I don’t buy into astrology. Sure, it’s a fun diversion, and potentially a fantastic creative exercise, yet if being a former Physics student (and still one at heart, I assure you) teaches you anything it’s that astrology is no way to run your life. Still, I bring this up because I’m a Libra, the scales. Not quite the coolest sign, but it brings up a lot of positive connotations – scales are balanced, well-rounded, controlled tools. Could anything be less accurate about the life of a uni student?
There’s the workload, obviously. Depending on your course, you’ll have a handful of different modules that each have a handful of readings and research tasks to do in a handful of days. Coupled with that handful of handfuls is the near-unspoken expectation that you’ll read and explore beyond the course, which in itself is an effectively bottomless pit of work. Seems daunting, but if you enjoy the subject then perhaps the fun of learning can get you through the towering slog of text.
Unfortunately, there’s more to uni beyond…uni. There’s also your friends and family to factor in, and they’re a real treat to consider. Each one of those is another person, who like you has their own pressures and expectations to keep in check. People are certainly fun to hang around with, but if you’re like me then managing your social contacts can be a real drain on your energy. I like my social circles – clearly, else I wouldn’t be in them – but every so often I need to tune them out. Social media of course doesn’t help this, and sometimes having to relax with friends can feel like work, especially if you’re not in the mood.
Beyond both of these are additional pressures that vary from person to person. Perhaps you’ve a job to structure your life around, or dependents to care for, or a condition of your own to keep track of. Perhaps you’re recuperating from a serious event in your life. Maybe you just don’t like the cold weather. Whatever it is, life sure has a way of churning up extra stresses to slow you down, and it never fails to deliver.
This has all been a bit sombre so far. Yet it’s a very real scenario, particularly if you’re an ambitious person who loves what they do and wants to take it far. With such enthusiasm comes a double-edged eagerness – you’d always like to be working on whatever you’re passionate about, but at the same time you’d always like to be working. The trope of the ‘work/life balance’ is all too easily thrown out of the window in favour of working on weekends, late-night study sessions and despicably early mornings. Suddenly you’re months down the line without a decent day off, all that time spent pretty much only in classrooms, lecture halls, offices and/or your workspace.
However, it doesn’t end there. Even after you’ve highlighted and cleared a period of time to devote yourself to ‘self-care’ the work stays in the back of your mind, or in your pocket these days. You’re all too aware of the rapidly-approaching end of your holiday and the return to the real world, and the fear of losing the chance for ‘self-care’ almost makes any self-care impossible. When work is all you enjoy doing, how do you stop it when it starts harming you?
This is the work/life calamity – the reality that the work/life balance is no two-dimensional binary set of scales. I think we’d need to call in the fourth dimension just to render all the factors that affect an average person. It’s a calamity rather than a problem simply because the solution isn’t fully ‘rational’. It cannot be solved merely by rearranging the weights in the balance (working less in a month or varying your daily routine, for instance). Indeed, I don’t for a second imagine that I could give a ‘perfect’ solution here – all I can give is what works for me, at least to an extent.
Reconnecting with happier moments gives me perspective. Whether it’s a childhood memory, a specific location, a good book (English did win out over Physics for me, after all), anything at all, it reminds me that it wasn’t always about micromanaging ‘work’ levels and ‘fun’ levels. Life isn’t about productivity or relaxation because there isn’t one set way to produce or relax. Life needs a certain fluidity to it, a variety of stimuli and activity, just like children enjoy in their early years. Routines are helpful, of course, but make sure to have a routine for your routines, ideally with some free time marked out.