In my younger years, I’d have said “nothing” and even more so if you happen to be single, childless, or your spouse does most of the childcare. As I got older and this struggle became my own, it was just that…my own. It didn’t have anything to do with anyone outside my close relations. I didn’t see my own day-to-day struggle to take care of a young child, keep up with school, and try to get my career off the ground within any broader context, and I certainly didn’t see my triumphs and failures as a reflection of where we are as a culture and people.
Then, last year after some time contemplating an interview I’d done with the president of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Subra Suresh, I suddenly found myself thrust into an entirely new perspective about the most personal struggle I knew. Like that old metaphor about a fish that doesn’t know it’s in water because it can’t step out of it in order to understand what wetness is, I saw I’d been that fish. Yet, I had just been given the gift of seeing the water that I’d been swimming in, and it added a much-needed level of comprehension that turned my personal struggle into a much more meaningful pursuit.
The interview was for a project I was doing on the future of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in the U.S., but Dr. Suresh wanted to speak about the NSF’s Career-Life Balance Initiative. At first, I didn’t see the big deal. “Yes,” I thought, “It’s difficult to pursue a career when you’ve got kids. You have to juggle a lot and loose some sleep, we all know that.” But soon his wisdom and insight into this complex subject won me over to such a degree that I now want to take this entire month to focus on it.
The National Science Foundation’s Career-Life Balance Initiative is dedicated to retaining more talent in the STEM fields. As Dr. Suresh notes, “Family formation, notably marriage and childbirth, is a key factor for the departure from the STEM workforce between Ph.D. receipt and achieving tenure for women in the sciences. Needed progress can take place only through changes in the attitudes, policies, and practices that inform how we educate the workforce and manage in the workplace.”
These are essential fields, not only for solving our many environmental challenges—a subject we spent all of last month focusing on here at Smarter Life, Better Planet—but for our country’s entire economical and leadership viability. And it turns out that women have a major role to play.
The following 20-minute video features Dr. Suresh introducing NSF’s Career-Life Balance Initiative and goes on to present a passionate speech by First Lady Michelle Obama.
These great leaders provide compelling and pragmatic reasons for why we all should support better policy surrounding career-life balance. But I want to bring in a broader view over the coming month that may help this subject land in each of our own direct experience no matter what our particular passions are.
I found that a new perspective on our most personal struggles, especially ones that define our future, can provide a much-needed backdraft on the road to not only balancing our lives… but fulfilling our potential.
So I hope you’ll stay with me on this inquiry over the days of this month. I’ll be posting each Monday through Friday including interviews with experts on career-life balance, and dialogues with women who are in the midst of navigating this terrain.
What’s your experience of trying to balance family life with your career or creative pursuits?