“I’m not an early bird, I’m not a night owl, I’m some sort of permanently exhausted pigeon.”
If you’re planning on going back to school and you intend to keep some sort of life, be it work or personal, consider yourself a new breed of ‘permanently exhausted pigeon’.
One thing is to let yourself get lost in the idea of school, but another is to take up every day go to work, eat on the road, sit in class for 3 hours, make amazing friends, study on the weekends, and steal sleep when you can.
My first semester was less than stellar. Before you get lost in the grandeur of graduate school, I want to get real with you.
Exhibit A: Tripping Going Up the Stairs
When juggling classes, group projects, essays, work, personal life, and more, often the first to go is time for the gym. In an effort to combat this, graduate students like myself opt for the stairs. During one time in my hustle to get my coffee in the 10-minute class break, I managed to trip going up the stairs.
In my defense, I was tired and I had not been on Stairmaster in 6-weeks therefore, my legs had forgotten what to do.
When thinking about going back to school, take into consideration that your personal time will be shrunk. You may not be able to make your 5 pm boot camp class all semester or that 10 am Saturday spin class every week due to a group meeting.
However, there is hope for the gym rats and socially active souls.
Something I’ve deemed “time strict-ness”. Time strict-ness is more than jotting down due dates in your planner, it’s associating dedicated hours for yourself and following through with it.
Time strict-ness is a promise that if you plan on studying from 5 pm - 6 pm before class, then between 5 pm - 6 pm you will not open up Facebook.
Accept that some things will undoubtedly have to give, but not everything.
That 10 am spin class might have to be replaced with a 5 am Tuesday class or solo-bike ride Thursdays at 3 pm. Following your time strictly will help alleviate some stress associated with shortened personal hours.
Don’t forget to laugh at yourself. A lot of people go back to school to learn new skills and advance in their careers but along the way, we develop ourselves.
Exhibit B: Ordering Chick-Fil-A at Starbucks
Having stayed up most of the night finishing two parts of a group project, neither of which were mine to do, I mustered myself to Starbucks before work and ordered a 4-pack of chick-n-minis with honey.
The barista and I were equally confused.
That being said: Expect to be tired.
Compared to undergraduate, the course work is heavier and professors expect a higher level of thinking with less prep and shorter deadlines.
There are some people who get through school splendidly, who make the best grades, never complain, work full time, attend every social networking event and are the president of 3 clubs. I’m here to tell you, that may not be you and that’s ok.
It’s ok to get tired and it will happen, but remember why you got started. Never compare yourself to the other people in class because you’ll be left unhappy. Befriend these unique creatures and learn from them, don’t put yourself down because you aren’t there yet.
Your initial driver to go back to school needs to be legitimate and thoughtful. Having the oven set at half the temperature will only result in half-baked cookies; having a lousy excuse to go back to school will only result in half-done work.
Your motivation is your fuel to get through long days at work (or home) and long nights in class.
Exhibit C: Eating Vending Machine Snacks for Dinner
I wish I could say that during my first semester I still managed to keep my eating habits in check, but that would be a great exaggeration. Between running from work to class and fighting traffic, it was easier to eat Gardetto's (again) than to have a real meal.
If you plan on starting a graduate career, realize that making yourself a priority will be a difficult, yet important task. Time strict-ness, as mentioned above, can help ensure that you give yourself time. In addition, having a partner be involved in this journey can help make the process easier.
If you thought that graduate school was going to be a piece of cake, think again.
I’m not trying to scare you out of it, but I don’t want to give you a false impression either. Everything is possible when you have a strong support group, a level head, and very detailed planner.
Prepping my food during the weekend became a must as the semester went on. On campus, there was a common area with a fridge and microwave where I could warm up meals previously prepared. Understand that not every day you will be eating a right out of the oven meal, but you will eat.
Despite these case studies, graduate school is a wonderful time. In my first semester I have shown professional growth, established my personal brand, made real connections, met brilliant professors and colleagues, and I would not trade it for anything.
Your decision to go back to school is a real commitment.
I highly encourage it.
What’s next? Do your research. Find your passion. Make a decision.