We’re not sure if there’s a concrete definition for balance, but we know that a huge part of it is self-love. We know that it involves honoring yourself as you take on that long list of To-Dos…or To-Don’ts. Because really, we shouldn’t be cultivating our twerk instead of writing that three-page response paper due in four hours—or should we? But, seriously—honor yourself in everything that you do. That means getting to know yourself, recognizing and voicing your limits, and knowing when to say no and when to say yes.
As a way to illustrate how we achieve and try to maintain balance, we’ve decided to share stories from our lives during graduate school, which basically never stops happening until it stops happening. Let us explain:
Aisha – Learning to Balance Graduate School and the Rest of My Life
I have to admit that learning to balance surviving graduate school with the rest of my life has been very difficult. At times I have felt completely overwhelmed – trapped “between a rock and a hard place” – by things like my homework, research, community involvement; and being a daughter, sister, friend, colleague, and girlfriend (whew, even that list was exhausting). I think that this year in particular my feelings of being overwhelmed have come to a head as I have really begun to feel like a fish out of water in this graduate school environment. I often find myself needing to sit down and regroup. When I do make the time to do this, I reflect upon a few lessons I have picked up along the way – and these things help to ground me.
1. Learn to Say No
One of the most useful lessons in balance that I have learned is to say no. As cliché as this sounds, for a person like me who can tend toward people-pleasing, it is very difficult to say no to tasks, especially ones I would enjoy if I wasn’t busy with other things. Often I would find myself looking at my calendar for the coming week and wondering how I committed to so many activities. I would push myself through that overbooked week, skipping out on sleep and self-care, and would end up regretting doing things that normally would have made me feel pretty good. Once I finally came to terms with the fact that this is what I was doing, I resolved (with some help from a trusted mentor) to just start saying no. As much as I want to be able to do everything and to help everyone, I have had to come to terms with the fact that this is not a real thing. I’ve had to learn self-preservation above all else. Don’t get me wrong though, saying no to people can be hard – but people who care about you will understand.
2. Celebrate Your Small Victories
Another lesson I’ve learned is the importance of celebrating small victories. Almost nothing I do in graduate school is something that can be started and completed in an hour, and that sometimes makes me feel completely unproductive. What I have begun to do is make my goals on my to-do list smaller. I’ve broken down bigger tasks into smaller tasks so that when the smaller tasks are finished I can celebrate them. This completely solved my issue of feeling unproductive. That in itself has been a huge victory for me.
Simone – Honoring How You Feel to Achieve the Balance You Deserve
Balancing is so damn hard to do sometimes, y’all. Often, I have to tell myself, “Simone, do not work on that assignment until you sit down for a bit. And yes, drink that glass of wine later.” As Aisha pointed out, graduate school can be exhausting and rewarding all at the same time. I used to think that a successful day in graduate school was all about quantity. However, between last semester and writing my intentions for the New Year, I discovered that a successful day is actually about improving your quality of life. It means that I do what I can without compromising or hurting myself. And of course, if I slip up and drink that glass of wine before noon, I know that I always have tomorrow. I think that honoring yourself is a beautiful process that will help you achieve the balance you deserve.
1. Establish a Daily Routine
Not too long ago, I used to sleep until I had only an hour and a half to be on campus. Sometimes, that meant skipping breakfast to get some extra sleep. Consequently, my energy levels were low and I had to force myself to check items off my To-Do list. That type of life became too tough for me to handle, so I decided to make some changes. Now, I give myself enough time to shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, exercise, and do some personal reading and writing/prayer. This morning routine really helps me enjoy my day. I feel happy about going to school and work. I also feel energized all day long! Except today—I need a nap.
But, speaking of all day long, I often find that I have a lot of tasks and a bunch of deadlines. Just like you all, my friends want to drink wine all the time and my students want me to give them a detailed list of what they missed in class this morning, but, um, no. Similar to Aisha, for the sake of self-preservation, I’ve learned to say no to things I don’t want to do. And, I say it unapologetically.
You do not have to apologize or provide a reason for not doing something. Your time is your time, and you should be careful with it. Spend it doing things that you love and spend it in a way that will help you love and live life to the fullest!
2. Commit to Healthier Lifestyle Choices
In addition to prioritizing my time, I’ve learned to create a healthy lifestyle. For me, this means making sure that my personal life is in check. A few weeks ago, I fainted at the gym because I did not have enough water that morning. I learned my lesson as soon as I hit that floor! Eating/drinking well and enough has become really important to my life over the last few years. Eating/drinking well and enough not only keeps me on my feet in the weight room; this personal task helps me become the best Simone. You can bet that I have water and snacks with me at all times now!
3. Practice Gratitude
Lastly, Aisha mentioned the importance of celebrating small victories. I, too, have learned to tell myself, “Great job, girl!” I find that this pushes me to complete more tasks. Oh, after that nap, of course! I like celebrating my achievements, so I balance my life in a way that allows me to achieve the things I want and need at my own pace. I break my To-Do list into chunks so that I feel a lot more productive. Additionally, at night I thank the Creator for everything that I did and everything I didn’t do, and I journal about what made me feel good. Knowing that there are things to be thankful for and that I can feel good everyday motivates me to maintain balance. I think that it is the key to feeling and doing your best.
So, now that we’ve given you the scoop on how we twerk this high up, let us know what you do to achieve and maintain balance. What does a healthy/happy and productive day look like for you?
In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions and intentions, we want to invite you on our journey toward balance and self-love. To begin, try creating a new routine. Make a list of your limits and create boundaries. If you don’t want to talk about work at home, honor that. If you feel like you need some time to diddle your skittle or spend some time with your significant other, “Go ‘head, girl!” You’re the timekeeper.
Again, let us know how you’re performing that great balancing act! We’d love for you to share your secrets for staying grounded and getting to happy!
About the Contributing Writers:
Simone Savannah is an English instructor and contributing writer for the Project on the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English-Creative Writing and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Her poetry is based on personal experiences she can’t let go—imagined or otherwise. Simone also enjoys making green smoothies, attending Bikram Yoga classes, and laughing uncontrollably. Simone is teaming with Aisha (read about her below) to bring you a unique take on Life + Style.
Aisha Upton is a second-year PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, studying Sociology and Women’s Studies. Her research interests include Black women in service organizations and violence against Black women. She is passionate about many things including community service, lipstick, baking, thrifting, knitting, and being a proud owner of a Cockapoo, Napoleon. At the intersection of being a diligent student, a fashionista, and an activist – you will find Aisha, attempting to find a balance. Be sure to read Aisha + Simone’s unique take on Life + Style and the importance of letting who you are shine through when defining your personal style.