Balancing Work, Grad School & My Social Life

Posted On Saturday, 29 March 2014
Balancing Work, Grad School & My Social Life

How do I keep my head on straight when everything demands parts of my day? Let me first start off by saying how lucky I am to be working while in school. Especially doing something that I love to do. I know I am not the only student who goes to work everyday, and then off to class at night. If I could, I would give each of you a piece of cake of admiration and have a day specifically dedicated to you.

Also, I want to say how fortunate I am to be in Grad school. Never in my life did I think I would even graduate college, sometimes high school was even doubtful, but here I am about to graduate with a master's degree in June.

That being said, don't you ever feel like screaming and ripping your hair out, or should I say shave it all off (like most people seem to do when they've officially lost it)?

I do.

Call my mom, or even my boyfriend who have answered plenty of those crying, hyperventilating , "I can't do this anymore!" late night stress-induced phone calls. I believe that I am a person who is driven by pressure. When there's a lot going on, that's when I thrive the most, and feel the best. As a natural competitor, working against the clock is my specialty.

Nothing feels better than a long list becoming shorter with another accomplished task under my belt. When there are long breaks in school, even some weekends when I don't have to troll around the streets of Chicago looking for my next interview, or spend my weekend locked away in a library reading and researching while being fueled by large cups of coffee until late in the night, I feel incomplete. I have too much time on my hands.

The truth is, I never used to be like that. I've learned how to manage pressure, and the stressors of balancing three HUGE priorities in my life. Stress was my enemy. All the insomnia, panic and anxiety would take its toll on me. Before every test I took, I would physically get sick and stay up all night, regardless of how long I studied, and knew the material like the back of my hand.

My mom likes to remind me of the dreaded year of 1995 when my first grade teacher mentioned we were having a test. I instantly panicked, threw up and spent the rest of the morning in the nurses office breathing into a brown paper bag. Who knew that a six year old could have such anxiety over a silly test that wouldn't amount to anything? Unfortunately, It never got any easier. All my life I was a horrible test taker, would get myself so worked up that I couldn't focus on anything else around me but the panic I felt.

Working became part of my life at the age of 16, when my first job was at a Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robins store. Schoolwork was also increasing, as the early preparations for college applications and ACTs haunted my dreams. It was like twilight zone every year, or every time I had an important project or test in my schedule. Here came the anxiety, the stress and the want to run to my room and hide for eternity.

I never knew how to handle stress, or know where to start to balance my life. Or if I did know how to balance my social, work and school life, it seemed way less complicated in my teenage years than it does in my early twenties. I was also involved in year round competitive sports, which now that I look back on it, helped tremendously.

Work stayed with me throughout the rest of my High school days. My senior year I was even involved in a co-op program where my school days were shortened to six class periods so that I could go to work around 2 pm. I managed to get through test days, again without sleeping and still found ways to hang out with friends to have a social life.

College was a different story. I thought it was supposed to be the time of my life, socializing and parties, which my first few years I spent way too much time doing.

Focusing on the socializing, not so much on the studying, I didn't know what I was doing in school. At the most unhealthiest point of my life, I decided to come home to attend a community college and continue working to concentrate on my physical and emotional well being.

Even after all these years, attending a community college and working, I still had horrible trouble dealing with the balance of work, school and a social life. Will this ever end?! The struggle continued on until I transferred to DePaul University, where I would obtain my degree and go on to Graduate school and also learn how to balance my life.

For those who are considering graduate school, let me explain that this will be a lot more work, a lot more pressure than just an undergrad degree. Even though college is work within itself, grad school is a whole new level. Taking more of your time, I cannot emphasize enough how important balance is.

School is a very important priority I have, which means dedicating majority of my time to it. I still have a social life, but my friends also are in the same boat as me trying to balance work, school and sometimes an internship. Our get-togethers aren't as often as they used to be like a few years ago. Some of my friends however, weren't like me and didn't go to college and wouldn't understand why my weekends weren't filled with bar hopping, all night adventures and lazy sleep ins.

My priorities suddenly shifted and as you age your interests change, which mine did drastically as well. My going out life was the last thing I was worried about. This meant friendships that didn't have the same interests or priorities as me faded. That happens and that's just how life works, and that is okay.

I'd like to say I've added some wisdom in my last years of my life, especially in Grad school, (adults, roll your eyes here). What does a 24 year old know about wisdom? I'll tell ya. Time management will be one of the most important skill sets you learn from going to college that will be a key into how you balance the rest of your life.

Organizing is Your Best Friend

Over the past few years, more so this year than any other time, I have become obsessively organized. I need to be, sometimes my ADHD gets the best of me and I can easily forget what task I am doing, while consciously thinking of 80 other things that I have to do while sudden bursts of energy cause me to run around my apartment. Since taking myself off my medication a couple years ago due to the hatred of how I felt (a whole other topic, maybe my next writing assignment ;) ), organizing is what I need to stay balanced.

I have lists on top of lists: groceries for the week, tasks for the day, tasks for the week, etc. I have a file folder to separate bills, credit card payments, and my bank statements. I have two calendars, one I use specifically for work purposes, the other for daily reminders, physical therapy sessions, doctors appointments, etc. I even have daily meals planned, packed and ready to eat, especially the Monday-Wednesdays I am in class.

This may seem a little obsessive and I can partially blame my type-A personality for, but without organization, all is lost.

Structure

Nothing goes hand in hand like organizing and structure in order to find a balance. Some of my friends and family members joke how much I excessively plan in advance. Example: My lease is up July 1 and I have already been searching and contacting landlords for unit openings around that time. Okay, that might be just a little too much but the important thing is, I am thinking ahead.

This relates to how I structure my time for work, which task will require the most time, as well as which task needs to be accomplished first. Planning is crucial for my school assignments, they even make a whole syllabus out of planning! Knowing which assignments are due on certain days allows me to plan accordingly to make sure I get it done.

Even making plans with a significant other or your best buds requires planning around a structured schedule. Bottom line, everyone has the same amount of hours within a day, and it's up to you to decide when and where you will be dedicating your time.

The Right Crowd

Like I said before about priorities and interests changing, having positive and supportive people in your life make a huge difference. My family is a huge reason why I am where I am today. Not only does their encouragement mean the world to me, but also their love also proves that they believe in what I am doing.

My boyfriend is single-handedly my greatest support system and number one fan. Believing in me when I have doubted, and the strongest shoulder I have ever leaned on. Without getting too emotional I will just say, he is my rock, and I am grateful for his understanding as my weekdays and some weekends don't involve seeing him as much.

A strong small group of friends have also made transitioning into my balance act a hell of a lot easier. Friends I've made in school also share the same priorities and class schedules, which makes it easier to hang out. Some of my close friends who don't live in Chicago also understand that breaks in school might be the only time we can get together.

My point is, that without positive, supportive and understanding people in your life that help encourage you instead of getting mad that you're spending so much time away from them, balancing your work/school/social load will not be easy.

Exercising

Exercise always helps, no matter what the situation is. When in doubt, sweat it out. Numerous studies have been conducted to prove how much exercise helps relieve stress, anxiety, depression and helps in balancing your work, social and school load. Exercise before hitting your schoolbooks has proven to boost memory.

I could spend hours talking about how much my health and stress levels improved after I started exercising regularly. Not only does it boost my mood, but also it makes me feel more focused on a task, and more relaxed that I can handle a 5,000-word paper coming up.

When it comes to balancing work, school and a social life, it's very easy to become overly stressed and constantly feel panic. I promise though, once you get into the swing of managing your time, everyday and every new obstacle becomes so much easier.


Lauren Allen

Lauren just completed her undergrad with a double major in communication media studies and journalism. She plans to continue her education at DePaul University, working towards a masters degree in journalism. Lauren is extremely passionate about learning new ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle with food, fitness and wellness.

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