Wanted: Work/Life Balance

A job was posted this week.

Not just any job.

The perfect job.

The exact job that someone had when I read her Q&A for a series on PhDs transitioning out of the academy.

The first job that I read about and thought, “Hey, I could do that and like that!”

The first job that started me thinking seriously about university administration as a career path.

I read the job ad.

I got in touch with the person who had recently vacated the position to ask a couple of questions.

And then the decision was easy.

I’m not going to apply.

It may be the perfect job on paper, but it’s not the right job for me right now.

Here’s the sticking point: it’s full-time, standard hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

It’s at a university which is an hour’s commute from my house.

That job would require me to be out of the house from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., five days a week, JUST to do my job.

The deciding factor in striking it off the list was when I asked the woman who used to have the position about flexibility.

She told me that the environment is heavily unionized, and that options like a compressed schedule or working remotely are explicitly banned in the collective agreement. You can negotiate different start/stop hours (she worked 9:30 to 5:30), but that’s it. During the fall rush, there is a lot of overtime, which HAS to be done at the office.

Even if I negotiated 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., I still wouldn’t be able to get back in time to pick up E. from school. And I’d have to leave the house at 6:00 a.m. every day, long before he was awake.

If I negotiated 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., in order to be able to drop him off every morning, I’d miss supper five nights a week.

I’m not interested.

I understand that I am choosing to cut myself off from this opportunity. If I applied, and if I got the job, we could make it work. Q. would have to drop E. off at school every morning, and we’d have to hire a nanny for the after-school shift.

The thing is, I don’t HAVE to have that kind of life.

Q. works a demanding job. On the positive side, it is incredibly stable and he is well-paid.

I do not NEED a job to keep our roof over our heads or food on our table.

I NEED a job for my own sanity and self-worth, to feel that I am making a financial contribution to our family, and to ease the pressure on Q., who finds it stressful to be the sole provider.

But I don’t have to get a job that will immediately require me to spend 30-50% of my salary on a nanny.

Seeing that job ad was actually incredibly helpful. It immediately clarified some of my priorities. It helped me realize what I am (and am not) willing to do.

If the situation were different, my feelings might change.

If it were at one of the other two universities, the ones downtown which I can reach in thirty minutes or less, that would be different. At one of those universities I could work 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. some days, drop E. off at school and still get home in time for supper. If I worked 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. the other days, I could get home in time to pick him up. Q.’s job is flexible enough that he is able (and willing) to do some pick ups and drop offs. He just can’t do all of them, all of the time.

If E. were older, and at a point where he was staying longer after school for extra-curricular activities, it might be different. Eventually that university is only going to be about forty minutes away rather than an hour, which would make it more feasible.

Or it could work now, if E. were an extrovert who loved being surrounded by other people and who would be resentful and bored to be dragged home after school. A friend of mine has her daughter in daycare ten hours a day, five days a week (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) and that works for them.

It would not work for E. I’m reluctant to post much about it on here, because it is his story, not mine, and I need to respect his privacy, but there are issues with anxiety and difficulties with socializing, to the point that we are expecting the transition to full-time school to be a particularly rocky one. On the advice of his nursery school teacher, we’ve had someone in to observe him who can offer suggestions for what we can do to help him get ready, and who can provide a report to give to his teacher so s/he has some idea of what is going on and what s/he can do to help E. settle.

I don’t feel bad about not applying for that job. I don’t feel disappointed or resentful or angry. I don’t feel like E. is keeping me from my life’s purpose. It became so clear to me last night that it just wouldn’t work for our family at this time.

It’s also made clearer what I should be looking for: ideally, something part-time at one of the universities downtown. I just need to get my foot in the door, and if I’m working for them already, I become an internal candidate with access to all job postings, not just the ones they can’t fill with the people they’ve got already. A full-time position would be manageable, provided I could negotiate staggered hours.

Failing that, something part-time with an easy commute that lets me use the skills I’ve developed during my doctorate and builds experience that will mean when I want a full-time job the doors won’t be closed to me.

Or, something full-time (or close to it) with very flexible hours and the ability to work a significant number of hours from home.

Or, a bunch of part-time/contract/freelance opportunities that add up to a steady income stream. I have a couple irons in the fire here already, including the possibility of developing and teaching an online course for my old department in the summer. I really hope this works out, as it’s a great skill set to develop and a very useful niche to occupy. Plus, you can teach an online course no matter what your ‘day’ job is.

My good friend, Pam, over at Two Adults, One Child, had a post this week about finding your life’s purpose. Reading it at this point was particularly helpful, because it helped me realize that I don’t need my job to be my passion or my vocation or my mission. I want to do something I enjoy, to do it well, to feel like what I do matters, but at the end of the day, I also want to come home and be present for my family. The most obvious way to achieve this is to sacrifice financial reward in favor of time. And that suits me, at least at this point in my life. I am incredibly privileged to even have this choice.

It’s been scary, being unemployed. I’ve never been this long without a plan. I haven’t gone this long without bringing in an income since I started university almost seventeen years ago.

But I feel like I’m making real progress in figuring out what I need and want, and what my family needs and wants, and how best to make these align.

And that makes the future much less frightening.

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4 Comments

Filed under (Pre)School Days, A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, E.- the fourth year, Life after the PhD, Who am I really? (Career Angst)

4 responses to “Wanted: Work/Life Balance

  1. Saskia

    On the work/life balance thing: It sounds like you’re considering all the relevant factors and making well-thought out choices.

    On the adjustment to school issue: my 4-year-old also had anxiety/socialization challenges. I’m in the US, so things are likely different in Canada, but before he started junior kindergarten, we were able to obtain an IEP (individualized educational plan). This spelled out exactly what kind of extra support he would get.

    The little bit of extra help made all the difference in the world. This year, he’s in kindergarten and having a fantastic year.

  2. The other thing is, this means jobs that look like jobs you want exist. So this one is not the right fit, that is fine – having things that look attractive, not just do-able, is a big step forward!
    I think it would be fair to talk about how you feel when parenting E., with his anxiety and other challenges. Privacy is important, but so is your ability to work through things, and reach out to your support network.

  3. This is good! It feels great to be one step closer to figuring out exactly what it is that you want. I think my biggest hurdle is balancing my need for security (due to the instability of hubby’s job), and my need for freedom and control over my hours and workload (for my own sanity). It’s a tough balance to find.

    I agree with labmonkey- I think there is a fine line between invading a child’s privacy, and sharing a situation in order to gain the support you need to cope more effectively. Something to think about.

  4. I’m glad the posting helped you clarify your priorities, that’s so important and hard to do sometimes without being pushed. Xx

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