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
Pandemic Life as a Student Parent: A Learning Specialist’s Journey
Shortly after Penn shut down in March 2020, I learned I was pregnant. I was tremendously excited, but there were moments of anxiety as I dealt with the pandemic and a huge life transition. I loved my life as a grad student at Penn and my work helped me stay grounded amongst chaos. Although the fatigue, nausea, and other pregnancy symptoms led to some rough patches, the strategies I learned as a busy doctoral student and a learning specialist at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center kept me on track. I had a weekly planner where I kept important deadlines, grouped into different categories so they were easier to remember. On days where I felt overwhelmed or exhausted, I wrote a few encouraging words in my planner to help me stay calm. At Weingarten, supporting students over Zoom and working through their challenges together helped me feel connected.
In December, my son was born and eight weeks later I returned to being a student and my fellowship at Weingarten. Many of the time management and study strategies I had previously relied on were now impossible. For example, I often recommend mapping out a weekly and daily schedule as a great way to get started with better time management. Dr. Rashmi Kumar’s Structure the Unstructured Time post provides a helpful guide. Now that I was caring for my son most days, my schedule was extremely unpredictable. Sometimes he would nap for 2-3 hours when I could get work done, other days he might nap in 20 minute increments or not at all.
Through a mom blogger, I learned a new phrase that became my mantra: “Flexible routine: not rigid schedule!” Each day, I have one or two priorities in mind. I still find it hard, but I am learning to think more about the big picture of my week, versus getting too caught up in what I can’t get done some days. I know I will get to each and every task, it just may take longer than I had anticipated. That is okay.
I want to end with a positive outcome of my new schedule. Being forced to work in small chunks of 20-30 minutes has led to increased creativity and motivation for writing. Somehow I ended up with a 65-page dissertation proposal which I will defend in May! Before my son was born, I often set aside one day a week for writing tasks, but much of that time would be spent on distractions like social media or texting friends. Writing in short chunks almost every day and taking lots of time in between to think about the logical arguments of my proposal has led to a much more positive experience, and helped me become a stronger writer. I would recommend this strategy for any student who is struggling with writing.