It’s your first year of school. Or your fifth. The academic year begins after you’re fresh off of a summer of interning, vacationing, working or continuing education in a myriad of ways. Campus explodes with returning staff and students, skateboarders, bikers and pedestrians vying for space, and you step into another new schedule. Between the 15 credits you’re taking, you’re handed an armload of other expectations: make friends, keep friends, find a job on campus or close enough to bike, do EVERYTHING social that comes your way, join a club or three, meet with your advisor, take weekend trips, call your mother, study abroad, and keep your grades up. Oh, and work out. Students who are also parents, older than 25, first generation or otherwise considered “non-traditional” typically face even more demands for a successful blending of academics and everything else. It sometimes seems that everyone on campus is under pressure to do everything, be everything and be GOOD at everything, regardless of the personal toll.
Blending career with the rest of your life outside of school doesn’t get any easier, but the climate around what constitutes a “successful” career is changing. Currently, the United States is dismal in terms of providing support and resources for the easy integration of work and life: we as a nation rank 28th, only 9 from the bottom, of advanced countries in terms of successful work/life integration. Conversations, though, in the past few years have shifted significantly toward figuring out how to redefine success in life, including career, and I do believe we will get better as a nation in taking care of each other.
While greater governmental and policy change is needed to implement support at a larger scale in the work/life integration, it is up to us now to manage our own balance. During school is a good time to practice. Here are a few tips on how to get started:
1. Know yourself.
No other person will be able to tell you what is best for your life. You must do this work on your own. Take each day as an opportunity to learn about who you are, what you prioritize and how you see the best version of yourself in your community. Are you exhilarated by good grades? Does the happy exhaustion of a long trail run outweigh the extra hour of time spent talking on the phone with a friend? Is quiet time something that allows you to do well in other areas and, if so, how are you scheduling quiet time into your days? Unless you know where you are starting from, it is going to be extremely challenging to define where you’d like to be, and much easier to take on everything without intention and forethought.
2. Redefine what is valuable.
The world will attempt to define this for you on a daily basis. At any turn, it is easy to allow another person or entity to tell you what holds the most value in your life. If this is a system that works for you, go with it. But if not, take a step back and analyze it for yourself.
3. Welcome reality.
If you consider yourself on a budget of sorts, you may be able to better welcome and adhere to reality. With a strict budget, there is only so much money to spend. The same goes for your personal energy and engagement: once you’re tapped out, it is hard to refill and start over. Figure out ahead of time what your require in order to be the student you want to be: study groups, tutoring, time alone, breaks, staying busy, etc. If you are a parent, an employee, a friend, a partner, decide what of your personal energy is required to be the kind of (insert role here) you want to be, and then stick to your budget. Set boundaries respectfully, with yourself and others and practice enforcing them.
Work on your flexibility and forgiveness, with yourself and others. Recognize that it is easy for other people to place demands on you because it is their job to do so: your employers need your time and energy, your professors need your time and energy, your family needs your time and energy, your friends need your time and energy and all of this is okay. When you create expectations for yourself and others that are rigid and resentful, the stress will only increase. When you aren’t good at something, adjust. When a schedule changes that is out of your control, adjust. When life doesn’t happen exactly as it was supposed to, adjust. And then, when you figure out how to do that easily, write down a how-to and send it my way . .
Often for people, physical/mental health and sleep are the first things to go when life balance is out of sorts. Recognize now that none of the above practices are going to be possible for you if you are an exhausted, sick and emotional wreck 24/7. Be stingy with your time for rest.
Oh, and work out.
Thoughts on what helps you achieve balance and wellness in your own life? Please comment!
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Posted by Malia Arenth, Career Services Counselor