Over the past two weeks I have been responding to a COVID-19 outbreak, affecting about 25% of the population of the community with even more in isolation, in one of the northern First Nations communities my work serves. It has been an insane amount of work and I’m exhausted and we aren’t done yet and I know that I am nowhere near as tired as the community members we are working with and supporting as I don’t have nearly the emotional labour and personal connection to the people ill and isolating as they do. But it got me thinking about how for most people, work-life balance exists on a spectrum.
Now what do I mean by that? I mean that at some points in our jobs and our careers, there will be times when our job requires more from us and times when our lives require more from us, and hopefully we have jobs and lives that can both be flexible enough to allow that.
So right now, in helping these people get through a devastating event, I am essentially abandoning my life in order to do my job. I leave my apartment for a week at a time, I work a minimum of twelve hours a day. I am the first one to the command centre and the last one to leave and I am still writing reports and doing paper work when I come back to my lodgings, which are in the health centre so it is quite hard to relax at all in the evenings. There is a TV, but whatever you play in the apartment also plays in the waiting room, so you have to be careful what you watch. I am pleasantly surprised by how quiet it is though, although I have yet to be here at all between the hours of eight in the morning and seven at night, so that could be different during the day.
And I’m lucky in that I don’t have children or a partner to be held accountable to for my life, I just get a pet sitter and miss out on a few things with friends, most of whom work at the same organization as I do, so they know what it’s like. So it’s not hard to abandon my life, although it has made arranging car repairs a bit difficult, and my weekend was consumed with laundry, grocery shopping, and meal prep (there aren’t really any restaurants where I am, and the grocery store closes earlier than I finish my work day and is about 45 minutes away, so you have to come prepared with your food for the week).
But then there have also been times in my life where my life needed more focus than my work. Like in 2020 when I had an emergency surgery and had to take a month of work, or from September 2017 to April 2019 when I was in grad school. And I was also lucky then that my employer cared about me, and valued education and allowed me to take as much time as I needed, and completely set my availability during school and practicum.
We often think of work life balance as only things like setting boundaries on your email, Teams or Slack, and phone so that you have your evenings and weekends for your life. And maybe in some careers that works and is all you need if there are never times when more is required. But I am having a hard time thinking of what industries that would be. Fashion? Fashion month surely requires extra time. Accountants? Tax season and the end of the fiscal year? Public health and medicine, the entire pandemic, water crises, school vaccination season, etc. Veterinary medicine? Every Monday, after long weekends, and after holidays especially, or weekends in emergency vet med. Retail? Holidays like Christmas. I don’t know, maybe librarians?? Do librarians ever have rushes? I feel like they would actively discourage them haha.
But in short, I think that there are times in your life where your work is a priority, and others, when your life is your priority and ideally, you will be able to ebb and flow together in a way that allows you to be your best in both.
I don’t have any suggestions on improving work-life balance, just musings.