Life in graduate school is challenging and stressful, not only because of program demands to excel and be productive, but also because there is life outside of the lab, classroom, and the university. The demands of health, relationships, and responsibilities don’t stop.
We seek to find a balance between our graduate studies, research and life responsibilities—and often feel unsuccessful. This can result in debilitating feelings of failure, perhaps negative thoughts that “something is wrong with me,” which only intensifies shame or guilt.
I find it important to move away from this binary and re-frame it as a work-in-progress. We need to give ourselves permission to live the truth of not yet!
When an infant is learning how to walk and takes her initial steps and falls, we don’t scowl and shout, “Get up, what’s wrong with you?” No, we smile, clap and cheer because we know her muscles are getting stronger and she will find her balance. We don’t expect a seven-year old to be doing calculus. Not yet! But we are good at imposing upon ourselves unrealistic expectations of perfection rather than give ourselves permission to grow, to live not yet.
What helps me is to view the areas of my life not as separate–or compartmentalized–and not to see balancing as an achievement. Rather, it is a process that I listen and pay attention to constantly because it is easy to lose perspective and balance. We must respond by being authentic—being human– and this includes being vulnerable and growing through our struggles and with our limitations.
What helps keep perspective and focus? For some it’s regular exercise—yoga, running, or cycling. For others it’s listening to music, creating art, or talking to a friend. For others it may be meditative or spiritual practices. Whatever helps you—practice it! Practice being present with yourself and others. Stay connected to your passion and to that which grounds and centers you. Rather than being a selfish act, this investment in yourself allows you to be a better student, colleague, partner, friend, and parent.
Live your gifts as a practice. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to hold and appreciate the not yet. Then, your work and personal life will be acts which flow from your center, your heart, and will be powerfully generative and transformative.
This post’s guest author is Dr. Gino Aisenberg, Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Diversity in the Graduate School and Associate Professor of Social Work.