When you can’t just pick two

When you have three competing passions. Yes, my tablecloth has stains on it. This is the mom life.

My formal education is in engineering and materials science. Engineering is all about problem-solving and optimization. In order to do this effectively, one has to understand the trade-offs associated with design decisions and material selection. You might be able to find a material that is light enough and strong enough for your application, but the cost might be poor wear resistance. Oftentimes you may be caught in a scenario where you have to pick two and get as close as you can with the third.

Many will apply this ‘pick two principle’ to career success and work-life balance: success in career #1 and success in family with an inevitable struggle to succeed in career #2 OR success in career #1 and career #2 but a failure to succeed as a parent, spouse, etc. You can only pick two. As I look now at my three competing passions (family, engineering, writing), I hate to believe this is true.

I wanted to be a writer as early as the 2nd grade. Maybe it was the story assignment that led to my first book: a hand-written, hand-illustrated piece, bound with construction paper, a three-hole punch, and ribbon. Or maybe it was the the story letters my uncle wrote with me, each of us taking turns writing installments of the story and sending the updated version to the other via post. Either way, I was convinced I would write fiction for a living, but soon found myself equally enamored by science, mathematics, engineering, and research. Three states and two engineering degrees later, I accepted a job to work full-time as an engineer in Flagstaff, AZ.

All the while, I convinced myself that I could still write. In fact, this is what I told everyone. Engineering would pay the bills and I could still “write on the side.” While I began to publish articles related to my research, I got married and bought a house. My husband and I built a strong foundation for our relationship together.

And my writing continued on as my secret, unfulfilled hobby. My academic career became a dry spell in my creative writing life. The pick two principle was winning out. I continued to make excuses to justify kicking my writing projects further and further down the road. Despite joining a wonderfully supportive writing group in Vermont (shout out to the Writer’s Center of White River Junction!), across the river from where I went to graduate school, I only managed to squeak out one creative piece (still unpublished) in the years I spent there.

Since completing my graduate degree and moving to Flagstaff, I have been trying to make a concerted effort to invest in my writing career as I continue to thrive in my engineering career and my family life.

It is hard. And now, with a growing family, it is even harder. I have to continuously scrutinize the time I’m spending on work, on family, on self-care, and on writing as I seek some form of balance. Many will say that balance does not exist, that the pick two principle will win out every time.

But I will try. Call it a longitudinal case study. Statistically speaking, a sample size of one doesn’t have very much power, but I’m happy to share what I learn along the way. This writing-life balance thing is a constant battle, requiring wit and oh so much stamina. But I continue to hope that it is possible. And that it will be worth it.

Audrey Martin

Writer. Engineer. Spouse. Mother. Join me for musings on writing-life balance over a cup of tea. Or two.

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