How To Survive Grad School While Working AND Volunteering by Ashley Felix
There are many Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies around the world—each doing amazing work to empower youth in their communities—but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better team than the one we have here at BBBSMB. We might be a tad bit biased, but there’s no denying how awesome each and every one of our team members are here! This week, we’re celebrating Ashley Felix, a member of our Programs team and alumni Big Sister, for earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from Wheelock College, along with a graduate certificate in Nonprofit Organizational Leadership. Working part-time, earning a master’s degree, AND volunteering as a Big Sister is no easy feat, so we asked Ashley to share some tips on how to balance all of this without losing your mind in the process. Enjoy!
Don’t take it so seriously because we’re all trash.
The most well-known secret in adult life is that no one knows exactly what they’re doing. We’re all throwing pasta to the wall to see if it sticks. Taking on any new venture is going to be scary and daunting, so don’t hold yourself to perfection at every turn. Expect failure at some point, because there is a learning curve to anything new. That B grade on your paper is just fine. Don’t stress it—you still passed!
Self-care, self-care, self-care, self-care, self-care, self-care.
If there’s anything my college wanted us to take away (other than our education), it is the art of self-care. You must take care of yourself or you won’t function! If you’ve ever heard from a flight attendant that you need to put on your oxygen mask before helping others, thank them, because it is great life advice.
Love what you’re doing or you’re not going to do it.
When you’re running on four hours of sleep—with three research papers and two oral presentations coming up in the next couple of weeks—and are on the way to meet your Little for a soccer game, the ONLY reason you’ll keep going is because you enjoy what you’re doing. The intrinsic motivation, whatever it may be, is key. If I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in social justice and the power of mentoring, I would NOT have made it to my match graduation or college graduation.
Make a friend. Join a struggle bus.
There is a community of people who feel as tired, and as excited as you do. As a Big, reach out to other Bigs. Talk to your fellow classmates and vent via group text. Have lunch with your co-workers away from your desk to talk about whatever Beyonce did that week. Have a support system in each part of your life that can relate to your experiences. Use that peer group to help you navigate the challenges you face. I hold the belief that you can learn something from everyone, so use your peers as resources as well. Hop on the struggle bus and face the world with a team!
Don’t overwork yourself.
Back to self-care. During my last year in graduate school, I cut my work hours down to accommodate my internship and a day of rest. I refused to give up a day where I had nothing scheduled in my week. Overworking yourself is not worth the stress. You can reach your goals on your own timeline. You also will not produce your best work or fulfill tasks to your fullest potential if you’re constantly stretched thin; remember the oxygen mask!
Structure, schedule, and organize.
That being said—TIME MANAGEMENT IS YOUR FRIEND! Get a calendar and throw all the deadlines in. You know what else you should put on the calendar? Events you want to go to; that concert happening next month, dinner with your partner or best friend, the premiere date of the new season of your favorite comedy on Netflix. Fun social things. That is part of self-care. Don’t forget to just enjoy yourself. Working so much will fry your brain so give it a break. What worked for me was scheduling in social engagements in the same fashion I scheduled homework time—both necessary, and cannot be moved around.
Be honest, with everyone and yourself.
Transparency will do you wonders. With your boss, clients, friends, whoever. Those who care about your success and well-being want to know when you’re stretched thin or need help. Those same people will support you. They would also love to hear when you’re crushing it or when they did something to better your day. Practice and role model being vulnerable and being confident and proud! Being open and genuine will cultivate better relationships, more trust with others, and stronger friendships in your life. Let people in on your journey and, even if you don’t succeed, your support system will be there nonetheless to get you where you need to go!