“work-life balance” at school

Everything so far goes great for me. Austin is a nice place: you don’t have to worry about extremely cold weather and unlike Beijing’s summer, the summer here is not about humid air. Everything feels both familiar and strange at the same time. The usual part is that the school life style is the one that I’m most familiar with. However, on the other hand, it feels a little bit strange to me because I become quite okay with working style: you get up, go to work, and after eight hours, you go back home and sleep. To be honest, there isn’t much pressure when you can enjoy your adult single life. You just get out of school, and there is no intensively homework due, and you are free to do whatever you want after work. That’s why I have the opportunity to write bunch of blog posts in the past two years. But, taking a break from work and heading back to school is totally different story. You need to adjust your time schedule back to probably the most intensive and high pressure schedule. There are endless deadlines you have to meet and all of them are quite intense. You cannot say to your professor that due to the limit of resources, you have to push back the GA date of your programming assignment. All in all, you are expected to get the job done in a timely fashion at school (of course, you are also expected this from your boss but lots of factors can make this sentence not strictly hold in a real setting working environment).

That brings up one important issue that people usually emphasize the most when they work: work-life balance. Specifically, under the academia setting, the question becomes:  does work-life balance matter to the students? In my early college year, the answer I’ll give is “No!”. The reasoning is simple: I’m in a state of endless worry. I worry about the job hunting; I worry about I become lazy and don’t make enough out of the expensive tuition and cost of living. So, I spend most of time working at library or labs in the hope of that “hard working” can make myself less anxious. The end result is not good. I can practice this life style until I’m sophomore and I quickly burn out when I’m junior and senior. Those years the intensity of advanced classes and the work in research labs make me breathless. Thanks to the cold weather in Wisconsin, things become even worse: I feel depressed and hopeless. I don’t want to work at all. I end up spending whole days playing video games and I even skip the final exam to my algorithm class in the Fall semester of my junior year.

Now, after two years of work, I gain some new insights from this miserable experience. One thing is about the worry itself. I have been reading Dale Carnegie’s book “HOW TO STOP WORRYING and Start Living“, and in this book, the author says the following:

Clearly, what I needed was a textbook on how to conquer worry – so again I tried to find one. I went to New York’s great public library at Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street and discovered to my astonishment that this library had only twenty-two books listed under the title WORRY. I also noticed, to my amusement, that it had one hundred eighty-nine books listed under WORMS. Almost nine times as many books about worms as about worry! Astounding, isn’t it? Since worry is one of the biggest problems facing mankind, you would think, would’t you, that every high school and college in the land would give a course on “How to Stop Worrying”? Yet, if there is even one course on that subject in any college in the land, I have never heard of it. No wonder David Seabury said in his book How to Worry Successfully: “We come to maturity with as little preparation for the pressures of experience as a bookworm asked to do a ballet.”

I have strong feelings towards this text. Lots of important lessons are barely taught or even mentioned in school. In most cases, you seem to be expected to find them out on your own from your own experience. It’s a “Swim or Sink” situation. I don’t blame our education system for this because you can hardly come up with a way to teach a course about “worry” with proper assignments and exams. However, those lessons are so crucial to people and you’d better have some tools in your mental toolbox to know how to handle it. Otherwise, sooner or later, some situation or life events will eat you up just like what happened to me in my junior year. There is a sentence from Jesus: “Take no thought for the morrow.”, which gets translated into “Have no anxiety for the tomorrow” in modern English. In other words, we try our best for today and hope for the best. This one is important for me because I don’t want to work ten hours day because of the worry. I want to work ten hours a day because I just want to work on the day.

Work-life balance means important to research as well. There is no doubt that research is a hard job and unquestionably, I will meet various difficulties when working on research projects. However, I want my future self know that even I face challenge in research, I can still have life. I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. This is just like researchers want to work on multiple research projects because you always have plan B when one project doesn’t go well. Keeping work-life balance can help you when you start losing faith in this job because, all in all, you still have something left in your pocket.


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