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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Student-Work-Life Balance


July 30, 2020

Classes Getting Involved Life Hacks

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We often hear about the importance of a work-life balance or a student-life and social-life balance. However, we do not talk much about the balance of being a student, being an employee, and being social or engaging in self-care. When I discuss work, I do not mean students that have student jobs (like me). Though that is also something to consider. Being a student with a student job still requires balancing but student jobs understand that your life as a student comes first. These jobs often allow time for studying while at work. They also tend to be more flexible to a student’s schedule. My boss constantly emphasizes self-care and she consistently remind my coworkers and I to adjust our schedules as needed. Shout-out to her; we love you Kim. The flexibility that I see in my job as a student worker typically does not ring true for employment outside of the university. Most employers expect their employees to be committed to a certain schedule and to give their full attention to their work while they are on the clock.

Recently, a few first-year students told me that they would like to become more involved but feel too busy with summer courses at the moment. Some even asked for advice on what they should do because they assumed that their lack of involvement would reflect poorly on them. I want to assure everyone that you are not obligated to join any organizations. Please do not overwhelm yourselves. In fact, many people do not become involved until their spring semester. The goal of the student-organization fair and any emails that you are receiving from organizations are to make you aware of what is out there. Think of them as saying “here are your options, if you so choose” and not “pick me!” If your plate is full or you simply are not interested right now, that is completely fine.

I brought up these concerns with my friend, Daphne, and they spoke about their own experience during their first semester of the master’s program (which we all know is very fast paced). But more than student life which includes student organizations and groups, they told me about how difficult it was to also have a job. After being in class from 8:30AM to 4:30PM, Daphne would go to work. Then after work, they would tend to homework and studying. They said “during summer, it was easy to be overwhelmed with everything going on. There were so many extracurriculars that I was I was interested in, but I did not have time between class and work. I hardly had time for sleep.” Daphne also mentioned feeling alone and unaware of any other students balancing jobs on top of their studies.

Now, with campus being closed due to COVID-19 and many student jobs being unavailable, I believe some students have picked up work outside of school. Additionally, I know that some students have children or are responsible for financially contributing to their household – maybe more so because of the pandemic. I have heard from some of my peers that their families are requiring more financial assistance from them. It is difficult to balance student-life, work-life, and life-life. Add in COVID-19 and it can become an even greater struggle.

So, what do you do?

If you can say “no,” say it.
I know that some responsibilities are non-negotiable. However, not everything requires your time. When someone asks something of you, the answer “no” is a viable option. For the people that have a hard time saying no, there are several ways to say it ~nicely~

Special shoutout to @BRIARAMs on twitter for creating a thread. Here are some of her suggestions.
“I appreciate you for considering me, but this is not for me at the moment.”
“I am unsure, may we revisit this another time?”
“Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I have committed to something else.”
“Unfortunately, now is not a good time.”

I used to have difficulty telling people no but there are only so many hours in a day. Plus, I cannot get the job done effectively If I am tired or have to tend to 100 things at once. Learning how to say no to some things allows you to say yes to what is important to you.

Reduce your involvement
Sometimes we get excited and push ourselves to become more involved than necessary. Similar to saying no, reducing your involvement helps to take some things off of your plate. As mentioned, many of you want to become more involved but you are concerned about the commitment. If there is something that you absolutely want to be a part of, become a member. But remember—That does not mean you have to be a board member. You do not have to show up to every meeting. You do not have to take on additional roles. Do what you can and nothing more. 

When assistance is offered, take it
During these uncertain times, there are programs, loans, and grants to alleviate stress (e.g., CARES Act Federal Grant, housing/rent assistance, business loans). Take advantage of those modes of assistance. Their sole purpose is to offer help so do not feel bad. Apply for what you need. If you need them all, apply for them all.

Ask for help
When help is offered, we are more likely to take it than to directly ask for it. A lot of people struggle with asking for help. But honestly, there is no harm in it. The worst thing that can happen is being told no. Do you foresee yourself needing an extension on your paper? Ask for it. Ask your boss if you can do readings at work when things are moving slow. Many people are more understanding than we think. If you explain your situation, they may be willing to help you out.

I wish life was as simple as saying – just be a student and fully commit to that. But in reality, there are bills, there are student loans, there are car payments. There are responsibilities outside of being a student. However, there are a few things that you can do to make it all feel a bit more manageable. I hope these tips offer some relief.