We recently caught up with Tzu-Tzu Benigni, IT Manager on the Enterprise Reporting & Analytics team, to chat about how the pandemic has impacted her work, what she’s learned about herself along the way, and the advice she’d give herself if she could go back in time and speak to the Tzu-Tzu of March 2020.
What is your current role at Yale?
I am on the Enterprise Reporting & Analytics team, supporting reporting and analytical tools outside of Workday – including Microsoft Business Intelligence tools, and Tableau.
How long have you been with the university, and how did you get started here?
I joined Yale in July 2006. Previously, I worked as a consultant in a corporate setting. I’d been on a really tough project. I say “tough” because it was a multi-year project, the client was extremely unhappy, and deadlines had already been missed by the time I joined the project team. We were told to work full-force (read as “no work-life balance”) until the project was finished. I like to think of myself as being a hard-worker and doing whatever it takes to get things done - but this project taught me my limits. I was unhappy, exhausted, and getting progressively more exhausted. One night on my drive home, I was tired and didn’t see black ice on the road - I ended up hitting a tree. I finally accepted that I’d reached my limit and began looking for another job. I had the good fortune to find a position at Yale with a job description that felt like it was written for me. I would find out later how amazing the team is, and how much being treated like a human (not just a resource) can impact morale. Luckily for me, I got the job and have been with this team ever since!
How has the COVID pandemic impacted your work?
I was fortunate to have previous experiences working from home and working with teammates that are remote. So, the technical aspect of the transition was not as disruptive for me as it may have been for others at the university. The challenge I initially faced was being “at the office” all the time – which proved to be more complicated with a child also at home full-time. The lines between working hours and non-working hours were not just blurred but overlapped and crisscrossed all day long!
I was not used to feeling scattered and having to bounce back and forth throughout my day, between work and attempting to explain long division using “old” math, preparing lunches, etc.. Still, I accept it as a new (and necessary) normal and am trying to stay as organized as possible. I used to make lists to keep track of my to-do’s (for both home and work). They are much longer now as I find my memory skills are less reliable these days. If I want to get it done, I have to write it down!
While working from home, what steps have you taken to achieve a work/life balance?
It is a constant work-in-progress, and I think it will continue to be a challenge as we enter the school year. We don’t have details from the school yet but anticipate a very different schedule than last semester. Because we’re all at home now, I no longer have large blocks of time to dedicate to work vs. non-work. My daughter is eight-years-old, and though she can handle some independent time, she cannot spend hours on her own (nor do we want her to!).
I think the most important (and most difficult!) thing I’ve done is to permit myself to step away from work for small pockets of time during the day and truly have a flexible schedule. My manager, teammates, clients, and family have all encouraged me to help me realize this. But it was up to me to accept that it was okay to do! At the start of the pandemic, I tried to be a super full-time mom and a super full-time professional at the same time - clearly impossible! I’m human and was running myself ragged! I have since found that if I do a little light planning the night before (look at my schedule, decide on small projects/activities for my daughter, make her a checklist of things to do), and be prepared for none of it to go to plan - it’s a lot less stressful. Luckily, she’s like me and likes getting to check things off her checklist, too!
Whenever possible throughout the day, I take breaks to check-in with her, and she’ll do the same with me. She’ll pop in when I’m on a call and just sit next to me for a few minutes, or sneak in a hug and then bounce away. I’ll see what she’s up to, help her with whatever projects or assignments I’ve given her, watch a Minecraft video (or 2, or 3…), etc. – basically spend focused time with her, even if it’s just a few minutes at a time.
As strange and scary as times are right now, I feel grateful to be able to work remotely and spend extra time with my eight-going-on-15-year-old. Extra time that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to share with her!
How have your leaders or peers supported you and ensured your success?
Those around me have consistently given me space and freedom to be flexible without asking. I’m grateful for their consideration, as I struggle to ask for what I need - not because I think it will be denied; it’s just not in my make-up. It is a great weight lifted off me – there’s no sense of guilt or pressure to try to stick to a conventional schedule. The reminders to be flexible are welcome and needed; I can’t help trying to pretzel myself into a “normal” schedule!
What have you learned about yourself as a result of this experience?
What was instilled in me during childhood, and is now part of my nature, is to have really high expectations for myself. I was taught that meeting those expectations was the only path to feeling fulfilled and happy. This meant that the pressures I was feeling were mostly self-inflicted. In the last few months, I have learned that being honest with myself and accepting what I can and cannot do plays a much bigger role in how happy and content I feel. I set much more reasonable goals for myself these days, and if I can’t meet them, I give myself a pass and don’t feel guilty about it! Granted, I don’t always give myself a pass, but I’m much better about it!
Do you have any advice for colleagues who are facing similar challenges as a result of the pandemic?
I’m not sure I’m in a position to advise since I’m still trying to figure it out! But if I were given a chance to send a message to the “me” in March 2020, I would say: Take care of yourself, seriously. Cast off any feelings of selfishness or guilt, and make sure you are taking care of you. Everyone is being asked to do the impossible in their own unique situations. Whether there are additional responsibilities to little ones, older ones, or furry ones - the most important responsibility is to yourself. It’s very easy to get caught up in what everyone else needs from you. Make sure you’re not only on the list, but that you’re at the top of the list. I read an article that put it this way: if the oxygen masks come tumbling down during a flight, you are supposed to put on your own before turning to help others. With that oxygen mask on, you’ll be able to provide so much more help!