I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They usually fail, and I always wonder why wait for January 1 to try to do something important. But since my last post was in May, I’ve been letting different versions of this post simmer in my brain for a while now, and here we are nearing the start of 2020, so I’ll go out on a limb and call it my New Year’s Resolution.
A regular theme in this blog is work/life balance. I constantly struggle to maintain it for myself, and I think it is a general problem that seems to be getting harder to manage for most people. I have the pleasure of working with talented and creative students, who often feel the stresses associated with classes, tests, research, getting into medical or graduate school, getting a great postdoc, and launching a career. And once a career in academic science is launched, the stress of publishing and getting funding can make it hard to justify time away from work.
I recommend that everyone develop a simple and objective test to measure your work/life balance: do your pants still fit? how much do your neck and shoulders ache? does your cat ignore you? (maybe not too accurate…).
My most reliable work/life indicator is my glue pot. When I’m in the shop a few hours each weekend, the glue gets used up faster than it dries out. But if more than a few weeks go by, it becomes a gooey blob that needs a good dose of thinner. Longer than that and it solidifies with the brush encased in a plastic-like block that requires a new brush and lots of work to dig the mess out.
I’ve been using more thinner than glue for the past year, and I’ve needed to replace the brush too.
Another reliable metric is my fingers. There are two places that calluses indicate good work/life balance: outside of my pinky fingers from hand stitching and my left fingertips from playing guitar. Fortunately, the guitar calluses are pretty good, though they definitely let me know when my practicing is getting lax. My hand stitching calluses are consistent with my glue pot: ouch!
I used to make a lot of iPad covers, but technology changes faster than I can deal with these days. Same with phone cases. They become outdated before my covers get nicely worn in. Instead, I’ve recently enjoyed making a few covers for notebooks for friends and family. They can be replaced when the notebook is full, and I think pen and paper should be around longer than the next i-thingy.
Blank paper notebooks can also be used to measure work/life balance: the first half is work and second not-work. See what fills up first…
I also love to make simple bags, most recently for my Tai Chi teacher.
These all keep the glue pot from drying out.
It is hard to find time to keep life in balance. For some strange reason, the early casualties are often the simplest and most important: family, health, enjoying nature, reading, music, thinking. And yet, if you are anything like me, there is more and more crap that infiltrates life each day through our gadgets. The i-companies now even tell us how much life we throw away each week in useless internet searches, on-line shopping, and social media.
This brings me to my New Year’s Resolution: Put down the damn gadgets and make something real, play the guitar, read a (real!) book, run, walk, practice tai chi, or hold a new granddaughter.