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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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Practice What You Preach (Seriously)

Leah Mary


by Leah Mary

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Life Hacks Living in LA School/Life Balance

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In school, we are told that participating in meaningful occupations, such as playing music, dancing, hanging out with our friends, or eating, is critical for people’s physical, emotional, and mental health. However, as OTs and students, we SUCK at this! I don’t know about you, but my OT balance wheel was always filled with productive hours rather than leisure or play, and I was often burnt out by the middle of the semester.

So last year, I picked up a meaningful hobby . . . hiking! Growing up, I was always big into the outdoors. I would go camping, biking, and cannoning around the Midwest. But, in high school and college, I lost touch with that side because “I didn’t have time.” I often was studying or working and had to prioritize those occupations.

However, when COVID-19 happened, I prioritized my meaningful occupations for my well-being. During my second year in the Master’s Program, I overheard a couple of classmates talking about hiking in Santa Monica. I gravitated toward that conversation and said, “could I possibly join????” During that hike, we shared our love for the outdoors and how much hiking there is in California. We prioritized a hike every weekend and came up with the name “Trailmixers” for our hiking group. And that’s what we did. With intentional planning, we could hike almost every week and still finish our schoolwork. Because of this, I had some of the most meaningful experiences of my life with my best friends. We’ve hiked Mt Baldy, Cucamonga, San Fran, Santa Barbara, Sedona, Pinnacles National Park, Zion, camped in Big Sur, and backpacked in Catalina Island.

My “productive work” has gotten a bit busier now that I’m balancing courses, residency, and campus jobs. However, no matter what, I always make sure I have a hike planned for the weekend. I hope each and every one of you prioritize your meaningful occupations throughout this semester and in life. Because for us to be great OTs, we must practice what we preach and lead by example.

There are excellent resources to start your hiking journey. The AllTrails app can help you plan trips, Airbnb or Recreation.gov to book housing/campsites, the REI store to buy gear, and “Peaks and Professors,” an outdoors club at USC to find a community.

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