A balancing act: juggling the many lives of a college student

With demanding social and academic schedules, finding balance as a college student is an exhausting task. Photo courtesy of Unsplashed.

ISABELLA ERNSBERGER | OPINION COLUMNIST | iernsberger@butler.edu

When I was told that college would be more difficult than high school, I was prepared to be challenged more academically, with strict professors and rigorous courses. Nobody mentioned that this difficulty would also extend into every other aspect of life — social, personal and academic — leaving me to navigate how to balance it all. 

Knowing how to manage your time, what to allocate your attention to and when to do so, are skills very few have mastered — myself included. Although, as someone who’s only just started to use Google Calendar, I’ve learned that even the smallest bit of organization can go a long way. 

Work-life balance is a term that I’ve heard often, but what would that balance actually look like? Beth Lohman, the associate director for recreation and wellness at Butler University, said we often believe that “work-life balance” means every day and week needs to be balanced, but this common belief isn’t true.

“Look at it over a semester, or four years,” Lohman said. “We know that during finals, you’re probably going to have a lack of sleep and a little less social time, a lot more studying and a little bit — maybe a lot — more stress. But, if you can keep in mind that there’s a light at the end of that tunnel and do your best to give yourself some time to have increased social interaction after that, or to take a few extra naps, or get hours of sleep at the end of a semester, that overall balance is going to be there.”

You can’t put all your eggs in one basket, but sometimes one basket may have more than the other. Meaning, balance is a matter of priorities and what’s important to you. For me, my well-being is my number one priority, school and work are my second and my relationships come third. I place my well-being first because I know I can’t pour from an empty cup; if I’m not there for myself, I can’t be there for anything or anyone else. I do this by making sure I am well-rested, showered and have taken at least 10 minutes each day to check in with myself. 

On top of academics and relationships, extracurriculars also factor into responsibilities to be accounted for. College is the ideal time to discover yourself. Exploring new opportunities comes alongside learning how to balance your responsibilities and priorities. That way, you can take advantage of all the opportunities that college offers to explore your interests and capabilities. 

Jen Payne is a first-year exploratory studies major and is highly involved on Butler’s campus. She works as a tour guide and is a member of a sorority, the Butler honors program and CHAARG. Payne shared some words of wisdom her dad gave her before coming to Butler that helps guide her through her commitments and responsibilities. She said that thanks to her father, balance was at the forefront of her mind when coming to college. 

“[My dad] thinks that college is a beautifully honed example of how to be a balanced person,” Payne said. “He’s like, ‘This is college. This is the best time of your life, but you also need to get real serious work done, as this is your education as well.’ You have to get your priorities straight first before you find the balance. Obviously, your work and school are going to be priorities. If you can get those done, and find a way to have fun and be a college student and learn from your friends and your environment around you, that’s the best harmony that you could find.”

While I prioritize academics and work, making time for the social aspects is important because I know I can learn so much from the people around me. Through our peers, we can learn about life experiences different from our own, how to communicate with one another, what it means to be loyal and trustworthy, as well as what friendship should and shouldn’t look like. These lessons can’t be learned in the classroom. Focusing on these facets of life has contributed to my growth as a person and has helped me become more well-rounded in all the roles I occupy. 

Noah Phillippe is a first-year pre-pharmacy major at Butler. He commutes to campus daily, works part-time at a hospital near Fishers and spends his free time figure skating. Phillippe said that activities that you have committed to — like extracurriculars — shouldn’t be counted as leisurely pastimes. 

“I think that it’s really important to have those non-commitments for your leisure time,” Phillippe said. “I don’t think that being in a committed sport or committed activities really factor into your leisure, because they are something that you have to commit to and they are something that you have to always show up to at the right time.” 

Activities without obligation are necessary to ensure that you are only participating for yourself and nobody else. Exploring your interests and making time for them plays an important role in attaining a balanced schedule. As Phillippe noted, ensuring that these activities are being done because you want to and not because you have to is key to separating leisure time from your responsibilities. 

While our relationships are crucial to our overall well-being, learning how to set boundaries in those relationships are just as vital. Lohman discusses the value of using boundaries in both our relationships and demanding schedules.

“Boundaries are a really good way for us to understand ourselves and know our best selves,” Lohman said. “So if we plan out a little bit and say, ‘I’m gonna schedule this time with friends’, or, ‘This time I’ve committed to just getting myself a cup of coffee and watching some Netflix.’ It will help us hold those boundaries when we see it on our schedule. And holding those boundaries is really important to you being your best self for all the other stuff in your life.”

Boundaries have helped me to balance all aspects of my life. I’ve found that using my schedule to hold myself accountable to my responsibilities and my own personal time is one of the most productive ways to ensure that I’m meeting the needs of others and myself. Planning those self-care moments is a practice I have adopted to make sure that those moments are happening as frequently as they need to — even if it’s just ten minutes a day. 

As much as I wish there was a set, step-by-step guide to figuring out how to balance your schedule, I am sorry to say that it’s really something each person has to figure out themselves. 

Phillippe echoed this sentiment and said that once you find what works for you, stick to it. 

“I think that it’s just important for everyone to realize what works for them,” Phillippe said. “Don’t let outside sources change what you enjoy, or what you want to do, or how your balance works because they don’t have to live in your shoes.”

Don’t neglect yourself. When you prioritize other people’s expectations of you, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself in that process. I believe the key to achieving balance comes from being self-aware. Knowing just how much you can give to your commitments, as well as yourself and making decisions based on that can make the process of juggling all your responsibilities that much easier.

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