A Change in Perspective on Work-Life Balance
To my fellow first-years,
I’ve spent the past couple of months reflecting on the semester that we completed. Given that this piece revolves around these reflections, I’m intentionally writing this on the first day of class – it seemed more authentic to do so post-looking at timelines, due dates, and watching lectures. This is me establishing, right off the bat, that I’m not going to be explaining how I’ve got myself together over the break. I didn’t come to a magical solution, but I did learn a few valuable things from being in the depths of online school.
I spent the almost-month-long break trying to recuperate from the stress of online learning and the exhaustion that came with it. And I've been trying to answer the infamous question, "how's online school been?" even though there isn't one word or phrase that can do it justice. And now, it’s our first day back, and I think we’re all shocked, once again, by everything that we have to complete from now until the end of the semester, which feels like an eternity away.
The entire purpose of this piece is to relay an idea that I came to understand during our time off from school. I think that at this point, the term "work-life balance" has found a way to insert itself into almost every conversation that we have. It's something that we preach and maybe trick ourselves into believing that we're doing all the time. But realize that when we're sleeping at 2:30 am after finishing an assignment and waking up at 6:00 am for a workout, well… maybe we're not fulfilling exactly what the word "balance" actually means.
The inspiration behind this idea came from a friend of mine, who said mid-conversation a few days ago that we sometimes put unnecessary boundaries on time.
· We rush through life daily, from classes and assignments to meals and sleeping.
· A "to-do" list is only beneficial when it has been adapted to both our mental capacity that day and the amount of available time that we have.
· Last but not least, the tremendously overwhelming expectation of having to complete so many things in one semester.
And it's that exact overbearing expectation that gave rise to an alternate perspective on what a semester actually insinuates in my mind. We see the word semester as purely describing the time to do school and work, whereas a break is our time to live. And yes, that makes the anticipation for time off that much more exciting, but on the flip side, it makes September-December and January-April an absolutely unbearable time dedicated to working.
The reality is, we need to live our lives while we're in school... which would've been much easier to do if we were living on campus with an easily accessible social environment. Leading the double life between going to class and seeing friends would've been relatively uncomplicated, and balance wouldn't be as exhausting to maintain. But one of the biggest challenges of 2020 has been the attempt to preserve both sides as best as possible, with limited access.
I think that most of us spent the month of December reflecting on how our first semester of University went. Trying to identify things that we did or didn't do, that worked or didn't work, in an attempt to maintain an overall balance for ourselves. In some way, shape, or form, we're all coming into January with a slightly better understanding of how we want to balance work and life and hopefully improving the way we do so. Because at the end of the day, we are each responsible for being the most influential factor in creating a liveable life for ourselves. And we get to decide how to incorporate different facets of our lives into every single day that we go through.
I can definitely say that my outlook on the balance between work and life has shifted from what I thought back in September. I've figured out that I can't operate at my best while looking at a long list of daily tasks. Today, I inputted the next weeks' worth of work into my Outlook calendar, but on a separate piece of paper, I created a skeleton schedule of only what today is comprised. And on this list, I've only written down things that I know I can start and finish today. I used to make over-ambitious to-do lists, scheduling every minute of every day, and disappointing myself. In actuality, I couldn't complete ten lectures and three assignments in 6 hours. But the benefit of being in a new semester is having a better understanding of the time and effort that I actually need to put into my assignments. And in this way, I can be a little bit easier on the goals and expectations that I set for myself.
I've decided in my mind to start calling it a "life-work balance" rather than a "work-life balance." It doesn't have the same ring to it, but it gets me thinking about my life first, before my work responsibilities. My sleeping comes first and my mental health comes first – because when that falls apart, work productivity does too.
And it's definitely not easy to do. We've spent our lives having school being the first thing that we do in a day, and for far more hours than we spend at home. So, of course, we're wired to work long, taxing days, and guilt hits hard when we don't feel like we did. I've needed to flip that phrase so that when I wake up in the morning, I think about a workout or a yummy breakfast before I think of my first class. Because guess what? My classes are going to be there all day, but breakfast only happens in the morning. Meals have due dates too.
The moral of the story is each of us needs to put more action into what we preach for ourselves. The fact is, 2020 has been a year of redundantly similar days…but it's up to you, and you only, to add little moments to make every day a little better, and a little different. Reminding yourself about how important your life is, and how important your goals are to you. Because the goals you want to achieve will become more inspiring when you're actually fit to put in the work.
Here’s to another semester, this one with a little more life in it than the last.
Your first-year frosh representative,