I will begin by saying it can be done, and it can be done well. Balancing a career, time with the family, and maintaining a high performance in all the classes in which you are enrolled is no easy feat, but isn’t unattainable. The balancing act requires patience, organization, sacrifice, diligence, and a little humor when all the eggs you’re juggling fall to the floor. During my first year in graduate school, I learned several things about myself. One was that time became the most precious entity to me and, two, that I never had enough of it. It was a hard lesson to learn in my mid-twenties when I thought I had everything figured out, except how to do my own taxes or how long it takes egg whites to really expire. I thought I could maintain my full-time nursing career in a clinic five days a week, keep up my social relationships with my family and friends, and obtain A’s in my classes across the board. It took me a few weeks and a few meltdowns to get smart and realize something had to give or everything in my life was going to go south.
My first piece of advice for balancing all the important aspects of your life is do a little spring cleaning, so to speak. Eliminate the stressful, unnecessary parts of your life that you can do without while you make room for school. In my case, I picked my full-time job. And no, I didn’t start this with “Once upon a time” because no one stepped in to pay my rent or grocery bills afterward. I accepted a hospital PRN position, or as I like to call it, Work-If-I-Have-Time job to accommodate my school schedule. The bottom line is that I chose to go back to school for a reason and I needed to prioritize my time devoted to that schedule. You may find you need to do the same.
My second piece of advice is to learn to say “No” when you truly don’t have the time. You will quickly discover that friends and family will not always understand your new schedule and it’s difficult to find the time to fit them in when you have work, class, and other non-negotiables in your life taking up space. I’ve remedied this problem by inviting friends and family to exercise classes, walks around the park with coffee, or out to dinner because I want to do all those things anyway! I suggest scheduling dates during the week with friends and family as meaningful study breaks and it will give you something fun to look forward to as a perfect time to say “Yes!” Write it in your calendar and check it off your list.
My third piece of advice is to remember that self-care is not optional, it is essential. There is a reason why the balancing act requires a counter-balance to classwork. Use these times to recharge your batteries to get back in the game when you’re ready. One of the reasons I chose to reduce my work hours is because I knew I would need a day here or there to simply do nothing. No work, no school, no laundry. Watch that episode (or three) on Netflix or read your favorite travel magazine. Being a student is a 24/7 job on its own, so it’s important to take a little time to reflect on your hard work and give yourself room to breathe—and breathing is absolutely essential for the balancing act.