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Juggling Lessons

It has been almost one year since I announced to the greater world that I was diving into graduate school again to pursue my Ph.D. What has changed over the last year? When I announced that I was going back to school, we weren't sure if the "on-ground" components of the class would be in-person or virtual. For Fall and Spring, we had to stay virtual. This meant that even though I was in class one weekend per month, I was able to attend from the comfort of my spare room; no need to flex my work schedule or take the train to DC. 

As classes started in September, I found a rhythm to my weekly load. Go to work (most days, 8:30-5ish), come home, get in a walk if I'm lucky, eat dinner with the family, chill for a bit. Then about 7 pm, I'd sit down at the computer to work on classwork. Some nights, it's reading (SO much reading). Other nights, it's posting to a discussion group or meeting up with colleagues for a group project, or outlining thoughts for an upcoming assignment. I try to get about 2 hours of schoolwork in. On weekends when I didn't have on-ground classes, I work another 4-5 hours per day on assignments. Altogether, I usually spend about 15-20 hours per week on schoolwork. I sleep about 6 hours a night if I'm lucky. You can do the math. It doesn't leave a lot of time for "other" stuff. 

Friday is the one day I have reserved for no schoolwork allowed. We typically order out for food, a tradition we started at the beginning of the pandemic. Then we have family time with usually a movie or even just chilling by the fire pit. 

Over the last few months, I have engaged in conversations with a few people about my Ph.D. journey. Most people want to know about my classes and what my dissertation topic might be. Mostly, though, I hear a lot that sounds like, "I don't know how you do everything you do!"


Me neither. 

The truth is, I just do what I can. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. Ph.D. work is hard. If you hear someone say it's easy, they're enrolled in a diploma mill. Or they're an uber genius. It's right that the work is hard. If it were easy, it would diminish the scholarship. I love this work. I love nerding out on research. I love diving deep into topics of organizational change and thinking about how it impacts my current work. I love thinking about how I can make other organizations better with everything I'm learning. I'm definitely in my happy place. It still makes me tired at the end of the day! 

When I think about how I get the work done, I love the analogy of juggling. Have you ever tried to juggle? It's hard. I've never mastered three oranges or even silk scarves. I'm fascinated by performers who can juggle many things, not to mention the ones that can juggle a bowling ball, a chainsaw, and a lit torch all at once. Life involves a lot of juggling. I think the key, however, is knowing what we can drop because it's rubber and what is so fragile that we have to keep it in the air. 

I'm not the first person to say this. Former Coca-Cola CEO Bryan Dyson said it in a famous commencement speech that has been pirated all over the Internet. In his version, work is always the rubber ball that can "fall away". Family, friends, health, and spirit are the other four balls that cannot drop because they are made of glass. 

In my version, the glass balls change at different points of our life. Sometimes it's a new baby. Sometimes it's a new job. Sometimes it's a pursuit like graduate school. The key is knowing which ball is fragile glass and which ones can bounce away. It's also knowing who can share some of the juggling duties with you. I have lobbed quite a few nightly dinner and kiddo balls to my partner. He graciously caught them. I have said no to quite a few opportunities recently because I just KNOW where my limits are. That's how I do it. I decide when to say no.  

Credit to my PhD Colleague Kasey
for creating this meme!

As this semester comes to a close, I have just a minute to catch my breath. There are no "summers off"
for Ph.D. students. Classes start again on May 10th and even between semesters, we are expected to keep working on that elusive dissertation. I'm planning to take a few days this week to breathe. Maybe I'll finish that novel I read a few pages of now and again. However, I don't plan to take a real break between semesters this time. If all goes according to plan, I will have an approved concept paper by the end of the Summer! It also looks like our on-ground classes will be live and in-person starting in the Fall. It will be time for a whole new normal again! I can't wait to meet some of my fellow students in person (finally!). 

As you juggle your life, which balls are glass and which ones are plastic? How do you keep the glass in the air? 



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