One of the most widely cited articles in the psychological literature is George Miller’s paper about the magical number seven, plus or minus two. As someone who studied human memory and cognition, I read this paper several times during graduate school. The gist is that Miller found repeated occurrences in which human information processing capacity (e.g., remembering a string of numbers) tends to be about seven, plus or minus two. So how does memory theory relate to blog trips and family balance, you ask?
I recently received an event invitation from a major corporation. The company wasn’t the best fit for my editorial point of view (i.e., it's a non-organic food brand), but I was intrigued; I thought it could be a good opportunity for me to raise my eco-geek voice to The Man. Logistically, the trip also made sense because I have to fly across the country anyway for another trip and could back-to-back the two events. And personally, when I saw the roster – which includes several blog friends I would love, love, love to see – I felt more compelled to go.
I brought up the itinerary with Jon and not surprisingly, was met with some resistance. We duked it out as only waspy New Englanders can: quietly, intellectually, and with plenty of festering. He felt that I was choosing work over family; that my actions indicated I needed an escape from him and Laurel. I felt annoyed and offended by these comments, particularly because I’m actually very selective about what I’ll even bring up with him; I don’t bother telling him about the invitations I turn down (though maybe I should, to get some credit for that). Plus, I'm in the classic mom position of being the default parent when child care evaporates, Laurel gets sick, etc. I also make birthday cakes from scratch. I do not feel as if I am someone who chooses work over family all of the time.
So to set some expectations, we tried to determine how many trips a year would be reasonable. At first I said three. Then Jon reminded me that I took three trips in July alone. Then I thought six seemed like a pretty reasonable number (rationale = once every other month), but then I thought maybe seven would be a better number (rationale = BlogHer automatically takes one space then I have six degrees of freedom for other trips).
And there I was at the magical number seven.
It was almost a little eerie.
In a really nerdy way.
We resumed the waspy squabbling, let the issue sit for a while, and never got around to mutually agreeing on a number (be it 5, 7, 9, or otherwise), but at the end of the day, Jon gave me his support to attend the event.
And then I paused.
I was nagged by the following:
1. Did I really want to be away for a week in September, while my adjustment-woe-prone daughter is in the process of adjusting to kindergarten?
2. After reflecting on Liz’s post on quantifying one’s worth – which I do on a regular basis when I bill and estimate projects for clients – could I really justify spending three days away (i.e., time that I could spend billing client projects) for an event that wasn’t a perfect fit?
3. And yes, back to that important point: the fit wasn’t perfect. Even if I could push my eco-agenda, that would only be a small piece of my involvement. I felt that I’d be doing a disservice to myself and to the brand to travel when the event might be a better fit for another blogger.
4. Finally, there was my friend Steph’s post on taking a break from blogger junkets in order to be with her family. I read that post right after Jon emailed me, telling me to go ahead and book the trip.
So what's the conclusion? I haven’t figured out my magic number. But I do feel strongly that this isn’t a time to be wasteful – with family time, work time, airplane fuel, the efforts of brands reaching out, or anything else. I’m going to keep following my instincts and only opt in to events that are a perfect fit and make sense from a family systems perspective.
I RSVP'd in the negative for the event that Jon and I squabbled over. And now I feel completely at peace.