The Moment: All or nothing

I was proud of having everything so well under control.
Photo: Guy Ackermans

Turning points: sometimes you spot them immediately and sometimes only in retrospect. In this series, members of the WUR community describe a decisive moment they will never forget. This time, Gerrieke Middendorp talks about how family life forced her to concentrate on doing what she loved best.

‘Both in my career and in my personal life, I wanted to do everything well. My guiding principle was: give it everything you’ve got or don’t do it at all. So that was my approach when I was combining my job as a lab technician at Food Microbiology with a busy family life. My youngest child was born in 2017. I was looking after my two children, breastfeeding them, and working hard. I was proud of having everything so well under control.

But my youngest was a poor sleeper, which meant that my husband and I didn’t sleep well either. That took its toll. I was tired and I kept forgetting things. I tend to be forgetful anyway, but lack of sleep and the pregnancy hormones made that worse. After struggling on for a while, I had no resilience left and I was finding it harder and harder to keep to my own standards at work. Something had to give. Because of my all-or-nothing mentality, I considered stopping work altogether.

I gave some thought to what gave me the most satisfaction at work, and that was teaching on courses. I enjoyed leading practicals and transferring knowledge to students – which was actually what attracted me to this job in the first place. I discussed this with my husband and as we talked, I realized that I wouldn’t mind dropping certain tasks. I let go of my perfectionist principle and started concentrating on education. In our department there are peak times in the teaching periods. Now that I take over some of my colleagues’ work, we’ve created a nice win-win situation. I now coordinate practicals (currently online), I give introductory lectures and I supervise students. In some periods with a lot of courses, I have to work five days a week, and in other periods just one day a week. That lack of regularity might seem complicated, but I don’t experience it that way.

Because of my all-or-nothing mentality, I considered stopping work altogether

I find more peace and quiet now that I’ve stopped doing my own research, and my work is more streamlined. I’m still getting used to having taken this step, but I don’t regret it. In a little while I’d like to start doing a bit more, but I will keep the focus on education.’

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