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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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Teresa


by Teresa

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Getting Involved School/Life Balance

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Yeah? Thinking about what you want your time here to look like? Then this one’s for you.

Growing up, I was that kid–the ASB, class president, honor society, involved in anything and everything type of kid. In undergrad, I took the complete opposite approach: focused my efforts on academics and dedicated any remaining time to a select few organizations I felt truly passionate about. Going into this program, I knew I wanted to maximize my two years here but was still figuring out what that meant and how it would be affected by… well, let’s just call them unprecedented times for old time’s sake.

I’ve held several roles in several student organizations and programs here, including this one as student ambassador. I came into all of them during these infamous times and with that came a unique set of challenges, as I’m sure many of my fellow student leaders can relate to. So as I step out of my formal roles, here are some questions I’ve frequently gotten…

  1. How do I know what to get involved with? Obviously, the answer to this varies person to person. For me, I chose to get involved with things I felt aligned with my personal values, experiences, and goals which include advocacy, working with underserved communities, and mentorship. Identifying these are important because 1) no one can ever take their importance away from you and 2) they can be used to ground yourself if you ever lose sight of why you started the work in the first place. Working toward things you care about is always going to be a stronger motivator than doing things only because it’s what you think you’re supposed to be doing. This is not to say that you can only get involved with something you have a personal stake in. You can still be a strong ally, leader, and resource as long as you’re committed to putting in the work to understand and uplift larger causes.
  2. When should I get involved? With how short this program is, it may feel tempting to hit the ground running and take on everything all at once. Take the entire first semester to focus on school and establish a strong foundation so that you’re better able to gauge how much more you can take on. Take on more slowly over time if you are willing and able, but recognize your limitations. Becoming a leader is realizing that you are but a small, yet mighty, cog in a much larger machine. If you are no longer working, the entire system doesn’t work and the cause you serve pays the price. That being said, being proactive and reaching out to student organizations early doesn’t hurt! However, they will certainly provide you with more information to get involved when the time comes.
  3. What about the things I struggle with? They are inevitable growing pains, which hopefully subside as you progress and develop into your role(s). Be committed to receiving and applying feedback and getting out of your comfort zone. For me, this was role delegation and for several reasons: being hesitant to add more onto someone else’s plate, unlearning perfectionism, and learning to ask for help. I believe the hallmark feature of a great leader is the ability to empower others to become leaders themselves. This doesn’t happen when one person takes on everything, alone, operating in a silo. It happens when the dissemination of roles provides opportunities for emerging leaders to learn and grow.
  4. How do you stay organized? Definitely not without trial-and-error. In this age of technology and coupled with the pandemic, doing everything digitized became the new norm. While it works for some, I can say with confidence that it doesn’t work for me. Setting reminders, alarms, and notifications is sometimes effective but other times, I will simply swipe away or have my phone silenced and forget about tasks altogether. Out of sight, out of mind. I opt for paper-and-pencil because there’s just something so gratifying about physically crossing items off a list! This way, I am also setting spatial boundaries in addition to the temporal boundaries I will describe in #5. My phone is associated with leisure and social participation while my computer and planner are associated with work and productivity. Every person is different, try out various things and find what works for you!
  5. How do you balance involvement, academics, and your personal life? At the start of this program, I was determined to make the most out of an unfortunate situation so I did hit the ground running and poured myself into involvement and academics. During a presentation from the USC Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity, we completed a Balance Wheel activity and mine was largely dominated by one color (work) and minimally by another color (sleep). Seeing this visual representation of myself as a two-dimensional occupational being forced me to assess whether I wanted my life to be a never-ending cycle of work, sleep, work, work, work, sleep, work. I did not, so I put boundaries in place. This included making a list of prioritized work instead of always tackling an endless and ever-growing “to do list.” This was followed by dedicating regular and reasonable hours toward these priorities and once these hours elapsed for the day, I would stop even if the work wasn’t finished. It’s fine–the work can wait. Stop and take the time to engage in your meaningful occupations–the ones which will re-energize you and keep you going.

To end this penultimate narrative, I emphasize how important mentorship is based on that which I’ve received and wished I’d received. My mentors have been both formal, through positions I’ve held and those who have guided me, as well as informal, through people I admire and who inspire me through their own work. There aren’t any hard and fast rules to what mentorship has to look like but being positioned to influence young minds is both power and responsibility and is not to be taken lightly. While it may require more effort and time on your part to invest in future generations, it is the hope that this kindness continues to be paid forward and improved upon year after year so that even once your time in the halls of CHP comes to an end, the causes you worked towards persist onward.

It appears I love leaving you with a quote of sorts, so we’re just going to go with it…

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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