Surviving Grad School: or anything else

Two and one half years ago I found myself needing a career.  My husband of 26 years had left and I had to support myself. I immediately landed a third part-time job at 2nd & Charles, a used book store, which put me on the path to library school.

I am now in my last semester of a Master’s in Library Studies degree.  Before returning to school I had spent the previous 26 years as a housewife, raising and homeschooling my four children, working part time doing background checks, and teaching martial arts (stories for another day).

Since starting school 1 ½ years ago I have finished that divorce, suffered from fatigue related to an illness, worked 2 or 3 part time jobs at a time to support myself and my youngest, tried to help my four children in college, cared for one of those kids who has chronic daily migraines, taken 2-3 classes at a time, and maintained a 4.0 GPA. My father passed away as the current semester started 2 weeks ago. Writing it out in a list like that is overwhelming… but right now I need to remind myself of what I’ve already been through and survived, and even thrived.

I started this semester behind due to the death of my dad. When I got home from Texas I felt so overwhelmed with work and school and the never ending job hunt, in addition to grieving Daddy’s loss and worrying about my mom. It has been a very long two weeks. Yesterday I took some time to ponder all of these things. In an effort to keep moving and get through the last leg, I thought about this journey I’m on and how I have managed up to this point. It occurs to me that my list might be of use to someone else. These are the things that keep me moving and sane.

  1. Accept the fact that you do not have to have a 4.0 GPA.
    1. Read the abstract, intro, and conclusion. Skim everything else for relevant or interesting information.
    2. There is just not time to edit every paper 3 times. Sometimes not even 1 time. Turn it in and move on to the next thing.
  2. Work smarter. I recommend the book, Do More Better by Tim Challies.
    1. Todoist is a great tool. Pick some kind of planning system and stick with it.
    2. Evernote is also a great tool.
  3. Do the next thing.
    1. Plan out the big projects in advance. Look at the big picture, divide it into weekly and daily goals and tasks, and then keep working on the next thing.
    2. Work ahead whenever possible.
    3. Above all, do not wait until the last minute to start something!
  4. Be realistic in my expectations of myself. If you cannot do anything requiring thought after 9:00pm (or before 9:00am), don’t even consider those times for doing homework.
  5. Budget your money, your time, and your energy. I had to learn to budget my energy last semester when I had an overloaded schedule and fatigue. It can be done.
  6. There is not enough time or energy to do everything. My house will not be neat, my meals will not take a lot of time, I will not be able to do everything I want to do. But this season of life will end, keep your eye on the goal.
  7. Remember that it does take time to live life. Kids, parents, laundry, meals, groceries – all that life stuff takes time and has to fit in somewhere.
  8. I must also plan down time for myself. I have a list of things I enjoy that take very little time, planning, or money. Every day I try to work in something from that list. An audio book while I drive, reading something for fun while I eat, crocheting during class, dinner with a friend, a walk or a hike, and occasionally even the ultimate pointless pleasure: watching TV for an hour and playing with my Legos. Write your own list.
  9. Plan time to exercise. I have been very active in martial arts the last 8 or 9 years, and suddenly there was no time for it. But I have learned that if I will plan time to exercise I am more productive afterwards. I do a short stretching routine several times each day, I walk during my lunch break, and plan longer walks or workouts on the shorter work days or days with no class. This is the first thing I tend to cut out when time is short, but I always regret it when I do.
  10. Communicate with professors when conflicts or the unexpected emergencies happen. My professors have all been very understanding when I had even normal trips or life that interfered with class or schoolwork; when Daddy died they were all very considerate about assignments and missed classes. But if they don’t know why you are not in class or why your assignment was late they can’t give you extra time or extra help.
  11. Work on relationships. You need people, even when you are so busy you are overwhelmed.
    1. Family
    2. Friends
    3. Co-workers
    4. Classmates
    5. Teachers and Mentors
  12. Plan time to think and ponder life. I am an introvert, and I need time to sit with my journal and my Bible and a cup of coffee every morning.
  13. Lastly and most importantly, overarching all the things listed above, is my faith in God. I know that I am fulfilling His Purpose for me, and I trust Him to lead me each step. He will give me the strength and the resources to do what He has called me to do. I trust Him no matter what comes in the future, whether good or bad; I have seen Him work for my good even in the midst of terrible circumstances. I would never have chosen this life for myself, but I have never been happier than I am right now. His Plan for me is far better than anything I imagined.
    1. Stay in the Word.
    2. Stay in the church.
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