Striking a Balance

I’ve been thinking a lot about balance lately, personal and professional.

As I near the end of my time as a doctoral researcher, I have been wondering what I will do next. I don’t expect as much flexibility as I have now, what a male colleague called ‘work-leisure’ balance, where I mainly work from home, enabling me to walk my children to school and cook home-made dinners. It has been a privilege to have such extensive freedom when managing my time, even if I wouldn’t term domestic / parental responsibilities as leisure. So when I’m no longer a PhD student with so much flexibility, I hope I can still strike a balance.

I also want to find a job that makes good use of both my previous professional experience and my more recently acquired data science and analytical skills. If I can find something that combines research with its application to policy / society, that would be career progression. A job that challenges me and one that values what I have to offer is how I want to strike a balance.

Such a job should involve working towards a more sustainable future. Climate change is inevitably part of that work, as a crisis we must address urgently (12 years!?) for our environmental, economic, and social futures. In the transport sector, some feel this requires a moratorium on flying and driving. Yet there are economic and, more importantly, social consequences of such a policy, particularly in the short term when technology is not yet available or affordable, which mean it is not something I can imminently or unconditionally support.

I would not want a world without intercontinental travel. As I have argued in this blog before, there are many ‘world citizens’ like me, with family oceans apart. Like immigrants of by-gone days, should we never see, or more importantly, touch our family or past again? Should our children never meet their overseas relatives in person? Should the next generation of young people be discouraged from travelling and forming international relationships, despite the values of diversity and tolerance they bring to society? And that’s to say nothing of refugees and asylum seekers who are forced from their homes. Whether by war or natural disaster, is it our vision of the future that they have no hope of ever going back to re-build, or be isolated from their new community until they do go back rather than form their own international relationships?

Even the opportunities car travel offers should not be discounted. Whilst planners like me want to help shape our villages and towns and cities so that no one has to drive in them or between them, can we truly plan for all interactions so that they can be served online, by public transport or active travel? Hopefully we can get closer to the ideal over time, but until then do we expect people to abandon activities or relationships because, perhaps, another part of their lives has changed, such as their job or family structure, forcing relocation or different travel patterns? I remember once explaining to an environmental activist that it is simply not always possible for people to live and work in the same location, particularly when there are multiple workers in the same household. And travel for social purposes is often even more complex.

Thus, at least in the transport sector, I see contradictions between being environmentally and socially sustainable. And whilst I can envisage, and hopefully participate in achieving through my work, a future where governance, policy, community, and technology come together to find win-win solutions and overturn these contradictions, this is not the reality, at least in the short term. Rather, by reducing, adjusting, advocating, and even in some cases offsetting, I hope, as with my personal and professional life, to strike a balance.

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