Sustaining my energy levels

Sustainability (sus·tain·able): of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

This is the topic for the April Scientiae Carnival, and I originally planned to relate it to the difficulties of obtaining funding. But I’ve already done so much writing on the funding topic over the past few weeks (just check my label cloud for K grant), and, well, I’ve just lost interest.

Instead, I’ve decided to discuss sustainability within the focus of my blog theme – specifically, how I’m sustaining myself while balancing marriage, science, a job search, PDA duties, exercise, church choir, and other stuff that has recently been added into the mix. With all this going on, I constantly ponder whether or not I’m “harvesting or using [my energy and time] resources” so that they are “not depleted or permanently damaged.”

The life-work balance isn’t easy to achieve, as many of the Scientiae readers/members already know. Deciding on a daily basis which element will get my attention is a give-and-take tightrope act (hence the name of my blog). There are weeks when bench work or grant-writing takes time away from my marriage. Other times, my PDA duties make focusing on science nearly impossible. And, some days, my marriage trumps all other aspects of my life (which I believe is 100% a good thing).

But all this juggling can lead to exhaustion, stress, and, inevitably, guilt when things to which I’ve committed are neglected. I keep reminding myself of what several PI’s, all of whom I respect immensely, have told me over the years. You can’t do everything with A+ effort; sometimes you give B or even C effort to make it through the day. So I prioritize what currently requires the most attention in my life, and some tasks are achieved less than perfectly.

I also try to remember to say no, when I can. Some things can’t be turned down, but it’s always a good idea to put each new activity into perspective of a larger goal. This goal can be related to relaxation or personal development (working out, quilting, prayer/meditation), or career aspirations. Alyssa over at Apple Pie and the Universe recently noted how difficult it’s been to balance her lab work with other activities. When a passerby commented on the ‘no’ option, she reminded him that some of the outside activities she was taking on were related to “education & outreach, [her] intended career path”. And there’s the rub – saying ‘no’ is not always the best option.

In the end, however, it’s important to find happiness in the balancing act. And I am very happy; overwhelmed at times, but I’ve found my middle ground. I have a mentor that doesn’t count my hours in the lab, so I can disappear on days that I need to. My PDA duties are shared enough that I can step away from my role if needed. And my marriage is strong enough to endure those times when I don’t give it all my attention. Above all else, I know what is most important in my life, and I try to give family and God the best of myself, if not the most. And I think this focus is what makes my balancing act so rewarding – I just couldn’t do it otherwise.

April Scientiae

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2 thoughts on “Sustaining my energy levels

  1. There is such a high level of commitment associated with science that sometimes people forget to take time for themselves (or are working for someone who doesn't see the necessity of doing so). For the science, the hours spent away from the lab are often just as important as the hours in the lab.

  2. BB – Couldn't agree more. I've had so many great science ideas away from the bench – while running, laying in bed, even on vacation. (A former postdoc in our lab figured out how to address a problem he had been struggling with for months while at a 2006 World Series game.) We get too tunnel-visioned when we're at the bench 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year…it ain't worth it.

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