Tuesday, August 3, 2010
A female physician with a successful career and family once tried to explain the work-family balance to me as: "You can have it all; you just can't have it all when you want it." In other words, she went for the whole good things come to those who wait cliche -- in other words, eventually, someday, you'll retire and then you'll get the family life you craved while you were working. I tend to think of it more like "You can have your cake and eat it too, but your cake will be triple wrapped in the freezer taunting you for years before you get to take the first bite." Whatever it is that you want, it's right there waiting for you... but if you want it all, patience is key. Sure, you can jump right in and sink your teeth into the cakey goodness (assuming you like cake; I do not), but then the cake will be all gone too soon and you'll spend the rest of your life wondering if you should have waited. On the other hand, you can not-so-patiently wait, hold your hands over your ears while everyone else talks about how great their cake is, and then, when the time is right... unwrap that (slightly stale) cake and enjoy a life of bites.
So why has my life philosophy been reduced to pastries? Well, you see, I have my cake, and I am in the long, slow, painful process of waiting to unwrap that cake. Sure, I might open the freezer and peek in once in a while, and entertain the thought of taking just one bite.... but then I think about how much time I've invested to get where I am today, and how that will all go away if I want the cake now. In my scenario, my husband is the cake and my career is the freezer door, blocking the way to the cake. My husband is a PGY3 radiology resident in a city that is... not where I am. And thus, we have found ourselves making the ultimate career sacrifices -- only seeing each other every 5-6 weeks, delaying children, and generally thinking that life would have been a whole lot easier if one of us was less driven in life.
Having a long-distance marriage certainly has both pros and cons. On one hand, while I've given up seeing my husband... I don't really have a day-to-day limitation on my work life. I can stay in lab until 3am every morning, and there's no one at home waiting for me to come back and cook dinner. I can be in lab based on my own schedule, set my own hours, and have no one else to involve in this decision, the way I might if I actually had a spouse living in the same state. At this point in my relationship, I don't have the problems so many other seem to have regarding not making home in time for dinner or having to shut the door and read papers in the evening. But, on the other hand, I seem to get the most shit dumped on me in lab for just that reason; I have no one else to worry about, so everyone else can go home to their spouses and children and leave me with the work. Case in point: even though I am the lone biochemist/biophysicist in a lab full of biologists, all the animal studies have been dumped on me; not because it relates to what I do, but because none of the post-docs were willing to come in seven days a week because they have children. So instead of them spending every night with their children but having to sacrifice a bit of time on the weekend, I am now tethered to the lab and do not get to leave on weekends, and thus am unable to travel and visit my husband. And of course, the absolute worst part: the endless nagging from my husband about when I will finish and move closer to him. Because, damn, I'm in my SIXTH YEAR already, so maybe it's a sign that I'm just not cut out for science and am wasting my time and should stop sacrificing my marriage for something at which I clearly suck.
For me, I've found there really is no work-relationship balance. It's all work, all the time. I have not been to Philadelphia to visit my husband since the first week of May; he gets one out of every six weekends off, which is when he comes down here to visit me. But the thing that gets me through it? The knowledge that someday, SOMEDAY, I will be able to tear through that freezer door and get to that cake. I am 100% positive that the sacrifices we make now will pay off in the future... as long as I can manage to hold back the temptation to throw it all away and just become a housewife instead. I can have my cake and eat it too.... I'm just stuck in several years of a lab-imposed fast.