Marriage and work, a conversation overheard

Two orthopaedic surgical fellows and a biomedical engineer, PhD. Three men discussing research, introducing themselves, when the topic of marriage comes up.

Specifically, all the research the fellows would like to get done before their spouses arrive in Research Town. And the discussion of the shift from singleminded, single-ness facilitated, pursuit of research pre-significant-other. The good old days, the 50-papers-a-year now deferred. Much wistful sighing ensued.

This conversation kindles a twinge of pain in my conflict and guilt-induced scars from grad school. And makes me wonder why I’m not taking better advantage of this spouse-deprived time to cram in ridiculous 70-hour weeks. Or even more reasonable 50-hour weeks for that matter. What is wrong with me? 

Perhaps I’m not strong enough, not determined enough. Perhaps I wasted all that time and those guilty working nights and weekends in grad school to become an adequate, unambitious paperwork filler-outer and data processor. I did only get my masters after all, I suppose that’s the stereotypical end goal, PhDs run the show and MS folks come up with clever Matlab code and such? Actually, at my current institution I am FORBIDDEN by rules to even be listed as a project PI. 

And I’m not a PI. There just *isn’t* as much for me to do – I don’t need to come up with ALL the ideas, or run the lab, or sell my soul to the research gods. I have duties to do and I do them, plus additional reading and studying and outreach volunteering on the side. I do this all in approximately 40 hours a week, 45 with the bit of studying in the evenings. And I am LOVING the opportunity to train hard again. And to have time to cook and clean and draw and read and sew and watch Netflix while I relax or stretch or do PT. 

So I don’t know. I don’t know what the “right” thing to do is. I don’t know if I could be better if I worked harder, or if I’d be better enough that it would matter. Or if it would even make me happy to be slightly more accomplished or smarter or more ambitious. I remember how guy-wrenching the non-existent balance was to strive for, and consistently lose.

 I do know I’m enjoying where I’m at and I cannot wait to spend most of my evenings and weekends simply living life with my MountainMan.

2 thoughts on “Marriage and work, a conversation overheard

  1. I’ve asked the same questions.

    There’s something cathartic about throwing yourself wholesale into your work. I have fond memories of my undergraduate years doing just that–pulling all-nighters, fueled by pizza and Mountain Dew, hammering out code and getting something working just as the sun comes up.

    But if I’m brutally honest with myself that’s all through rose-colored glasses. It was kinda fun, but also exhausting and really hard on my body. I didn’t like how tired and sluggish I felt afterwards, how I felt when I hadn’t showered, or how my routine and sleep schedule was completely fried for the next 24-48 hours.

    I too am my own worst enemy: no matter what I accomplish (running, research, extracurricular, you name it), I can always convince myself that I could have done better, that I was holding myself back, that I should have done better. That’s something my last therapist really hammered at me for–how I kept saying I “should” be performing this well or “should” be hammering out code at this rate or “should” be this or that.

    On our honeymoon, my wife and I literally spent our entire week at the Dominican Republic resort alternating between laying on the beach and laying at the pool. Literally nothing else. We debated whether we “should” be touring around, going on scuba-diving trips or biking tours or renting jet-skis, wondering if we were missing something. But it was what we wanted–our lives had been so freaking hectic that the chance to sit and literally do nothing was just…sublime.

    It’s still a [daily!] struggle for me, but at the end of the day I just have to ask if I had fun. Of course I could always do more work, put in another hour and crank out a few hundred more lines of code. But maybe then I’d miss that funny part of the West Wing episode my wife was watching, or the funny thing our cat did when our bunny startled her, or the brilliant idea that came out of literally nowhere because my brain was relaxed and thinking about something else entirely.

    tl;dr Don’t beat yourself up 🙂 Not that I can take my own advice, mind you–it’s just what I’ve been told in turn, and in the fleeting moments when I’ve actually been able to put it into practice, it’s worked pretty well.

    • Eloquently put – it’s nice to hear support for the idea of rejecting the overwhelming “should be” thoughts and focusing on balancing them against the joy that would be sacrificed. I think we get so many messages on the side of the “should be”s that it’s tough to assign adequate value to those non-goal-oriented joys instead of just pushing them aside and reaching for the next goal no matter the cost. I’m working on talking to my non-workaholic friends more to remind myself that accomplishing goals and taking time to enjoy time away from work aren’t mutually exclusive and I don’t need to feel constantly guilty for relaxing!Also, I’m super jealous that you two have a bunny AND a cat! That would definitely provide some amusement 🙂

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