I have this little note tacked up above my desk – a place where I invariably find myself spending more time than I’d like:
“Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.” - Robert Fulgham
It reminds me that we have this one, short, wonderful life to live. And as I embark on a professional journey, I need reminders that it isn’t all about work, it’s about play too. This is my first year in a doctoral program. Finding a healthy balance between my professional pursuits and personal wellbeing has been a challenge I’ve faced for years in school, but is especially important in the rigorous, high-stress environment in which I find myself now.
The underlying message I hear with some regularity is essentially: “the more/harder you work, the more successful you’ll be in this field.” I see some students take that to heart – they work 16 hours a day, never go to happy hour, don’t sleep enough, never take breaks, and lead very productive but unhappy lives.
I can’t be that person. I can work hard, but working too much means that what I create is strained – it’s lower quality, less interesting, and ultimately bad work. When I treat myself well (physically, mentally, and emotionally), I feel better and work better. I am more than just my work, and I remind myself of that by engaging in my hobbies, spending time with people I love, and exploring new things.
Below are some things that have helped me maintain balance in my life ¬– learned by experience, and from my mom, dear friends, professional mentors, books, articles, songs, and lots more. Not every trick works for everyone, and finding a formula that is successful for YOU is key – one person’s solution to a balanced life may be doing yoga, while another person’s is attending rock concerts. Ultimately, you decide what’s best for you, but this is my approach.
Closing my computer. Whenever I’m at home, if my computer is on, I feel obligated to be on it and working. So when I don’t need to work, I put it to sleep. It’s amazing how much calmer I feel when I can’t see that glow emanating from my desk.
Reading for pleasure. I read for school almost all day, but reading something that hasn’t been assigned is always a joy.
Arts and crafts. Whether I’m crocheting, scrap-booking, card-making, taking photographs, or sewing, I find all creative pursuits both soothing and relaxing.
Exercise. It’s well known that keeping your body active is an essential part to overall health. Even getting a short bit of exercise in every day works as a great de-stressor.
Staying organized. It’s important as a graduate student that I stay on top of my homework, meetings, teaching responsibilities, appointments, assignments, essays, research agenda… the list goes on. Trying to keep everything I need to get done in my head is impossible – I keep a planner with dates and to-do lists with me at all times so I have everything I need to know all in one place.
Taking breaks. Whether I’m at school working or at home studying, I take breaks, even for five minutes. Taking a deep breath, turning away from my work, and focusing my attention on something else is always helpful.
Maintaining boundaries. I don’t do reading for school in bed; I don’t multitask while I eat meals; I don’t return school-related emails after a certain time every evening. Maintaining a separation from work and home with some boundaries is essential for me.
Spending time with friends and family. This is the key to it all – remaining connected to the people I care about reminds me that I am part of a larger community, and that there’s more to life than just my schoolwork.
Caity Collins walks a tightrope: balancing grad school, guest blogging about career training for Pounding the Pavement, and writing trade school articles for Guide to Career Education.