Slow down and breathe

Overextending leads to frustration and burnout

By Christine Begle, Webmaster


Cramming your schedule isn’t worth it. (Image from Flickr by CollegeDegrees360)

In the words of the Lazlo Bane song, “I’m no Superman.” This is a realization that I have slowly come to over the years. Today, many people try to cram as much as possible into their schedules, and I was as guilty of it as anyone. However, I have found that cramming my schedule rarely achieves the results that I want. Frustration, burnout, illness and even debt were the results instead.

I’m a nontraditional student, returning for a new degree after spending years in the workforce, so this time around, I can learn from my past mistakes. The first time around, I always took 15 credit hours, and sometimes as many as 17. While worked part time, was an officer in the student government, sang in two choirs, and baby-sat. But when I crammed my schedule full, I found that something had to give, and since I didn’t want it to be my grade-point average, I had to scale back my work hours and extra-curricular activities.

I was exhausted all the time, surviving with the aid of Mountain Dew and I got sick a lot, because my immune system was weakened by my lack of sleep. I had an old used car, like many students, and several things went wrong with it while I was in school. I had no money to buy a new car, so I had to pay to fix it, but since I didn’t really have that money either, it went on a credit card bill.

Looking back, it seems easy to say that if I had taken fewer classes and participated in fewer activities, I could have worked more, and saved a little more money. Sure, it would have taken me longer to graduate, but maybe I wouldn’t have been so in debt. At the time, I figured that when I graduated, I’d get a great job and I’d be able to pay off all those credit cards, but that’s not the way that happened.

When you’re going to school, you have to decide what your priorities are. You should make the proper amount of sleep a priority, because that will bolster your immune system and helps with stress. Think about what’s going to happen when you graduate. You may not find that high-paying job that you’re dreaming of right away (or at all–sorry to burst your bubble), and so if you graduate with a lot of debt, credit cards, student loans or otherwise, you will find yourself in a difficult position.

Maybe taking only 12 credit hours a semester and working more would be a better balance. Debt accrues quickly, but it takes a long time to pay off. After you graduate, you usually find that there are more bills that you have to pay, like your own insurance when your parents can’t keep you on theirs anymore.

School isn’t the only situation in which you can overextend yourself. While working as a teacher, I worked nonstop. I came in early, stayed late and worked on my lunch hour. On the weekends, I spent an entire day making lesson plans and prepping materials. I didn’t get paid for this extra work, and instead of “getting things done” like I hoped, I just found that more things got added to my plate.

Eventually, I learned how to get as much done as I could when I had paid time, and to let the rest go. I stopped working during my lunch hour, “off-the-clock,” for the most part. I discovered that I could still get a lot done, and that I was actually a better teacher, because I was better rested and more energetic.

Even if your day is full, at least give yourself your lunch break to rest and regroup. It makes a huge difference. Remember, you’re going to be working for maybe 40 or 50 years before you retire, unless you win the lottery. Do you really want to spend 50 years working nonstop? Even if you love your job, you need to switch gears every so often throughout the day.

So what happens if you’re already in the middle of the semester, with a schedule crammed full? Make sure you get enough sleep. You’ll work more efficiently if you’re less tired, and you’re less likely to get sick. See if other people can help you out with chores like laundry or dishes–you’ll have to be creative to promise them something in trade, like maybe “coupons” that they can redeem for you doing their chores next semester when you’re less busy. Make lists, use a planner, or somehow organize yourself so that you know what needs to be done when. Listen to relaxing music in the car, or if you can, while you’re working. And when it comes time to register for next semester, don’t make the same mistake twice.