Finding Balance

Re-entry into the routine of family life after a week at Darden was a welcome relief. Even though I was incredibly exhausted, I was energized about the semester to come and excited to return to Darden for the first On Grounds Residency (“OGR” or as I like to pronounce it “Ogre”) in a few weeks. Managing the challenges of balancing family, work and school were next on the agenda.

Towards the end of the summer, Jennifer and I started reserving Wednesday nights for “yoga dates.” We would get a sitter, go sweat in a yoga class and then walk down the road to grab some post workout refreshment and food. With Darden weekly classes on Tuesday and Thursday night, Wednesday seemed an ideal day to split the week, though it mean three nights in a row where my kid time was minimized. Still, the benefits of spending quality time with Jennifer took priority.

During the weeks that followed, keeping our yoga dates was increasingly important, though more challenging than anticipated. With the kids back in school, the first few weeks of their school came with a multitude of parental obligations as well as the need to re-establish the school routine. This year, the back to school routine was more complicated than in the past. I was missing parent-teaching meetings, back to school nights, little league practices, soccer games and the start of my daughters horseback riding “career.” This definitely stung a bit, but I promised myself and my family that this was a one-year hiatus; I will be there next year.

The workload at Darden was also picking up. Even though we only had two classes each week, the technical material was challenging. Accounting and Decision Analysis (a.k.a. statistics) were not exactly my strengths. Adding to the complexity of the subject matter, getting accustom to learning in an on-line environment was easier said than done. The screen for an on-line class is divided into four sections: the list of class participants, the live video feed of the professor, the professor’s screen with his/her notes and a chat window for students to chat during the class. While the list of students remained static, the other three were moving all the time. How do you watch three things at once and focus?

Despite my efforts to focus my view only on the professor’s screen (i.e., the slide deck or excel spreadsheet), I found myself lost in the conversation by not watching the chat window. With the chat window removed from my screen, I was able to follow the professor going through the slides when suddenly in an almost perfectly choreographed ADHD moment the professor would “chase a squirrel” pausing mid-sentence and say something like “oh Jessica, you’re having computer problems, let’s pause and see if we can take a look at your screen and figure it out.” or, my personal favorite “actually, Mike the answer is no.”

Wait – what just happened? What did Mike ask and when did he ask it and if there are six Mikes in my class, which Mike was the one to ask a question? I thought I was following the conversation, but there had been a completely parallel conversation going on in the chat window which I’d missed. Was I supposed to be following that too?

Another hidden challenge of the first few weeks of class was determining how to fit the upcoming OGR preparations into the routine. The OGR had 17 classes over three days and what appeared to be about 300 pages of material to review and prep in advance. Sweet. Lucky for me and Learning Team 5, one of our team members had excellent organizational skills (and apparently never needed to sleep) so he was able to organize the upcoming OGR materials into a spreadsheet (of course, it’s Darden, you have to exclusively use Excel) and distribute assignments across the team.

Back at work, my team was very supportive and provided the appropriate daily teasing when I’d show up wearing my Dora the Explorer backpack in the office. My boss, Brad, was similarly supportive and interested in what I was learning. One of the advertised benefits of Darden is the immediate applicability of the school material to the work environment. I found this to be the case from the start. I now had a better understanding of the financial statements I’d be reviewing for years and brought a new level of confidence to business meetings. Brad also did a nice job keeping me in check when I’d show up with another “great idea” that I’d learned the night before in class. He would often look at me as though I just told him I’d eaten several small children for breakfast, shake his head and politely say “we’re not doing that.”

As it turned out, balancing home, work and Darden was possible, though more challenging than anticipated. It’s kind of like having your first child. Everyone tells you how tough it’s going to be and despite your conscientious daily readings of What to Expect When Expecting, you have no clue what you’re doing when your first child is born or how that child is going to impact every aspect of your life or just how hard it’s going to be until you’re working on three hours of sleep and changing diapers covered in someone else’s vomit at 2AM. At some point, you hit your routine and accept your new life. This too is part of the learning process.



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