If I were to sum up my life philosophy in one word, that word would probably be “balance”. For as long as I can remember, my recipe for happiness was maintaining the delicate balance between the various aspects of my life I cared about: academics, relationships, physical and mental health. This pursuit of a work-life balance has been a lifelong challenge, especially due to my tendency to always want to fulfill my potential. Throughout my nine semesters at KAIST, I have taken different approaches to work-life balance, and the lessons I have learned from each of those experiences have provided me with a new blueprint for moving forward.
My first approach to work-life balance in college was micromanagement. At the beginning of the summer break right after my sophomore year, I decided to adhere to a strict day-to-day schedule that aimed to make me a better, well-rounded human being. The typical daily routine would be to work out in the morning, get breakfast (easier said than done), do some work, grab some lunch with a friend, do some work again, grab dinner with another friend, read a book, and finally go to sleep. And in fact, I abided by that schedule for the better part of two months, having been able to accomplish most of the things I set out to do at the beginning of July.
The problem was that most things I did according to my “brilliant” plan felt like a chore. I had to constantly remind myself of the end goal to keep myself motivated to drive on sans hesitation. Furthermore, on the off chance I was “in the zone” and wanted to keep at the current task or activity I was engaged in, my schedule mandated me to move on to the next task — all in the name of balance. I never felt fully committed to any activity and, as a result, I became increasingly frustrated that time was taken being away from some of the things I really wanted to do because of all the other things I was doing to become more balanced.
That was when I decided that it was maybe best to have alternating periods of being fully immersed in one pursuit. By doing so, I would eventually end up realizing that ever-elusive work-life balance, albeit over a longer time period. During the next winter break, I liberated myself from academics and planned on just hanging out with fellow members of The KAIST Herald, who also happened to be staying on campus. I have never had more fun in my college life than I did during those two months of what I like to refer to as “complete chill”. During the following spring semester, I cut ties with my reporting duties of The KAIST Herald and focused solely on school work. I filled up my timetable with challenging courses I had been wanting to take for quite some time. Without any distractions such as extracurriculars and required humanities courses, I ended up enjoying the best academic semester here at KAIST. It seemed that pursuing one thing full-on was reaping benefits.
And yet there were brief moments when I was reminded of what I was missing out on as a result of my work-life balance model at the time. During the aforementioned winter break, I would sometimes get jealous whenever a long-lost friend told me about his recent internship experience and his plans of getting into graduate school, whereas my biggest concern of the day was whether or not I wanted to get “midnight chicken”. During the following spring semester, by which time I had lost all of my winter chill, my identity was largely tied with academics. I always found myself steering the conversation towards topics related to schoolwork, and I had little else to offer to the dinner-table discourse.
It eventually dawned on me that while I did need to elongate the time frame on which I judged my work-life balance, I may have gone a little bit too far. My life would have evaluated well in a timeframe of six months (from the beginning of winter break to the end of spring semester), as I spent a total of two of those months enjoying life and a total of four months being committed to my studies. However, in a much shorter evaluation timeframe, say a fortnight, there would not have been a single period during those six months when my life was “balanced”.
There has to be a middle ground. I do not plan to relinquish my relentless pursuit of my interests any time soon. I do, however, plan to consciously ask myself on a regular basis what I am relinquishing in that relentless pursuit and be flexible enough to make the necessary changes. There has to be balance in how you approach work-life balance.