Now that we’re in the third week of classes and the dust of a new term has finally settled, I decided to take some time to write a new blog post. My schedule is kind of insane right now, but I need to remember to take time to do what I want to do. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I actually do want to study and do my homework, but I also want to spend time writing and reading things that are not going to end up with a grade on them.
I really wish I would have understood how important it is to do this a few years ago. The first few years of my college career were filled with stress, nonstop studying and homework, and little to no time for myself. Was this necessarily a bad thing? Not entirely. But there is so much more to life than school or work. Coming from the girl that is currently working close to 90 hours each week between homework, internships, and work, you would think I shouldn’t have much of a say on this topic, but I’m slowly learning what it means to live a balanced life.
I knew that this term was going to be hard, but I went into it telling myself that I was going to find balance. Have I found that balance yet? Maybe not quite as much as I could, but I’m getting there. The first week of classes was a bit of a disaster. I was getting everything done, but my mind was racing constantly. I was forgetting to pack my lunch in the morning (or packing it but leaving it on the kitchen table). I put an empty pot on the stove to boil because apparently invisible coffee is more effective than boring old liquid coffee. In just one week my stress levels were alarmingly high, but did I notice? No. At least not until I realized I had been subconsciously clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth at night because of all of the stress. I told myself I was going to find balance this term, and I had done everything but that during the first week of classes.
To make my brain comprehend that taking breaks is a good thing, I’ve scheduled into my day times when I am not allowed to study. At all. It almost physically hurts if I try this for much more than an hour at a time, but guess what? After consistently making myself take breaks this last week, my stress level has significantly decreased. I feel calmer. My thoughts aren’t racing quite as often as usual. And I don’t feel like I have a migraine in my face. I’m still putting empty pots on the stove and dumping water in trash bins, but I blame that on early mornings rather than stress.
So as I try to figure out how to balance work and self-care, I’m finding that I’m doing it for more than just my own health. I’ve been hyper aware of the fact that I’m moving out of the country in one year, so I want to be spending time with my family and friends. Most of the people in my life would agree with me in saying that during the school year I have a tendency to forget to reply to messages and cancel coffee dates like I’ve developed an allergy to social interaction. This term I’m trying to make time to actually spend time with the people I love.
But aside from working on my social life, I’ve discovered something kind of strange recently: I am supposed to be a role model. This is my last semester as a college senior, and I’m just now noticing that younger students are paying attention to what I’m doing. They are asking me questions about homework and essays. They are asking me about study abroad opportunities and want to hear all about Oxford. A few even want to know about my internships and career plans as an English major. When I first realized this I told my friend Amy how strange this felt to me and how I was just realizing that I might actually have an influence on people. She laughed a little bit, but then said something that kind of caught me off guard: “I have news for you, dear. You already have an influence on a ton of people. You just have a chance to be intentional about it now.”
A chance to be intentional. Intentional influencing? If someone would have come up to me as a 17 year old college freshman and said “people are going to look up to you some day” I would have laughed and thought they were crazy. I’m supposed to be the introverted book worm who is afraid of speaking in front of more than five people. Or at least I used to be. But the last four years have given me so many wonderful gifts, and if I can use those areas of growth to be a good role model for people that are still trying to figure out what college is for, then I should be intentional about it. And maybe living a balanced life is one key to being a positive influence on others.
So, if you are reading this and you happen to be a college freshman, a high school student who is thinking about life after high school, or anyone that is just trying to figure out how to find balance like I am, here are a few things I’ve learned (in no particular order of importance) that I wish someone would have told me a few years ago:
1. There is nothing wrong with imperfection – We are human. We don’t do perfect. The sooner you realize this the better. It wasn’t until I was able to stop obsessing over grades and writing perfect essays that I was able to start enjoying school and enjoying life in a new way. We are works in progress, and that’s okay.
2. No one has ever died from speaking up* – This was a huge issue for me until maybe a year and a half ago. Whether it was giving a speech in class, going to a professor or supervisor about an issue I was having, or just joining a conversation, I used to be terrified of my own voice. I’m still a proud introvert, but I’m not afraid to speak up anymore, and because of it I am able to learn better, problem solve more efficiently, and communicate effectively.
3. You don’t need a ten-year plan to be successful – Yes, having a plan is good. Going to college only to find out four years later that you have no idea what you are going to do with your degree is not good. So what am I saying? Know that university is not for everyone. Know that changing your major is okay (just try not to do it ten times then end up with a degree in soul-searching). Know that you will find what you want to do in the right time, and if you end up changing careers ten years later that that’s okay, too. It took me almost two years to decide I wanted to major in English, but I didn’t know I wanted to teach at a university until my senior year.
4. Study – Yes, sleep and friends are important, too. And even though I needed to learn how to take a break from studying once in a while, I have seen too many friends regret their decisions to avoid studying until their GPA’s gave them a panic attack. University is supposed to be the place where you prepare yourself for life and a career, so paying attention to the work that gets you there is kind of a big deal. Have fun, but remember that you are paying for this degree, so make it worth the investment.
5. Have fun – Relax. Make friends. Go to sporting events or join a club. Read a book that isn’t on a textbook list. Write a blog. Have coffee with a friend. If you love something, do it. This kind of goes with the previous point, but in a different way. To study well you need to be healthy, so take care of yourself. I’m working on this one a lot right now, and I am already seeing a huge difference in the way I feel.
I’m not an expert on how to survive life and college, but I have had plenty of wonderful friends and mentors over the last four years who have given me these pieces of advice, so I thought I should pass them on. I’m still trying to get used to the idea that I have any influence over anyone, but I think for now I’ll just focus on trying to live an intentionally balanced life, do what I love, and hopefully a little bit of positive influencing will happen as a result.