Yet another thing I have done while looking for a job is join a couple professional societies here. I am on the Board of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), which is a great organization because the membership is diverse and active. I've met a lot of interesting people as a result, and this is a fairly large organization, so I have been able to use that to connect with several people on LinkedIn. One benefit of being on the Board is that I feel compelled to attend all of our events, which are targeted to issues I actually care about.
This last week was a great panel on work-life balance, presented by women at different career stages and with different career trajectories. This wasn't just a Q&A on when the best time to have babies is, I think that these women were able to highlight some universal truths. For starters, AWIS National emphasizes that work-life balance is personal and changing. What makes you feel satisfied with your life and trajectory is different when you move to a new city to start grad school and don't know a soul than when you are mid-career and settled with a family.
These women talked about setting boundaries to carve out time for their families, but also finding ways to have a family while enjoying a fruitful career. The job is supposed to be satisfying, remember? Several people said that they considered the few hours of the day where the were at home were too precious to worry about maintaining their home, so they paid a house keeper or yard service. Others talked about finding a way to keep the pressures of family from preventing them having a fulfilling career. One worked from home after the baby went to bed so she didn't feel guilty about leaving early to be home, one who religiously took off at 5 would give herself a night to linger at work when she felt too much pressure from home. There was discussion about routine, for one woman a routine was so important to her she normally carpooled to have that added structure. Others felt that the best advantage of their career track was the the flexibility.
What was really helpful was to hear them say that they each felt like there had been some critical junctures where the idea of "balance," came to a head. How to solve that two-body problem? When to seek promotion? How to deal with a lay-off? How to deal with a teenager? I like this idea that work-life balance looks very different at different career stages, which means that our approaches can change, and that it is fine to reassess it whenever it feels off kilter.
There were several practical ideas floated, but in addition, it is always so helpful to hear successful women be honest about the challenges they have faced and how they were able to address them. It's one of the reasons I am glad to be able to participate in AWIS events.