I first heard these words from Dr. Maria Sturchler during a W.S.S. health Q & A panel last year after she was asked about any advice she had for premeds. As a sophomore in college who was starting to explore opportunities outside of the classroom, this really resonated with me at the time. However, following the onset of a pandemic that has only further blurred the lines between my work life and my personal life, I understand now more than ever the struggle of balancing commitments while still making time for yourself. As members of WSS, this is a chapter in life where we all feel intense pressure to perfectly balance all of our responsibilities while still remembering to do the things that make us happy.
Obviously, to be successful in a country that puts a high premium on work ethic, it is necessary to do your best to continually follow through on commitments you’ve made to school and work. However, the Mayo Clinic lists fatigue, poor health, and lost time with friends and loved ones as the potentially very negative consequences of spending too much of your time focused on work, and not enough time focused on yourself. While you may think you’re helping yourself by forgoing sleep to chug a Yerba and pull an all-nighter for your bio test, in the long term you may be doing more harm than good to your body, mind, and relationships. This begs the question: when every activity in your life seems to want the biggest piece of your time for itself, how do you make sure you are satisfying your commitments while still protecting your physical and mental health?
1. Create boundaries between work and home
During a global pandemic that forces you to spend most of your time at home, this can be easier said than done. However, there is power in psychological programming. One way of preserving productivity and sanity in your home is to do work and personal things in separate places. Learn to associate the living room with lectures, but keep your bed for yourself and TikTok. Again, space can be tricky to handle during a time like this, but it is the little measures that can still give you a feeling of compartmentalizing your life.
2. Remember you can always say no
This can be hard if you’re a people-pleaser like myself. However, If you know you have a crazy week with two tests, a scheduled phone call with Grandma, multiple shifts at work, and other assignments, it is OK to tell someone you don’t have time for virtual tabling. I have learned the hard way that it is better to opt-out of a project than commit to it without being able to follow through.
3. Don’t associate working longer with working smarter
In a study from the Harvard Review about the relationship betweem longer work hours and intelligence, it was found that IQ decreases almost 13 points when people are trapped in a "tunnel vision" mindset about work. So before you chug your yerba and try to spend several hours cramming for a test, remember that you might be doing more harm than good to your performance.
This tip, which I first read in this great Forbes Article that provides six tips for a work-life and balance, is especially relevant now more than ever. My roommates and I have all discussed feeling like we spend the entire day glued to our screens. Although you have to attend that Zoom lecture, afterward make sure to take some time to cook yourself a nice meal or read a book you haven’t picked up in a while before you immediately pick up your phone. Unplugging with a simple activity is a great way to give your eyes a break from the blue light while your brain gets a break from the pressure.
5. Understand that the perfect work-life balance is unattainable
If there is one thing that I can tell any of you after three years of college, it is that you will never feel like you have it all at once. There will be times where you are married to your chem class and there will be times you have to pull extra shifts at work to make sure your insurance gets paid. There will be times you choose to go out with your friends instead of studying a little extra and times where you have to miss dinner with the girls to study for a test. The key to managing everchanging commitments is to just learn to embrace the season you are in and never forget the importance of moderation.
In reality, most of us will have very few chapters of life where it seems like life is a well-oiled machine whose parts are all in sync. However, if you stay patient with yourself and learn to prioritize your needs, it is possible to go to bed at the end of the day feeling like although you may not have everything you want, you do have everything you need.
Be sure to remember that you are also never alone in this journey! WSS is an entire network of women who know what it is like to be in your shoes, and is always here to provide any kind of support you need as you try to maintain the chaotic balancing act that is being a collegiate woman in STEM. As always, hope everyone is staying safe and healthy!
Links to articles for more insight about balancing work and life:
Link to WSS Nationals website to learn more about Dr. Sturchler (who is actually on the board!):