I often get asked the question “How do you do it?” when people find out I am in graduate school, and work full time, and lead meditation groups, and see clients on nights and weekends, and have an 8-year-old child. I’m a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student, a co-worker, a home-owner, etc. My answer to that question is usually along the lines of “I don’t know; I just do it.” But after hearing this question repeatedly over the last couple of years, it has made me wonder, how have I been doing it? Sometimes I question whether I am actually doing anything at all and if I fooling myself into thinking I am making it all work (I’m pretty sure I am making it work so far). So, I thought I could dive a little deeper into my answer to get some insight, and perhaps share something that might be of help to others who might be thinking about taking on a major life transition, but who might doubt their ability to make it happen.
I made a choice to go to graduate school so I could follow my passion of helping people. I weighed the pros and cons, knowing full well that there would be sacrifices involved. I knew that I would have less time for sleeping, spending time with my then 5-year-old and husband, but I also knew it would be temporary and eventually I will come out the other side with my Master’s Degree in Counseling. And now that I am 4 months away from graduating, it feels closer than ever, and I feel that the whole process was a life changer.
To be completely honest, the first year of graduate school didn’t go so well, and I wasn’t spinning all my plates very well. I was slacking on my self-care for the sake of completing my papers to perfection or keeping the house cleaned to perfection. I was getting sick all the time, I was pushing myself to do everything, and I didn’t know how to ask for help (I was the helper, not the recipient of help!). I came out of my first year of graduate school a hot mess, close to divorcing my husband of 6 years, and even closer to developing chronic pneumonia. I was able to spend a month with my parents (who live near the beach) to unwind and regain my physical and mental health. During that time I was able to meditate more, practice yoga more, and put some of my thoughts into perspective. Here are some of the epiphanies I’ve had that I still put into practice today.
It’s about the journey and not the destination- As much as I wanted to keep careening down the fast track to graduation, my counselor (yes, I had finally made time to go see a counselor) asked me a great question: “If you keep going at the rate you are going, what state of mind will you be in at the end of it?” Keeping myself in a perpetual frenzy to accomplish my perceived to-do list was what kept my immune system low, my patience short, and my stress levels to the max. I was so preoccupied with my to-do list that I wasn’t living in the moment. Once I realized this simple truth, suddenly it seemed counterintuitive (and a little insane!) that I was sacrificing my own mental health for the sake of being able to help others improve their mental health. I learned to put myself first; to slow down, live in the moment, and enjoy the experience without pushing myself so hard towards my goals. I asked my job if I could cut back on hours for school and still be considered full time, I started using more sick days when I wasn’t sick and called them mental health days to prevent myself from getting sick, and I enlisted the help of my husband more so he could take on most of the household chores.
Know what is a priority and let all else fall by the wayside- I took 10 giant steps back and re-examined my priorities, putting my self-care first, then my family, then school, then work. My perspective shifted from that of “I have to do this!” to “I’d like to do this, but if it doesn’t work out, then that is ok, too”. I went to restorative yoga class with Rebecca Risher weekly at Yoga Yoga, free meditation group on Saturday mornings with Kevin Crook at the Austin Mindfulness Center, and took my lunch breaks on a blanket outside on the grass where I could meditate for at least 15 minutes. I made time to go to couple’s counseling with my husband and we scheduled family meetings and fun time. Then, I would focus on schoolwork by scheduling a set time for that, and I would do my best but not obsess over writing the perfect paper. I am still working on making more time for my friends and social life, but I do what I can to nurture my relationships from afar. My standards had to drop a little bit in other areas of life. My once spotless house now has cobwebs in all corners and ½ and inch of dust has accumulated on most surfaces around the house. And no one died because the house got messy and stayed messy for weeks (or months). It came down to this simple issue of time management and priorities. All else had to go on the back burner.
Hold all things lightly- This is probably the hardest thing to do when you are so focused on achieving a goal, have an expectation for yourself and for others, and have a plan for how you want things to be. I realize that I can only do my best towards making the life that I desire but I cannot control the ultimate outcome. I had to learn how to be flexible and go with the flow of life. I was scheduled to graduate in the summer of 2015, but after finding out I was pregnant I switched things around so I could graduate in December of this year instead. I set an intention at the beginning of each day, and if unexpected things happen, then I am okay with that because I know I cannot control everything. This thing we call life is filled with joy and sorrow, success and failure, smooth sailing and choppy waters. Being open to experience the whole spectrum with neutrality, without having a chokehold on the desired outcome, creates ease and lightheartedness.
I am more powerful than I think I am- As humans, we tend to limit ourselves and second guess our ability to accomplish things. The voice of doubt creeps in and we deter ourselves from living our lives as an adventure. We can get complacent and comfortable with how things are, even if things aren’t working out in our lives, and then we can feel powerless to make the necessary changes. The first thing that came to mind when I thought about going to graduate school was “it’s too hard, I won’t be able to make it work, and I should just stay with my 9-5 dead-end job until something better comes along.” Then I remembered the voice of my father quoting Napoleon Hill- “What the mind of man can conceive and believe; it can achieve!” So, I ignored the voice of self-doubt and followed my heart. I am able to successfully do all that I do because I believe that I can. The lyrics of one of my favorite songs by Nahko Bear say “I am capable, I am powerful..”, and I know it.
And there you have it. The long answer to the short question, how do I do it? Or is the underlying question really, how do I do it without falling into a blubbering heap on the floor at the end of each day? Self-care first! Whatever that looks like for you: exercising, reading, swimming, yoga, a hot bath, or a massage. Be willing to ask for help; see a counselor, join a support group, and take care of your needs before all else. Slow down and take it in one moment at a time, enjoying the process as you head towards your goals. Prioritize your to-do list and let the less important things go (or delegate them to someone who is willing to help). And, remember that you are limitless and a powerful co-creator of your existence. Believe in your awesomeness and amazing things will start to happen.
Written by Tanya Ricketts
About Our Blog
Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.