A fellow working mother recently wrote in a blog, “Mention 'work-family balance’ to a roomful of working women who have children, and the response you'll probably get is semi-hysterical laughter...followed by tired sighs.” Imagine being a mom of three young boys, having a full-time job as risk manager for a major health system, and sharing with family and friends that you just signed up for a doctoral program. My announcement was often welcomed with mixed emotions ranging from “wow!” to “why would anyone do this to themselves!”
The DBA journey was one of the most intense experiences I ever lived, pushing me to the limits of mental, physical, and emotional endurance. But here I am, four years down the line, planning my graduation celebration and still wondering how I did it! There were good days, when I felt I was on top of the world and managed to juggle it all. But, there were also bad days when I was overcome with guilt and stress because of divided attention between my thesis, work, and family.
The key is to jump in with both feet while staying focused and organized and to find the right balance. Here’s what worked for me.
The first tool in my survival kit: to-do lists, to-do lists, and more to-do lists! Dr. Cohen, a psychologist, says our brain loves ordered tasks. To-do lists are therefore a great tool because they dampen anxiety, give us a plan that we can stick to, and are proof of what we have already achieved. They were an essential part of my “Control and Command Center,” as baptized by my close friend, and it consisted of my laptop, phone, color-coded calendars, regular pop-up reminders, and, of course, all sorts of to-do lists for the office, home, and school.
Having access to a notebook anytime and anywhere (even at my bedside) meant I wouldn’t forget my “Eureka!” moments while shopping or watching my son’s basketball tournament.
Effective organization allowed me to take the art of multitasking to the next level by staying on top of my work and school schedules while constantly staying in touch with the family.
Supportive Family and Friends
My boys, and especially my husband, are truly the unsung heroes of my doctoral journey. They had to deal with mom turning down movie nights and visits to theme parks weekend after weekend. Rather than feeling guilty, I tried thinking how the process would benefit them. My “perfect academic spouse” made it easier by volunteering for some dad-and-boys bonding time on a regular basis.
I was lucky to also have supportive friends who did not give up on me when I wouldn’t let go of my books or when I was physically present at social events but my mind was elsewhere.
It probably sounds like mission impossible, but feeling physically strong is associated in my head with feeling mentally strong. Squeezing in a few hours of exercise every week was what kept me mentally sane and made everything else possible. After all, wasn’t exercise touted as a cure for almost everything from depression to Alzheimer’s disease?
Away With the Energy Vampires and In With the Positive Thoughts
It is so easy to fall prey to negative thinking when you are stressed and snowed under; however, I found that the more I gave in to my negative thoughts, the stronger they became. I tried instead to surround myself with positive people who could put things into perspective and motivate me to keep moving forward rather than driving me further down the negative spiral.
I am so humbled today to be sharing my incredibly gratifying DBA experience. I’m hoping my doctoral survival kit list will inspire you to keep pushing because I can promise you “the tassel is worth the hassle”!
Maya Mallat Yassine
Grenoble Ecole de Management DBA Alumna 2017