Friday, December 27, 2013

What grad school has taught me so far

In August of this year, I began graduate school. I walked away from my full-time, salaried job with paid vacations and picked up a part-time job making significantly less than I have since earning my  bachelors degree 10 years ago. I became a student and that has been my full-time job. Except it hasn't. Life is a full-time job and trying to get perfect grades whilst maintaining a social life and a marriage and still manage to pay the bills can become a bit (to put it mildly) overwhelming. Somehow I survived the first semester. While gearing up for round two of grad school, I have been reflecting on the past few months and just how much my little life has changed in that amount of time. Here is what I have learned from grad school so far:

Sunday and Monday Night Football just aren't the same. 
When you have hours of homework to do, you sacrifice things from your normal routine to get it done. For me, this has been most of the football season, which is heartbreaking. Of course I managed to get my Cowboys games in, but when I am sitting at the kitchen table wanting to pull my hair out trying to understand grammar concepts, hearing the sounds of the football game from the other room is equivalent to rubbing salt in the wound. 

Say goodbye to muscle and hello to wrinkles
Um...look, I have never claimed to be super-fit or even kind of fit. However, I was working out somewhat regularly before I started grad school and actually began developing muscle. Replace workout nights with classes and add trying to freelance along with working two part-time jobs--oh and homework--I have quickly learned that muscle is much easier to lose than it is to gain. My increased anxiety and lack of sleep has also done wonders to my skin.  

Social life, what?
Luxuries such as pedicures, random shopping trips, weekend getaways, impulse-buys, regular lunches and brunches are for the most part, things of the past. Sure, I managed to do an okay job seeing my friends. But this came at the price of sacrificing regular homework hours for friend-time. This means that homework hours happen later at  night, while your husband, dog and cat are sleeping soundly and you are staring at the computer screen with wide, bloodshot eyes and messy hair. Not only that, but my toenails have never been so boring.

Hunger games
No, I am not packing my bow and arrow and fighting for my life in an arena against other desperate grad students, but I AM subject to social media. You know, the place where nearly everyone you know (or don't know) seems to live the perfect life filled with designer products, perfect bodies, exotic vacations, glitter and rainbows and endless amounts of perfection. Admittedly, watching others on social media sometimes makes me wonder what I did wrong and I find myself hungry for the life of a non-grad student. When this happens, I usually want to swear off social media. But then, I realize that I can't because as a communications major, social media is a must. 

Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist
One of the most infuriating comments I hear these days is, "GPA's don't matter in grad school." Sadly, I think that is true. But I cannot convince myself to not care. I know that my future employer will not ask me for the cumulative GPA that accompanied my masters degree, but that little competitor inside of me wants to work my way to the top of the GPA scale even if for no other reason than to say I did it. With that, comes the stress, anxiety, mental and emotional breakdowns that are common side effects of being a perfectionist. In the end, it doesn't even matter. But I just CAN'T stop caring. 

With the completion of my first semester, I have stumbled upon a few helpful tools for aspiring or current grad students. Here is a list of must-haves for your next semester:

  • A friend to go through the pains of school with. People will try to understand. They will WANT to understand. But the bottom line is that no one can truly understand what you are going through unless they are doing it too. If you don't have a friend beginning the journey with you (thank God I do), get to know your classmates. They will be your shoulders to lean (or cry) on all through school. 
  • Down time. Allow yourself to stay home. Be lazy when you can and tune out the rest of the world. Your brain and your sanity deserve it.
  • Snacks. School stress is a great weightloss tool. But you need to eat. Otherwise, you become very grumpy and put those Betty White Snickers commercials to shame. Pack some snacks because in the thick of the semester, full on meals become a distant memory.
  • Alcohol. Only when you finish your homework. Then, you get to treat yourself.
  • Sleep. Haha. Ya right. But hey, it's worth a try! 
Here's lookin' at you spring semester!

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