Nothing in this life is as simple as it seems. In an age when an increasing number of people are working from home, rather than going out to work, professional and private life may not be easily differentiated. What does it mean to have a professional life or a private life for that matter?
After 40 years of teaching in schools, colleges and universities I no longer spend time in an office or classroom away from the place where I sleep, spend time with my wife, or talk to neighbours. I now keep a computer in a home study, another on the dining room table, unless guests are coming, and my professional books and papers all over the house.
As the editor and publisher of Reading Time, the journal of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, I work collaboratively with my wife to make sure the journal comes out on time. The work day does not begin at 9am and finish at 5pm but rather at anytime of the day and night, interspersed with phone calls, emails and the perusal of the many books that turn up at the house by mail and courier. But the flurry of activity associated with publishing and editing does not devour our total existence. Working from home allows the flexibility needed to engage in other activities that some might consider relaxation and others grind.
Part of the task of being editor of a journal such as Reading Time is to interview authors, illustrators and other people from the book trade so that there might be some human interest inclusions. Recently on a trip to Europe to catch up with family, my wife and I took time out to meet up with children’s book authors in York and Amsterdam, as well as visiting the London Book Fair. Far from being intrusions into our private lives we found the occasions to be stimulating and personally enriching. We worked together on gathering material, not only planning for it to be included in the journal, but also sharing the experiences with family and friends.
Beyond the journal I find that I still have time to undertake a little teaching. This being done by distance mode again frees me from most deadlines that might well concern those who must leave the house every day to earn their money. Of course there is still preparation of mail packages but with a partner who has an eye for detail, proof reading can be passed over to her for at least a first examination. So far it would seem that life might be seen as just another sort of academic existence. However, with a new stage of existence both my wife and I find we can use our time to engage in other pursuits. As I write this I am at my cousins’ house in Mudgee while my wife spends time at the annual CWA state conference. I will join her for the conference dinner but will also spend some of my time enjoying the many wineries that populate the district. As the sun is shining I will also take a walk around the town with its parks and gardens. I am not constrained to continue working on this piece if I need some alternative activity.
Private life for some people is spending time with family or friends or just relaxing in some way either with travel, a book or perhaps in the garden. For me, at least, much of what I do is not separated into compartments. If my enthusiasm for one activity drops off I can move to another that will energise me again.
A dinner party with friends discussing what activities we might plan for the local branch of the Australian College of Educators or perhaps afternoon tea with colleagues who share the same commitment to a retirement village complex which I chair, does not become an intrusion into my private life, but part of it. Other activities which mesh professional and private life are found within the immediate family. All the family are book lovers and so this generation is trying to inculcate that love into their own children. A vast personal collection of children’s books is now becoming a source of enjoyment for younger members of the clan. Without my own previous professional background this would be impossible.
I have only highlighted a small aspect of my life, which since giving up full time teaching has become more, not less, complex. I could have included the activities which are associated with my life as an Anglican priest that take me into people’s homes, hospices and churches within a hundred kilometre radius of where I live, but that would extend this article well beyond its word limit. What I want to suggest, however, is that balancing professional and private life is not a matter of weighing life on a set of scales. There are people for whom professional existence becomes an overwhelming event but for me I see my life activities as being rather like points on a grid. The movement from one point to another is never clearly tracked nor can the activities be easily defined as falling into one camp or another. Of course from time-to-time there are pressures but they are usually of my own making and they stimulate rather than depress life.
Balancing professional and private life becomes a matter of life choice rather than being pressured from outside. Of course if my computer would behave itself I would have far more time to enjoy relaxing with a book and a glass of wine.
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