Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Finding balance in our life's work...

So, in my last post, I looked a bit at the idea that success comes from being able to make a significant, lasting impact on one's wider professional community, and that quite often this come about through making various commitments outside of work.

This also seemed to be a bit of a recurring theme last year, when I interviewed a number of people who were new graduates back in 2006, which I guess would make them mid-career professionals now. Many of them consider their involvement with ALIA as an important part of their professional development, particularly in volunteering in various groups and advisory committees and conference organising committees. In the past, I've been fortunate enough to have had, at least on one occasion, a workplace that has supported me in my professional involvement, but by and large, most of us need to spend our "ALIA time" outside of the workplace.

And even if we're not the ones tirelessly organising events, drafting discussion papers, or coordinating advocacy programs, there's the hope that enough professionals will come on board - enough just to show up to an evening event, or write one blog post a month. Without attracting a critical mass of peers participants, it can feel like a thankless and futile task. And yet, even that absolute minimum amount of professional engagement - enough to get your PD points - can be a lot to to ask of the average person.

Which (finally) brings me to the month's theme - Balance. I'm not going to call it a "work/life balance", because it's a lot more complicated than that. For many of us, our work is what motivates us in other areas of life, and our personal lives can often take more work than our paid employment. Depending on one's personal situation, you might be juggling a combination of the following:

  • Work - be it full-time, part-time, or multiple jobs, depending on which of the following you're also trying to balance;
  • Family - you might be a carer to some capacity, or just have familiar expectations to spend time with your relatives;
  • Relationships - they don't magically look after themselves... they take time and energy;
  • Studies - some of you are crazy enough to go back for more, and I know better that to ask anybody how their PhD is going;
  • Health - doing regular exercise, buying groceries and cooking healthy meals. Yep, that's a thing that's important, but most of us don't find enough time to do it properly.
  • Creative hobbies - whether it's dancing, crafting, writing, learning a language or a musical instrument, there's enough evidence out there to show that plenty of this will keep your brain in good shape.
  • Socio-political engagement - At the very least, there's a whole lot of emotional labour involved here, in trying to engage with your peers in improving our society, let alone getting actively involved in advocacy campaigning on socio-political issues.

Now, for many of us, all of the above are going to be higher on our priority list than Professional Involvement, and I daresay that many of us struggle to find the time to maintain a balanced ratio of engagement with some of these aspects of life without neglecting others.

To be honest, sometimes it's all I can do just to work all day, go home, cook some quick-and-dirty noodles for dinner, and read a chapter of a book, before falling asleep by 10pm.

So, on top of that, working on a professional committee, and using all your annual leave to self-fund and attend conferences to present a paper that you researched and wrote in your own time? It's pretty crazy and exhausting, and when I lay it all out like this, I don't know why anybody would choose this life. And yet, some of us do it again and again.

When I self-funded my trip to IFLA in Poland a few months ago, I was often asked, "Why would you spend your own time and money going to IFLA?" My response was quite simple - for some time, I've wanted to go to an IFLA conference, and I've also wanted to visit Poland. This seemed like a good opportunity to do both at once. For me, that's where the importance of balance lies - not in juggling a bunch of different unrelated things, but in finding intersections between these aspects of my life, and engaging there.

I work in a place that is highly engaged in culture and technology, with a good team of peers who are intelligent, sociable and supportive. I'm able to ride my bike to and from work, and live in a city where it's relatively easy to find and participate in cultural activities. Of course, it's not seamless - it still takes work, and this is where I'm still trying to figure out the missing piece - professional involvement.

Compared with other Australian cities I've lived in, Canberra has a relatively small number of people who are actively involved in their professional community. Part of me wonders whether this is because there isn't yet a "critical mass" of active professionals, like in other cities, or whether Canberra living isn't compatible with including professional involvement as part of a balanced lifestyle.

Part of the solution, of course, is to get employers to encourage their staff to at least participate in the wider professional community, both on a professional and social level. Again, balance. After all, I've often found that in the past, the most successful professional events that I've attended, are the ones where everybody has also gelled socially. (The ones where everybody is out the door the moment the final presenter finishes speaking - not so much.)

Once you get a bunch of people together who get along well socially, have exciting and fresh ideas, and trust each other to be able to successfully make it a reality - that's where the magic happens!