Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Five tips for a successful semester, or a crazy life

 The semester ended as it had begun, with a little rain. 

My first semester at Arizona State University has ended, or at least for me. My professors are all in grading mode and I am anxiously waiting for my grades.

This semester was SO not what I had expected. I don't know why I thought I would breeze through. I am studying what I love after all. Still, majoring in English is a bit crazy. I don't think I have ever read so much or written so many papers in such a short period of time. CRAZY.

About a month in I had a bit of a breakdown. I felt as if I had taken on way too much, and in effect was failing those who needed me. There were a lot of tears involved. I ended up loosing a bit of weight (not really complaining about that side effect ;) But the scales were a sure sign that I was not okay. It all culminated in a conversation I had one morning with my fourteen-year-old in the car on the way to drop him off at the high school.

He said, "Mom, you don't smile anymore."

Yikes! Having seen a bit of that in my own youth, it kind of freaked me out. I do not want my kids to remember me as that unhappy woman rushing around all the time.

Education is so not worth it. So, something had to change.

At that moment I didn't want to drop out, but I definitely wanted to quit after the end of the semester.

I talked to several people whose opinion I trusted. What do I do? Can I do this and not let those around me down? Being a mother, you can't help worry about these things. I think the need to be selfless is engrained in us all. So, how do we find a balance? Can we find a balance?

First off, my husband said that I was not dropping out. I love that man. He reminded me that this has been my goal for forever, and that my family can support me. But, BUT, I don't have to be perfect. I don't need to be the top of the class. I do have a problem with obsessing on things, and giving a 110% when 80% will get the job done. Balance, BALANCE!

SO, I made a list of what needed to change before I lost my mind completely. I came up with Five things that I needed to do to survive.  And, do you know what? They worked. The second half of the semester, which has much heavier of a work load, went much smoother.

I'm sharing them because they may make a difference for someone, even if their crazy isn't school, but work, or projects, or assignments. Whatever.

Number One
No one cares if you are the best, so why should you?
This goes back to me being the top of the class. I think sometimes we kill ourselves to create something over-the-top, when good will do. This one was so hard for me, because it is just my personality to steamroll in. And do you know what? I lessened my load and still got all A's (unless I bombed my final papers). Weird, huh. I don't think my work was any less quality, I just didn't bend over backwards killing myself to get the A's. I did what was asked, kept things simple, and that was it.

Number Two
Schedule time, then let it go.
In the beginning of the semester I would do my homework, (usually while my kids were in school), but then, when my kids were home, all I was thinking about was school and the long list of assignments that needed to get done. I was present but I wasn't. What I really was, was a wreck. I couldn't sleep, could barely talk to people because what was going on in my head was so overwhelming. I had several lunch dates with friends and they kept looking at me like I was this caged animal ready to pounce at any moment. They used soothing words, and kept their tone calm to not startle me.
What did I do to fix this?
I scheduled my time. I said, I am going to work on my homework from time A to time B, and then I am going to let it go. I had to force myself not to think about my workload. It took a bit of work, but eventually It worked. It was amazing, how much happier I was once I learned to separate my focus.

Number Three
Me time, isn't school time.
Though my going to school is for me, it isn't my outlet. The opposite actually. But, I did need an outlet. I needed a space to go and have fun, relieve all of that pent up stress. But, though I love my family, it needed to be me time, and time with family is fun but it is impossible for me to  get out of mom mode. This is where my two closest friends came in.
We meet almost every Monday for lunch. Most of the time I do not want to go. They know this, and still love me. I am an introvert by nature, I love nothing more that secluding myself in my house like a hermit crab.
 I usually have excuses. I always have a heavy work load on Mondays, and my house is always a disaster after the weekend. Still, they tell me I am going anyway. And I go (usually because they pick me up). And, I am ALWAYS so glad I went. It's two hours of my week where I smile, and laugh, and can act like I am sixteen again…without the pimples.
Women need women. . . need I say more.
What do you do when your husband is super sick on Thanksgiving? You go to Village Inn.
See, not perfect but look at those smiles!
Love this family of mine.

Number Four
Don't forget who matters.
This one ties into number two. My kids are not going to be kids forever. If I don't get this right, my biggest regret is going to be that I missed out on their childhood because I was too consumed elsewhere.
There is no accolade that can possibly bring me more joy that these four kids of mine. They are AMAZING people. I have no idea how I got so lucky. My most favorite moments are when I get to talk to them one-on-one. They really are fascinating.
So, if my kid needs me to miss class so I can go on a field trip with them to the Musical Instrument Museum, I am going to miss class. If my daughter wants me to go to science camp with her, (a three day outing with over a hundred 11 year-olds), and miss listening to a guest lecturer from the Arizona Republic Newspaper, I am going to miss the lecture.
These four give me more meaning, more purpose, than anything the world offers. Yes, it is important that they see there mother going to school and working hard on her goals, but it is more important that they know, that no matter what, they come first.

Number Five
It's not all about you.
What! The world doesn't revolve around me?
During my not so great period, I talked to my older brother, because who doesn't give better advise than a big brother?
I told him how I was feeling. One of the first things he asked me was if I was doing any service. Wait, what? Didn't I just finish telling him how overwhelming my life was? I do not have time for service. "Do service," he tells me. "It doesn't have to be big. Just do something nice for someone else everyday."
Hm. I thought about this for a while. I am great with service when it is assigned to me, but on my own, I revert to my introvert ways. So, I opened myself up and looked around me. I took the time to really see people instead of just nodding as I passed them. What I have come up with are not huge, and I doubt anyone has really even noticed, but I have tried to be kinder, friendly, more involved in other's lives. I ask others how they are doing and listen. No, I am not going to get the Nobel Peace Prize, but this is what I can offer right now.

My brother is right. When your life feels as if it is crashing around you, there is nothing better than looking outside of that life and making someone else's a little brighter. I think of all the things I changed this is the one that made the biggest difference for me. Doing more, actually lightened my load considerably.

These are my epiphanies of the semester, take it for what it's worth.  We are all busy, and I think we all have, at times, bitten off more than we can chew. Hopefully someone will find this helpful.

Now, I am off for a month. My goals are a bit of painting, revisions on my novel, and enjoying the holidays with my family. Wish me luck! Good luck to you, too.


  1. Love these Jen, thanks for sharing. These work for all different kinds of busy, school, book writing, or just life as it piles up!

  2. Thank you Tamara. I know you know all about busy.