This week I start my second semester in the M.F.A. program at The University of New Orleans. My first semester was all about achieving a healthy school/work/life balance while adjusting to my new routine. Aside from a handful of all-nighters, I felt like I achieved balance for the first time in my academic career. Going into the program, I knew that I would be working two part-time jobs— a GA position and a waitress gig on the weekends. I also prioritized going to the gym three times a week, getting an ample amount of sleep, and I didn’t want my social life or relationships suffer while in school. Lofty goals for my first semester, right? But I did it. I did it!
Instead of beating myself up about not writing as much as I could have, or not taking care of myself enough (like skimping on the gym some weeks), I recognized that the goal was consistency, not perfection. I don’t work well in burnout mode. In undergrad I didn’t have a good outlet for my stress and I took on more than I could handle. I constantly told myself, “Well if Jane Doe can handle this so can I.” But our bodies and brains don’t work that way, or at least mine does not. Comparing myself to others and what they can juggle got me nowhere. So for grad school I told myself it’s okay not to spread myself too thin, say no to things, and prioritize my mental and physical health so I could enjoy my M.F.A. experience. I mean really, what’s the point of doing the damn thing if you can’t enjoy it?
I made a point to go to the gym three times a week. I started running in May before I entered the program because it’s a healthy stress reliever and a good challenge. I made big strides in my physical fitness this past summer and I wanted to keep the momentum going. Some weeks I only made it to the gym twice or had to cut a workout short to squeeze everything in but hey, at least I went. I also recognized my need for downtime. In order to stay productive I really need a break. I typically gave myself either one full day or two half days where I didn’t do a lick of writing or homework.
My program has built in social and literary events. There is a longstanding tradition of going to a bar near campus after fiction workshop on Monday nights. It’s a fun way to connect with classmates and faculty after class. There is also Gold Room, a monthly literary reading series, where students read their work, as well as a slew of guest speakers throughout the semester and someone is always sending invites to a house party or an out-of-program literary reading or event they are a part of. I definitely value making connections with classmates but did I go to the bar after every workshop? No. Did I skip some of the literary readings to catch up on writing? Yes. Learn that you do not have to go to everything, learn how to say no when you need to carve out time for yourself and/or your writing.
This semester I am juggling even more: an internship, two workshops, those two part-time jobs and Mardi Gras is in a few weeks. I started a few drafts over the winter break so I feel like I’m in a good place. I wish I had one fully fleshed out draft instead but hey, I also got some much needed rest, read three books, got my workouts in, worked a little bit more than usual and spent a lot more time with my dogs on the couch. I’d say that’s a perfect balance.