Abandoning Pokie (Alternatively: What is Work-Life Balance?

Those of you who know me personally know that I am in love with my cat, Pokie.  She’s a three-year-old manx who had me completely wrapped around her paw from the first time I met her at the animal shelter two years ago.  She plays many roles in my life including, but not limited to, my alarm clock, my lap-warmer during cold winter nights, and my protector from all toy mice.

My little mouse-catcher

So how do I repay her?  In a not very fair manner, I’m afraid.  Generally, I completely abandon her while I hide away in my campus office each day, often for 12 or more hours at a time.

I’m an overachiever in a world where there is no real mark of achievement.  The work is never finished.  There are always more articles to read, more papers to write, more datasets to analyze, more talks to attend, more teaching preparation to be done, more conferences to attend, more grants for which I could apply, etc.  It’s exciting, granted, but it makes for one lonely kitten.

It’s often very difficult to know where and when to stop.  Clearly, a line has to be drawn between work time and personal time, but where should this line go?  Personal goals are an important part of our lives, and I’d venture to say that 20 years from now I’ll care much more about the time that I set aside for a weekly phone call to my grandmother than I would care about any work that I could theoretically be accomplishing during that one hour each week.  Still, it’s difficult to pursue personal goals when our family and friends can be so accommodating and forgiving of our time crunches and, in contrast, our academic lives can be so demanding and inflexible.

The recipient of my favorite weekly phone call. :)

This is a real problem.  Depending on which sources you rely upon, anywhere between 20% and 34% of faculty members are burnt out (Lackritz, 2004; Shanafelt et al., 2009), This mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion lead to, among many other negative outcomes, cynicism, dissatisfaction, and workplace turnover (Harrison, 1999; Sethi, Barrier, & King, 1999).  This is NOT GOOD.

So what can we, as members of the future professoriate, do to find a balance between our academic and professional goals and our personal lives?  Where do we find our work-life balance?  Ms. Pokie would greatly appreciate your input.  :)


Harrison, B.J. (1999).  Are you destined to burn out?  Fund Raising Management, 30, 25-27.

Lackritz, J.R. (2004).  Exploring burnout among university faculty: incidence, performance, and demographic issues.  Teaching and Teacher Education, 20, 713-729.

Sethi, V., Barrier, T. A., & King, R. C. (1999). An examination of the correlates of burnout in information systems professionals. Information Resources Management Journal, 12, 5–13.

Shanafelt, T.D., West, C.D., Sloan, J.A., Novotny, P.J., Poland, G.A., Menaker, R., Rummans, T.A., & Dyrbye, L.N. (2009).  Career fit and burnout among academic faculty.  Arch Intern Med, 169, 990-995.

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