When I started my first semester of graduate school, I had to take a research methods class. I accidentally signed up for one in the doctoral program instead of a master’s level one. A week before class the professor emailed me because she was looking at the list of names for her class and realized that I was a student in the master’s program. She told that she didn’t have a problem with me staying in the class, but she wanted to at least warn me in case I didn’t realize that I enrolled into a doctoral level class. She told me that in the past some master students took the class and were able to pass with good grades, but they were usually more overwhelmed and stressed than the doctoral students. This difference was usually because the doctoral students had already started working on their research projects in prior classes. They took classes beforehand and this current course was just a continuation of what they already started in those previous classes. So, in a sense they had a foundation of completed work and collaborations that I didn’t have since I did not do the prior research course on the doctoral level. I would have to play a game of catch up. She said that if I decided to stay, she would offer additional help to make sure I was staying afloat and on track.
At first, I considered staying. I did research projects every year since my sophomore year in undergrad and I love challenges. But then I gave it some more thought, do I really need to do this? Should I overwork myself if I do not have to? I thought back to my senior year and how stressed out I felt because I was doing nearly everything. I had 3-4 jobs (one was a late shift that ended at 12am), an internship, a senior honors thesis, a sociology capstone research project, presentations at conferences, and was a full-time student running on 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Near the ending of the academic year, I started to burn out and wanted to give up. When the year was done, it felt good to tell people that I was going to do nothing besides have fun and continue working on myself over the following summer. Although I am very proud of myself for accomplishing everything I did in college, especially my senior year, I promised myself that I will avoid overworking myself like that again. All of those experiences were and still are very beneficial to me as a student and an aspiring therapist in this field but running on 4-5 hours of sleep was ridiculous and unhealthy for me.
Remembering how awful I felt my senior year due to all of the commitments and responsibilities, caused me to email the professor and thanked her for notifying me of the mix-up. The reason that I switched out of the class was not because I doubted myself. I know that I would have been able to complete the class and get an “A.” It was because I value my peace of mind and my health. I did not want to over commit and overwork myself if it was not necessary. Sometimes I overwork myself to prove that I can do it all and as an unhealthy coping mechanism that you can read more about here Unhealthy vs Healthy Coping Mechanisms. Taking the doctoral level class would not have given me any type of special award or extra credit. I would still get all of the benefits of a research methods class on the master’s level. The masters level class challenged me but was manageable to a certain extent so it’s not like I got an easy ride.
There was no reason for me to put myself under additional stress, especially in my first semester of graduate school. Even in that class I still went above and beyond with my work and the expectations. The fact I unconsciously go above and beyond when I get excited and passionate about projects is another reason I switched the classes. Wherever someone sets the bar, my brain goes “You are topping that” and I unconsciously work toward doing it. In some cases, this is good and motivating, in other cases it leads to me overworking myself aka senior year. So even though the bar was set high for the doctoral class, I would have found a way to go above it while possibly putting my health at risk.
Lately I have been examining what I commit myself to, the cost of it, the possible outcomes, and the number of things I commit myself to in a time frame. I have been prioritizing and spacing things out so there is not too much overlap. If something could wait to be done at a later time, I postpone it. If it doesn’t seem like it is actually worth it, I do not do it. At the current moment I am commit to multiple things, such as a part time job, classes, member of a research team, volunteering, and a member of three student organizations, but it is controllable for me. Okay wait I know this sounds like a lot but it is manageable. I do not do all of these things every day, they are spaced out throughout the week. And yes, I still have time for self-care and going out/socializing with friends. You can read this post Self-Care, if you want to read to about some of my methods of self-care.
Time to Focus on You:
How do you prioritize your commitments? What are your reasons for them? Are they productive?
Side note: If you are working a lot of hours just to pay your bills, I completely understand that you can’t just quit your job(s). Job searching is a job in itself. Supporting yourself and/or others is very expensive even with coupons and buying non-name brands. And if you are working a bunch of hours in school, I completely understand. They emphasize getting enough sleep yet assign a bunch of assignments and tests, I still don’t understand the contradiction.
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