Reality Check: That Work/Life Balance

Have you ever succeeded at something that was difficult for you? I suspect that you have. So, let’s try a little thought experiment.

Look back at that time, whether it was minutes ago or years ago. What were you thinking then?

Maybe it was, “I’ll never be able to do this.” Or perhaps, “If I keep working, I will succeed!”

Now, what did you think and feel when you succeeded? When people complete difficult studies, I’ve seen relief, joy, and a newfound respect for themselves. Common sentiments are, “I never thought I could do this, but I did!” or “I can do anything now!”

In general, we feel satisfied and confident when we accomplish something that’s difficult.

What if you didn’t know that some situations demand that you put out your best if you want to succeed? That even your best may not be enough? What if you’ve been so protected that you don’t realize that reality can be difficult for you?

A professor in an elite university (not in Canada) chose to inform students of exactly that reality. He let it be known that his science course is difficult. To succeed requires focus and attention. Drinking, partying and enjoying a social life would not be compatible with doing well.

A student group condemned what they referred to as the professor’s “outdated” approach. They suggested that it “encourages students to place too much pressure on themselves at the expense of their mental health.”

In general, university students choose their courses. Is it more effective to know the expectations before you choose? Or would you rather invest your money, hopes, and dreams without information, only to be shocked by the workload once you start?

We make choices all the time. Sometimes we regret those choices, even though they seemed like a good idea at the time. Why? Perhaps we didn’t have clear, accurate, understandable information.

To make informed decisions, it helps to have information. The professor was clear: some courses are more difficult than others, and his is difficult. You can choose to take it, or you can choose to take something else. But if you do choose to take it, you’d best be prepared to choose to work at it, foregoing drinking, partying, and socializing.

The student group declared, “…your life does NOT have to be composed of work and nothing else in order to succeed.”

That’s quite true. It depends on what success looks like to you. However, if your picture of success is a great mark in this science course, then which is the more helpful information: the professor’s warning? Or the student group declaration?

Sometimes the promotion of work/life balance skims over the reality that when we put our time and effort into one task, something else doesn’t get done. When you concentrate on something that is difficult for you, you might feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t help if you also beat yourself up about not achieving work/life balance.

Here’s a perspective you could try. Rather than viewing work/life balance as a daily or weekly goal, picture balancing work and life over your lifetime. There will be times that require that you focus your full attention on work. Other times may demand your full attention as a parent, or as a caregiver, or as a volunteer.

Studying intently or working hard for a period of time may be exactly what you need to do to succeed. It’s not necessarily for forever. And it can bring you so much satisfaction when you do succeed.

If you’d like to read the university story for yourself, just ask for the link.

Do you think the professor’s warning was appropriate? What do you think of the student group’s objection?

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