybe it’s better to try to find a work-life rhythm than a work-life balance. (No, that idea isn’t my own, but I can’t remember where I heard it first).
As a normal way of being, I think it is right to build margin into our days, to set aside time to follow our goals, to build in some down time, to make sure we have some peace.
But sometimes it is right to push ourselves – to squeeze more into our days, to stretch a little outside our comfort zones, to try to reach a little bit further. Some days bring us an opportunity to work hard and to be busy and go for it a bit.
I guess the question is, how do you tell which are the good moments to push yourself, and which are extras where we should say no?
I don’t know the total answer to this, of course, you are you, and I am me, and what we need to decide are two different things. But there’s a few things we can think through when making this kind of decision.
One is to get a reasonable estimate of the amount of time we have to give to the project. This takes practice of course. I had no idea how much time would be swallowed by Michelle’s visit, but I know now. I was very grateful that my other projects could be shunted to the side somewhat when Michelle was down so that I could give the lectureship the time it required without totally burning out. I think I could have helped myself with the time estimate by finding someone else who had done something similar and asking them for an estimate.
Another question to ask is whether this event will bring you closer to your life goals or whether it’s just busy-work. If you find your day is regularly getting built in by endless tasks that don’t seem to get you anywhere that you want to go, then maybe it’s best to start delegating or organising or somehow getting that busywork off your plate. Easier said than done I know, but if you don’t even recognise the problem then you’re unlikely to find any answers.
And finally, are you doing this out of selfish ambition? Is the only reason you’re taking on this event or project that you’re going to look good? I know that some of my readers might not like the fact that I’m making a distinction here but I’m all about going for it to reach your goals (ambition) but really not into doing it to make you look good to others (selfish ambition). Working yourself to death because it makes you look good to others is a really bad idea in my book.
Anyway, to summarise, yes, I think there are good reasons to push yourself sometimes. But I also think that these should be short-term sprints and not a way of life. And I would hope that they are in service of others.
We’re nearly at the end of this series, just a couple more posts to go though I’ll keep writing the blog don’t worry. You can sign up to my writer newsletter by dropping me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can get more of the artwork by heading to instagram @deteor42