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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Crosstalk Debates and conversations about timely topics in autism.

Striking balance over a lifetime

by  /  14 November 2016

For more than 40 years, I have had the good fortune to follow my passion. My career in science, particularly given the challenges of studying autism, hasn’t always been easy. At several points in my career, I wasn’t sure that I would continue on this path, which began when I was a doctoral student. But in the end, I was in the right place at the right time, and opportunities to continue my work kept me on track.

Looking back, I can’t imagine a more fulfilling life. The many thousands of hours of work, the highs when a grant is funded, the lows when papers are rejected and the pride in applauding the achievements of students, have all given me more pleasure than almost anything else in my life — almost.

I knew all along that I would not be able to sustain this drive to succeed in my career if I did not also have ‘a life,’ though that doesn’t mean that I deliberately planned a balance between the two. For the most part, my private life consists of books (fiction) and, most importantly, family. Unlike other, more sensible people, I don’t create a schedule that blocks off time for work and life. Instead, external demands allow me to have a life that balances my work.

As I look back, I see that the balance has changed over the course of my career, reflecting events in my life.

Center of my world:

In the early years, when my children were young, I fit my work around their lives and rhythms. The balance weighed heavily in favor of my personal life, and during those hectic years, I worked fewer hours. I squeezed work into the days my children were at daycare or school and into the nights, when they slept. Deadlines kept me on track for getting work done.

As my children grew older, I had more and more time for work, until I reached a tipping point when I hardly had a life at all. I would start work soon after waking up, work most evenings, and I often sacrificed even weekends to the demands of email, grant proposals and reviews. It was only when I awoke in the middle of the night that I took time to read my novels for an hour or two. Those were the only waking hours that I was able to put work out of my mind completely.

But the cycle of life continues, and I now have my grandchildren to bring back balance and to give me joy outside of my work. I have learned the importance of dropping my work for weekend visits, Facetime calls or babysitting to make my grandchildren, and the rest of my family, the center of my world.

I still have a workaholic lifestyle, but only when my children and their families are not around. I now work hard at limiting the hours I work, finding new ways to enjoy a richer life by expanding my interests, seeing friends or having dinner with my husband, and always making time for my family — whenever they have the time for me.

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