So far it seems that I am having trouble being as prolific of a blogger as I would like. I have a swarm of topic ideas in my head right now, but the problem is that to do justice to the awesome intellectuals who might read my post, I would have to do a substantial amount of background research to avoid embarrassing myself. So instead I was waiting for something interesting to happen to me so I could blog about it.
And then it happened. This past Tuesday, I fell off the sidewalk.
No, I wasn’t channeling Shel Silverstein and no, I wasn’t intoxicated. I was just exhausted. Falling off the sidewalk was the culmination of a 72-hour take-home midterm, a grant proposal, various assignments, and several important papers than I couldn’t put off reading. I bought a beautiful cup of coffee, walked out of the Duff Medical Building, and went into an exaggerated stumble when my foot wandered off the edge of the sidewalk. I spilled half of my coffee (on my coat) and made a fool of myself in front of other students in the vicinity, all of whom seemed to be handling their lives much more competently than I was at that moment.
Anyway, this got me thinking about the topic of balance, which has several meanings that I will outline below, all of which are important to remember whether you’re an undergrad, a PhD student, or a professor.
The Noun: Balance can be thought of as the even distribution of weight which allows us to walk confidently, hop on one foot, and perform flawless 360 kickflips. This is something that many take for granted, as there is nothing that evokes stupidity quite as well as tripping over your own feet in public.
The Verb: Balancing is also the action of putting something down in such a way that it will NOT fall off the edge of the sink, splash its contents halfway up the wall, and smash into a million pieces on the bathroom floor. For some, this is a skill that can take 25 years or more to master.
The Intangible Quality of Wellness: Balance between work/school, life, and fun is something that can be very difficult for all of us, but especially grad students. Paraphrasing the Canadian Mental Health Association, the happiest people are those who can find a healthy balance in their life. This balance won’t be the same for everyone, but you’ll know when it’s upset. When I began to suspect that my life was out of balance, I did what I always do when faced with a problem: I took an online quiz. I scored 3/15 on “Are You In Balance?” which apparently means that I need to “make significant changes to find [my] equilibrium.”
Well, this is easier said than done. A lot is expected of a grad student. We are here to learn and (perhaps for the first time in our academic lives) produce as well. Many of us must take courses as well as complete a thesis. Many of us must also work or take care of a family at the same time. This is not trivial for any of us, but for some (like me, lately) this balancing act has become the equivalent of walking a tightrope over a pit of scorpions and used band-aids. It’s stressful, requires a lot of concentration, and can be hazardous to your health.
Anyway, after I fell off the sidewalk, it was clear that I needed a break. I think this might be something a lot of us forget to do every once in a while. Take a day off, do something fun, clear your head. It is important to make time for the things we want to do, and not only the things we need to do. In my case, I’m going to have to actively schedule a break or it’s just not going to happen. And I’m also going to solemnly swear not to sneak anything responsible into my day off. There’s nothing cool about playing hookey so you can go to the dentist, do groceries, and clean your bathroom. I am deliberately going to spend an entire day eating candy (because I have no groceries), playing Robot Unicorn Attack (ignoring the mess in my bathroom), and NOT flossing (because I don’t like it when dentists tell me what to do). I will spend the whole evening with my family and then hopefully catch up with some friends at a pub.
At the end of my academic career, I want to look back on my time here and feel a sense of pride at the work I have produced and the effort I put into it. But I also don’t want that to mean that I took a hiatus from everything else in life. One of my favourite sayings is that it’s not the destination, but the journey that counts. It’s important not to lose sight of that.