My son, a college sophomore who is deeply entrenched in STEM classes this semester, called last week feeling overwhelmed. He had just finished the first part of a two-part physics exam, and felt crappy because he’d left 2 out of 4 questions completely blank, and wasn’t confident on the two he did answer. The second half was coming tomorrow, and he had so much studying to do; he just wasn’t getting the concepts. But he also had calculus homework due the next day (mostly completed over the weekend, but needed to be finished off), a computer science assignment due the following day, and some drawings for his technical drawing class. That was all just in the next two days. Plus his hourly work at the events center, practicing his music for weekly lessons, and his climbing team commitments. Somehow this was only week 4 of the semester. He was asking me, rhetorically, how he would ever be able to keep up?
Here was a perfect moment to lay on the wisdom, to bring my years of life experience into focus. Surely I could craft some insightful advice that would help my son in his moment of despair.
“That’s so hard. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.”
That was basically the gist of my message. Yep, the editors of Parenting Magazine will be calling me any day now.
My son mentioned during our conversation that he wanted to find the right work life balance. That he had seen me working so hard and being terribly unhappy (prior to me finally making a peaceful transition out of my start-up company), and he knew he didn’t want that for himself. But he did want to work hard enough to feel good about his work, and he did want to build a responsible life for himself.
At one point during the conversation I told him something along the lines, “College is a different season of life than anything else you’ll have when you’re in the work force. College isn’t about work-life balance, it’s about work-work balance.” He laughed and said, Yeah it’s not about whether or not to get it done, it’s only about when and how to squeeze it all in, and with what level of effort.
This HBR article reinforces something many of us have already instilled in our lives: making time to recharge. It’s more than unplugging, or breaking the routine. Both the body and the brain need recovery time. Not just rest, but recovery. I’ve been out of the workforce for a little over two months, and I’m just beginning to feel recovered.
Reading this article makes me think it’s not about work-life balance, it’s about engaging in work that is meaningful to ourselves, and then doing things that truly recharge. In that model, we don’t really have an opportunity to burn out.