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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Quest For Balance (Part 1 and Part 2)

The Quest for Balance
 Kerri Guillette
Do you ever feel like you are walking a tightrope? Or, being pulled in a million different directions? Do you crave silence? If you answered yes to any of those questions you are not alone. You join the ranks of college students all over the country who struggle everyday to maintain balance within their academic and personal lives.
I sat down a few days ago to write this article on how to balance school, work, a social life, etc, and a thought crossed my mind. How can I write an article on the topic of balance, when I don’t even have balance in my own life? For the past week I have been working two jobs, learning how to run a newspaper, and keeping up with schoolwork. As for my personal life, there is only one word to describe it: chaotic. I made the decision to go and search for this mystical idea known as balance.
The very first place I went to look for balance was where everyone goes to look for things these days, the internet. I typed, “How to Balance an Academic Life with a Personal Life”, into a search engine and in seconds, online articles were at my fingertips. I felt a rush of excitement flow through me.  I was on my way to finding balance! I was positive these seemingly helpful tips were the keys to unlocking the secrets of becoming balanced. I chose to visit the web site mycollegesuccessstory.com first, because the name sounded so promising and gave me some hope. The site offered me “10 Tips for Finding Life Balance”. In ten easy steps I would have life balance.  Steps 1, 2, and 3 had me hooked; set realistic goals, learn to study effectively, and learn to better manage your time. These were all things that seemed easy to conquer. But, once I read steps 4 and 5 I began to grow a little wary of the validity of these tips. Eat well? Exercise regularly? How would eating a grilled chicken salad and going to the gym balance my life? I quickly scanned through the next few tips. Once I saw the word “simplify”, I exited the web site. Obviously I need to simplify my life to give it some balance…but how do I do that?? Mycollegesuccessstory.com was a bust. Sure, the website offered me tips on finding balance, but did not lead me to balance. I was not giving up though; it was on to the next website. Examiner.com provided me with “Tips for Students on Balancing School and Other Obligations”. Unfortunately, the first tip on the list immediately diminished any hope I had of finding balance here. The article instructed me to write out everything that needs to be done for the day. Apparently, seeing my tasks would make everything seem more manageable. Are you kidding me? Writing my daily to-do list and then looking at it would give me a panic attack. The tips continued to go downhill from there. For example, one suggested in order to find balance I should “Just say NO”.  That would certainly not work in real life. “Oh, I am sorry Professor; I am going to have to say no to reading Chapter Four tonight.” Or, “I’m saying no to doing those five loads of laundry…Even though I have no clean clothes to wear”. Suddenly, I found myself even farther away from finding balance. These online articles were like fairy tales, and I needed reality. I continued my quest for balance by going down a different path. I would talk to some college students. They were the people actually leading busy lives; trying to juggle school, work, and some raising children. I wouldn’t be reading tips on how to find balance; I would be able to see balance with my own eyes. I was absolutely certain that this was how I was going to find balance.
I chose two women who I have had the pleasure of becoming close to during my time at Massasoit. Jackie Cusick and Chyvonn Miller are both hard working students juggling not only school and work, but are also raising children. I was convinced that these two women held the key to finding balance, and that my quest would end with them. The first question I asked Jackie and Chyvonn was to use one word to describe their life as a college student who is juggling work, school, a personal life, and also raising a child. Jackie answered, “Exhausting and overwhelming,” adding, “One word isn’t enough.” Chyvonn used the word, “Difficult”, to describe her life. I was not surprised by their answers to my first question. I still remained quite confident that these two women were going to introduce me to balance. My next question for Jackie and Chyvonn was, “How do you balance your personal and academic lives?” This was the question whose answers were going to bring me another step closer to finding balance. I was on the verge of obtaining the elusive idea I had been yearning for and I felt relieved that my search for balance would soon be coming to an end. But, once I heard Jackie’s answer, doubt of the existence of balance crept in; she gave me a wakeup call.
“There is no personal life! I’m a single mother and I just do not have time for a personal life. I am a full-time day student, but also am part of the work study program to earn extra money.” Jackie went on to describe in vivid detail her daily schedule for not only herself, but for her five year old daughter Jocelyn.  Jackie is constantly on the go, starting her day at 6:00am. Between classes, work, and spending time with Jocelyn, Jackie doesn’t even get a chance to look at her homework until 9pm. She explained to me that even her weekends are busy, filled with food shopping, laundry, cleaning, Jocelyn’s dance class, and other errands. My mouth dropped open in shock while Jackie described her life to me. My own personal quest for balance paled in comparison to her need for balance. Finally, Jackie shared, “I’m usually the girl that is up all night doing any papers that are due for the next day and coming into school with maybe an hour of sleep.”
An equally busy Chyvonn took the time out of her weekend to tell me, “It’s all about scheduling. If you can manage your schedule and priorities, then everything can and will fall into place.” This is wise advice from a woman who is a full time student and working to provide for herself and for her three year old son, Angelo.
The very last thing I had to ask Jackie and Chyvonn was a question that had begun to worm its way into my mind since I began this article. I needed to know if these two women believed that balance existed. Personally, I was beginning to have my doubts. Jackie told me, “As a single mother, I do not. I have too many things that need to be done and absolutely no time to do it, let alone take a night off and try to go out and have fun.” Chyvonn’s answer was just as honest as Jackie’s, yet also showed a little of her comical personality, “No, I believe the idea (of balance) is nice as a thought, but it’s really a schedule, not balance. As you grow up you learn the only thing you can balance is your weight.”
Before I ended my search for balance I had the opportunity to sit down with one more person.  I was hoping to get a different perspective on how to find balance from someone who was a full-time student, balancing a personal life, yet did not have any children. Jason Dotoli had also just assumed the task of being Assistant Editor-in-Chief for the Massasoit Student Voice, thus adding another thing to his already busy schedule.  I was optimistic that perhaps Jason knew how I could find balance, or at least point me in the right direction. I asked Jason for one word to describe his life as a college student juggling an academic life and personal life, and without hesitation he answered, “Hectic.”  Jason then explained to me how he balances his personal life and academic life while I sat eagerly anticipating all the answers I had been searching for. “Organization. I need to make sure all my assignments are planned out. I am unemployed so it makes it a little easier, but at the same time I am looking for a job. Between school work, looking for a job, and having a personal life...It’s all about organization and managing your time.” I thought a lot about what Jason had said, I considered myself organized, well if you count post-it notes strewn everywhere organized. As for managing my time, I’m not very good at that. Finally, I asked Jason if he believed the idea of balance existed. “To a point”, he replied, “I believe that you can set a goal and give yourself a time frame to accomplish it.” Jason further emphasized that, “It’s all about organization and time management.” Although I did not find balance when I spoke to Jason, his words stuck with me. Perhaps if I became more organized and learned to manage my time a little better, I would be one step closer to finding balance. But, for the time being balance had eluded me.
I started my quest for balance curious, confident, and determined. I ended my quest for balance still curious, yet also confused, and slightly defeated. I did learn a very valuable lesson though; I am not alone in my search for balance.  Searching for balance is like searching for a unicorn, or a mailbox, or even a pay phone. It’s out there somewhere; you just have to look really hard to find it. I wish everyone searching for balance the best of luck; you’re going to need it.

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