Recently I read an article about the cost of getting a PhD. And no, it’s not what you’re thinking – not the cost of college fees, but rather the far more terrible cost of mental health.
The article had some pretty shocking statistics about how many graduate students struggle with depression and while I was lucky enough not to go through a such an experience while getting my PhD in Chemical Engineering, it got me thinking about balance in general and work/life balance specifically.
Balance is an interesting concept and not an easy one to attain. Certainly as I write this at 4am, I’m sure there’s a certain irony that my tired mind is too tired to grasp at this point in time…
Juggling is something most engineers learn very early in their careers – most of us have to keep many balls in the air: a demanding career, a fierce drive to succeed, relationships, friends, family… The list goes on…
I’m certainly no different, except that I decided to add writing to my already long list of things to do. I’ve always loved reading and writing my own book was always something I really wanted to do, but never seemed to get around to. Finally, with some prodding from my husband, I finally got it done, and in September this year I published my YA fantasy novel Into the Between. But in the process of doing so, I suddenly found myself wondering if perhaps I had just too many balls in the air and whether they might all come crashing down around my ears at some point.
Since starting my career as a chemical engineer, I’ve had one firm rule: leave work at work. And in following this rule, I’m managed to maintain a fairly good work/life balance. However, writing Into the Between brought up a feeling that I hadn’t felt since my years as a graduate student – all-consuming self-doubt.
Sometimes I think that self-doubt is the thing that made me push myself that much harder, the thing that kept me in the laboratory late into the night, all in an effort to succeed. It may have been the thing that ultimately drove me to finish my PhD, but it has never been a comfortable thing to bear and I believed that I’d left it far behind – until I tried to write a novel.
But that brings me back to my concept of balance. I’m older and wiser now than when I was studying and I know that I won’t succeed at everything I do, no matter how much I want it.
I know that of all the people that might read Into the Between, not all of them will like it, perhaps some of them will simply detest it. But that’s ok.
The lesson I learnt while studying, one that I apply to this day is balance. My friends and family have taught me that. They taught me the importance of understanding my own limits and also the importance of just letting go and having fun – which, believe me, doesn’t always come easily to most engineers!
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is: find your own balance. I won’t try and tell you how to do it, different things work for different people. But most of all, define your own success! Certainly don’t allow others to do it for you.