Recently, I was talking to a postdoc, a philosopher who had been looking for a permanent position for a while. He is well recognized in his field, has several papers and a well-received book, and as is the custom in Europe, has also received several prestigious grants. Yet, the job market being what it is, he hasn't been able to get a permanent or tenure track position. He said that after several years of searching for the elusive permanent job, he was re-evaluating his priorities, as he felt that job market had taken over his life. "Not that I spend so much time working per day. I don't think I put in more hours than people who have a regular job. But I want to find a way so that my job is not the only thing that matters to me".
This reminded me of the following wonderful blogpost by Marcus Arvan, where he writes
I was watching the film Zero Dark Thirty on TV this weekend, and was struck by a particular scene where the main character is asked by the CIA Director what else she had been working on the past decade besides attempting to track down Osama bin Laden. Her response, delivered flatly and without hesitation is: "Nothing. I've done nothing else." It struck me that something similar--though a bit less extreme for sure--has been true in my case.
As my postdoc friend pointed out, if you have children or a partner, or both, you are in a sense forced to have other priorities--you have to spend some time with them. He worried, being single and childless, there was no external force that sorted priorities for him. This may be true, but as a parent (and being in a relationship), it can also be the case that one feels terribly torn: one feels both a bad parent (and looks with dismay and envy at parents who seem to be so good at it, who organize wonderful playdates where your child carves pumpkins, or bakes a cake, and you think, why don't we do that?) One feels at the same time that parental duties get in the way of work in a frustrating way (toddlers are sweet and adorable, and there are so many lovely moments, but still, taking care of a young child and churning out papers, grant proposals, doing service, and doing a decent job at teaching is all incredibly stressful). So while I think that my friend is right that being a parent sorts your priorities, being an academic parent comes with its own challenges.
So how do we make sure that we can make things besides our jobs matter?