The New Work-Life Balance
A Q&A Between Alia White and Valerie Wrenn
Covid-19’s impact on the world was unexpected, unprecedented, and forced many to adjust to a ‘new normal’, not only for students but faculty and staff as well. Working from home became a new way of life and has influenced a greater meaning of work/life balance. For over 18 months, Weingarten adapted their services to an online platform. Beginning in July, Weingarten staff began to migrate back to the office on a hybrid schedule, to eventually, transitioning entirely to in-office operations.
Valerie Wrenn, The Associate Director of Tutoring Services, had an even more eventful 2020-2021, as she welcomed a baby boy earlier this year. As a new mom and being back in the office full-time, Valerie shares her thoughts on working from home and transitioning back into the office while caring for an infant. Below, Valerie shares with us her thoughts and processes through the following questions:
Q: What were you immediate thoughts on working from home beginning March 2020 and how well did you adjust?
When we first made the transition, we all thought it would be temporary. It was exciting and new, a different way of doing things. I thrive on a challenge, so figuring out how to build new systems and working habits for myself was exciting. However, I definitely had some difficulties creating new organizational systems and separating my life from work. But I loved that I could work with my cat on my lap!
Q: After the birth of your son, Myles, and getting back to work, what were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
The return to campus has been overwhelming. Being a new mom of an infant means that I’m still juggling a lot of anxiety around interacting with people. But I am managing this by getting tested regularly and continuing to take all precautions like wearing a mask and avoiding overly crowded spaces.
Q: Now that the Weingarten Staff are back in the office full-time, what are some of the things you have enjoyed about being back in the space?
I love getting to see our colleagues. The staff here are such welcoming people and truly care about supporting students. It’s great to be able to tap into their energy when my own reserves are running low.
Q: Lastly, please share your thoughts on how you think we as a staff can bring our work-from-home practices (or work/life balance habits) into the office.
First, remembering to accept what we can control and what we can’t. There is more to get done in any workday than is reasonable to ask of someone. We have to be kind to ourselves when we find that we can’t get to something. The best we can do is prioritize the most important things (and sometimes that’s going to be our mental health, our kids, doctor’s appointments, etc.) and understand that some of the other stuff may have to wait. The second is a quote that I heard by a writer named G.K. Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” The idea is that exercising for 10 minutes once a week is better than not exercising at all. This principle can apply to a lot of things. Don’t get frustrated that you might not be able to cook a healthy meal every day, but figure out what you can do with your resources and time.
By: Alia White, Financial Administrative Coordinator
Ask The Staff: Recentering
We’re back! The Weingarten Center staff has returned to the office. While there are comforts of home that are missed, it’s also refreshing to see each other’s faces (the unmasked half, that is!) and to connect with students on campus again. Returning to the office is certainly an adjustment, so we asked about everyone’s favorite ways to decompress and recenters themselves.
Now that we have returned to campus, how do you recenter and decompress during the workday?
A way for me to recenter myself is to listen to music. It helps me to relax so that I focus on the task at hand. – Lauren
When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed at work, I recenter myself by getting out of the office and going for a walk. I highly recommend the Bio Pond (officially known as the James G. Kaskey Memorial Park), The Woodlands cemetery and arboretum, Clark Park, and, for a longer outing with transportation, Bartram’s Garden. – Ryan
Recentering is a daily experience, for I never know what awaits each day. Will the Septa bus be crowded with passengers? Did I make the right decision to travel to Locust Walk during a non-peak time to avoid the crush of students? How can I display my delight at seeing a colleague while my smile is hidden behind a mask? Reaping the moments and appreciating the small acts of kindness serve as my way of recentering daily. – Jane
Going to the bio pond and seeing all the plants, turtles, and frogs 🙂 – Amrou
I try to do mindful meditation for at 10 minutes (max of 20) during my lunch hour. It helps to ease anxiety and feel a little more refreshed for the remainder of the day. – Alia
My absolute favorite way to recenter now is to listen to lofi music (Live Youtube Stream)! When I wake up really early, however, my meditation practice is to pray and read the Bible; I want to be more consistent with this, but it’s extremely centering when I do it! – Gabe
Doing crossword puzzles! Also, I love visiting the turtles and toads at the bio pond. It’s a little oasis in the middle of campus. – Jackie
Biking to and from campus has allowed me to get some exercise and fresh air while on my commute. – Jen
One of the things I missed during the remote period was the chance to connect with colleagues informally. Sharing a good talk or a laugh with a colleague while going for a walk around campus or getting lunch helps me recenter. – Julianne
Ask The Staff : Book Club
To celebrate our colleague Gabe Angrand’s recently published book of poetry, “Love, God”, we’re discussing our favorites reads—from favorite book in quarantine, to favorite book of all time, to what we’re currently reading.
If you’re interested in checking out any of these recommended reads, consider supporting some of Philadelphia’s black-owned bookstores including Amalgam, Harriet’s Bookshop, Hakim’s, Uncle Bobbie’s, Black and Nobel, Black Reserve, and Books & Stuff. (Thank you Daris for recommending these here!)
What are you reading?
I really miss swimming and there’s no good digital or virtual substitute. So, next on my reading list the next best thing—a book about swimming. Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui explores the allure that swimming and water itself holds over devoted swimmers. According to the book jacket, this book “is propelled by stories of Olympic champions, a Baghdad swim club that meets in Saddam Hussein’s palace pool, modern-day Japanese samurai swimmers, and even an Icelandic fisherman who improbably survives a wintery six-hour swim after a shipwreck.” I can’t wait to dive in! – Julianne
I’m currently re-reading, for the third time, a seven-book series by Sarah J. Maas called Throne of Glass. If you like fantasy that dances between young adult and adult, these books are so good! Also, anything by Tim O’Brien, Neil Gaiman, or Erik Larson are awesome. Oh, oh! One more—Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – I read this duology recently and adored it!” – Traci
By March 17, I will have finished a book called, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude Steele. In this piece, Steele, an American social psychologist, tells a story of personal experiences and research experiments that lead to a fascinating explanation for why URM (underrepresented minority) people in most contexts you can think of tend to perform worse than their non-URM counterparts: stereotype threat. The piece ends with some practical advice as well, which include clear communication of high expectations/standards, effective mentorship, and the hard work of developing trust between URM and non-URM groups. I felt like Claude was talking to me most of the time, but I recommend this book to anyone interested in this phenomenon related to URM performance and persistence! – Gabe
What I’m currently reading: A Promised Land, An American Marriage, and Text Me When You Get Home (I can never stick with one!) My favorite book of all time: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. – Kelcey
Lately, I’ve been reading the Holy Qu’ran. I wouldn’t call myself a religious person, but I would definitely say I’m more spiritually inclined. My mom gave me a copy of the Qu’ran back when I was 14 and I never used it much, but I stopped and looked at the message she had written in it and it said, “I hope that this will be a source of guidance and comfort for you,” and it feels extremely appropriate, given the times we are in. – Alia
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis with Michael D’Orso, His Truth is Marching On by John Lewis, and The Power of Hope by John Meacham. For fun reading, I am reading the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn” – Pat
I’m reading Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. The protagonist is a 20-year-old freshman at Yale named Galaxy “Alex” Stern. Alex is able to see ghosts (called “grays” in the book) and was recruited to the university as a member of Lethe House (the 9th house) that monitors the occult and supernatural activities of the eight Houses of the Veil (including the famous Skull and Bones) that use their powers in dark and terrible ways. As you’ve guessed, it’s fiction (I think!). – Ryan
Currently, I’m reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X. My favorite book of quarantine is The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk, and my favorite book of all time is Cosmos by Carl Sagan. – Amrou
Ask The Staff: Favorite Apps & Tech
During the lockdown, we’ve had to adapt to new virtual lifestyle. There are apps and technology that have become more important than ever for work, fitness, and fun! We asked our staff for their favorites.
What app or technology has helped you most during the pandemic?
“Having Microsoft Teams has helped a lot during the pandemic. I’m finding it’s been by far the easiest and quickest way to get help from VPUL Technology Services and a quick way to connect with members of our staff and outside, as opposed to waiting on an email. I’ve taken a social media break and it feels good! I’m trying to get into meditation and finding ways to help with my insomnia, so I recently downloaded the Calm app. I haven’t used it yet but I’m hoping for great things to come.” – Alia
“Although I used Zoom on a few occasions prior to March 2020, I failed to realize its value. I quickly discovered that Zoom and BlueJeans have allowed me to stay connected with colleagues, friends, and family. Screen fatigue might be a side effect, but I remain grateful to accomplish my work and remain connected with my ‘peeps.’ I might live alone, yet I never feel lonely since I have technological tools to be present in the workplace and with my friends and siblings.” – Jane
“The Nike Training Club app has been my go-to for at-home workouts. They made all of their premium content free back in March, and I mostly use it for yoga and the occasional HIIT (high-intensity interval training) session. The only downside is that some of the workouts recommend dumbbells, which can still be hard to find in our pandemic economy.” – Ryan
“Clubhouse is a new app that is still in beta stage and only for Apple users, but it has been so helpful to me in the past few weeks! As a poet, I’ve been able to connect with others of the same craft, share my work, and be exposed to different styles of writing and performing. In addition to many of the other conversations happening on the app, Clubhouse really has been a space for me to reconnect meaningfully with others!” – Gabe
“Without the ability to stroll around Penn’s Campus, hit the gym, or take a fitness class with friends, I’m finding my workout app, Beach Body On Demand, has gotten a lot more action during the pandemic. There are some days I don’t even leave the house, but having the option to scroll through hundreds of workouts has helped me get some movement in when I’m feeling a little stir-crazy!” – Traci
“Microsoft Teams has helped me the most during the pandemic. It gives me the opportunity to be in closer contact with my colleagues remotely. I am able to greet everyone in the morning all at once, and reach out directly to an individual via the chat feature to ask a question and receive a quicker response than I would through an email.” – Sabria
“I’ve been really into Just Dance on the Nintendo Switch. It motivates me to get up and exercise. It’s basically a Zumba class in the comfort of your home. There’s a huge catalog of songs in a variety of genres and difficulties. My housemates and I have favorite songs that we’re getting really good at. Maybe one day we’ll be able to bust out our choreographed moves at the club.” – Jackie
“For work – my Outlook calendar! For myself – workout apps/websites: The Movement Project website (local & woman owned & operated) for Cardio & Strength, SWEAT/Kayla Itsines App for Strength, and Melissa Wood Health App for Pilates & Meditation.” – Kelcey
“BlueJeans is what I used at first, now I use Zoom. I don’t have a favorite meditation app. I just pray or watch a good relaxing movie: Sleepless in Seattle, an Affair to Remember, or read a book. I usually work out during commercials since they are now so long.” – Patricia
Ask The Staff: Philadelphia Favorites
In January 2021, many students will return to Philadelphia or move here for the first time. In preparation, we asked our staff for their Philly favorites in hopes of inspiring your own adventures.
What’s your favorite thing about Philadelphia?
“When was the last time that you visited The Franklin Institute? This museum brings out the child in the adult. Crawling through the human heart rises to the top of my list as a memorable, favorite experience. It has been a few years since my last “crawl,” but I look forward to snaking through the ventricles.” – Jane
“My favorite thing about Philly is the food. I’ve discovered a new restaurant every week this entire summer for outdoor dining. It’s always a great experience and, even being born and raised here, this was such a surprise for me.” – Alia
“What I love about Philly is the variety available in everything. There is literally something for everyone and every occasion. Every type of food you can think of, great museums, concerts, athletics, high-end or casual, funky shops, and elegant boutiques. If you want it, you can find it here–it keeps life interesting!”– Valerie
“It is kind of cheesy, but the thing I love most about Philadelphia is that my brothers live here. I have three brothers who live in the area and before I moved back to Philadelphia, I missed them so much! Now I see them all the time. I also love Philadelphia’s Magic Garden on South Street. I always take friends there when they come to visit! “ – Erica
“Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. In the city, I love the Arts; they add culture to the city. As for a place on campus, I loved Beijing restaurant – used to be on Spruce street.” – Pat
“I feel incredibly lucky to have access to the Wissahickon Valley Park, which offers 1800 acres and 50+ miles of trails for hiking and biking all within the city limits. I’m always encouraging Penn students to venture there by riding a bike up the Schuylkill River Trail or catching the 125 bus from Market Street to the Wissahickon Transportation Center.” -Ryan
“One of my favorite things about Philly is all the great cafés and restaurants. My all-time favorite café is Red Hook Tea & Coffee, which is just down the block from me in my Queen Village neighborhood. Pre-COVID, I enjoyed sitting in their window seats for hours catching up with friends over coffee. Nowadays, I make a point to get take out from them about once a week to help them stay in business (and indulge my cravings for their delicious sandwiches!).” – Julianne
“My favorite thing about Philly would have to be the bookstores, especially Black-owned and operated bookstores. There are few Black-owned bookstores around the world, but Philadelphia is a city where there are many to choose from. I love Harriett’s, Hakim‘s, Amalgam, Uncle Bobbie’s, Black and Nobel, Black Reserve, Books & Stuff. I love them all. They are great community spaces with tons of resources and always shining a spotlight on emerging authors.” – Daris
“I love all the concerts and comedy shows that Philadelphia offers. From small black box theaters like Good Good Comedy Theatre in Chinatown, to big arenas like the Wells Fargo Center, I’ve gotten to see so many of my favorite performers. I look forward to live shows being a thing again!” – Jackie
Ask the Staff: End-of-Day Transitions
Staying connected is more essential than ever. Ask The Staff is a column that will provide glimpses into the diverse lives of our Weingarten Center staff. Get to know us!
How do you transition out of your workday and into “home mode”?
“Soon as 5pm hits, I order ahead to pick up a drink from my local Starbucks. The staff already recognize me, even with my mask on. It’s fattening but it’s a small joy that I look forward to.” – Alia
“Walking is therapeutic for my physical and emotional well-being. My aim is to walk at least 90 minutes daily, so my walk after 5pm is essential in maintaining an equilibrium. Listening to an audiobook while exploring a local neighborhood symbolizes my way of life.” – Jane
“At the end of my workday, I like to take a few moments to reflect. Sometimes this means writing in my journal, doing a guided meditation, or a yoga sequence to help combat the effects of sitting for most of my day. After that, I will start cooking dinner (my new quarantine hobby!) and watch an episode of The Crown or The Great British Baking show to fully unwind.” – Jordi
I start my workday with a walk in the morning. In the evening, I spend time peeking into the fridge and/or pantry to explore what is there that can be transformed into dinner.” -Rashmi
“After work, I like to lose myself in the kitchen. Whether I’m braiding challah bread, peeling vegetables, or grilling outdoors, I love the way preparing food to share with my family immerses me in my senses after a long day of Zoom meetings.“ – Aaron
“I power down and close my laptop, switch off the power strip, and walk away from my desk. I try not to do anything on the computer “after hours” so that even if I don’t have a physical separation of living space and working space, I can still feel like I’m off-duty.” Julianne
“Transitioning from work to home needs to be a bit more intentional these days because I have no commute. I like to sit in the living room and get away from my phone and other screens. Sometimes I just light a candle or put on some soothing music. I try to remember that whatever happened today, tomorrow is a new day.” – Jen
“It’s not always very easy for me to transition into ‘home mode’ actually. I often have to leave my bedroom (current office) and start cooking or run an errand to detach from my workday. Otherwise, I’ll take a good nap!” – Gabe
“I take my dog, Dewey, to the local dog park. It’s my favorite way to unwind, get fresh air, mingle with neighbors, and pet a bunch of pups. I think sometimes I’m having more fun than him!” – Jackie