Archaeology and Work Life Balance

In 2012, I was given a 100% hours reduction/ furlough– my company’s chicken sh*t way of laying me off. I had a wife, a young son, and am guardian to my teenage sister. There wasn’t too much archaeology work going down in my part of the country either. With bills piling up all around me, I used my resume-writing and networking skills to land a temporary archaeology job in my town in less than 2 weeks. I landed a permanent position in less than 6 weeks (you can find out more about how I did this in my resume-writing series). My first book was born from this experience. Since then, I have used this book to help dozens of other archaeologists land work in cultural resource management.

For those two weeks of unemployment, I had loads of time to spend with my family. I hadn’t been unemployed in years. After I got over the initial shock of being laid off and not knowing where my next paycheck was going to come from, I did the best I could to adjust to life without a job. Because I was taking care of my then 1-year-old son, I couldn’t just sit around and drink my days away in lethargic despair. I had to maintain a schedule. Just like Ernest Shackleford, I tried to keep my life shipshape.

  • I worked on landing a job in the morning before my wife went to work,
  • Spent most of the day playing with my kid,
  • Called potential employers when my son was napping,
  • Made dinner and cleaned the house in the afternoon,
  • And, resumed my search after my wife had come home at night.

I quickly learned that having time with my kid was awesome. I loved having the time to watch him grow and develop as a toddler. It was also great to help my wife by cleaning the house and making dinner. The specter of homelessness loomed in the background, but we were all getting along harmoniously.

The only problem was we couldn’t afford it. Our lifestyle cost too much for me to stay unemployed.

I also made several realizations about how my career was effecting my life:

  • My personal identity was strongly linked to my identity as an archaeologist.
  • Five days was too many to work each week.
  • I was giving all my research away to my employer and was spending too little time on my own personal research.
  • My job would never be secure as long as I worked for somebody else.
  • As far as my employer was concerned, I was expendable.
  • Things were never going to change unless I did something about it.

Creating an optimal work-life balance is very difficult for those of us that work as archaeologists, historic preservationists, architectural historians or otherwise employed in heritage conservation. Evidentially, we aren’t alone.

I just watched an excellent presentation by Nigel Marsh on how we can all work towards creating a quality work-life balance. Maybe it can give you some inspiration too.


I would really love to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments, write below or send me an email.

The book Small Archaeology Project Management is available on the Kindle.

Learn how my résumé-writing knowledge helped four of my fellow archaeologists land cultural resources jobs in a single week!

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