On Balance and Efficiency

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My research focuses on the immune system and specifically how inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or sepsis can be targeted with specific therapeutics. In contrast to cancer, where the goal is complete eradication of the cancer cells by whatever means necessary, or infectious diseases where complete stasis or death of the offending pathogen is key, therapies involving the innate immune response in inflammatory disease implement a goldilocks principle- too much inflammatory response and an inflammatory disease results, yet a total suppression of inflammatory response also leads to inflammatory disease resulting from an expansion of pathogens against a weakened host immune response. This is intermediate therapeutic zone is much more difficult to design therapies for and determine what the optimal level of response would be. Yet this is how much of life works- at an optimal intermediate between two extremes, with either extreme seen as unhealthy. The ideal would be to have both: an immune response that is robust against pathogens but is self-limiting, in effect not just finding a happy intermediate between the two but strengthening both the aggressive response to invaders as well as the attenuating factors downregulating inflammation.

I have always found the term work-life balance to both mask the real problem as well as cause confusion about what both work and life entail (as an aside Schrodinger’s essay “What is Life” is certainly a worthwhile read). Certainly we need balance in life. Certainly we need to work. And certainly everyone is in favor of life over the alternative. However calculating the minutes spent in an occupation or hours spent at home is surely a poor way to measure either as well. And as great as “Rent” is, love isn’t a terribly concrete way to measure anything. We live in a unique time in human history where our occupations can be our passions and not merely the basis for sustaining life. I enjoy research and medicine, and much of the large quantities of time that I spend working on either could be thought of as a sort of recreation in that it is interesting and non-arduous. However you certainly need time for family and “life” as well. The importance for both work and life is being present in both. What is interesting is that when many people refer to needing down time or “life balance” this is more of a way to say they enjoy time on the couch being entertained as opposed to being intentional about the human interactions between family and friends that we value so much. At work many people avoid thinking about how to push the envelope occupationally and instead escape to pleasant day dreams about their life outside of work. In running there is the idea of junk mileage, that is miles that you run but that don’t necessarily help you become faster or more in shape. Getting rid of “junk” hours both in work and in life is critical. Innumerable “junk” hours can be spent at work without making progress or with family without building relationships or caring for one another.

To find success in work-life balance both work and life must be pursued with intentionality, curiosity, and enthusiasm. Often the balance between work and life is not between work and life, but between efficient use of the time we have and a squandering of that which has been given to us.

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