Finding balance in a busy life
by Diane Kessel Knight
Life is one big balancing act. You’ve got the demands of your schoolwork. You’ve got the obligations that come with being a friend, a partner, a son or daughter, a mother or father. You’ve got the pull that comes from wanting to nurture your interests — traveling, working out, gardening, dancing, reading — and the list goes on. And you’ve got your goals in sight: to graduate and become a veterinarian or professional veterinary technician.
Webster defines balance as a “harmonious or satisfying arrangement of parts or elements.” But is balance possible to achieve? Watch this video to hear how students and veterinary professionals find balance in their lives.
Some would say that finding a satisfying arrangement between all these parts of your life is nearly impossible, especially while you are in veterinary school. But just because it’s nearly impossible doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. Life is a process and the balancing skills that you learn while in school will serve you well as you graduate and enter a veterinary practice.
If you feel that your life is out of balance and want to do something about it, the first step is to determine what you value most, and then take a look at your daily schedule. There’s often a gap between what we say we value and how we spend our time. Steven Covey calls this the gap between the “clock and the compass.” The clock represents our commitments, appointments and activities and the compass represents our vision and values and direction. This gap can create tension and frustration because we are neglecting those things most important to us.
Miranda Byrne, a second-year student at Colorado State University, says this about the subject of balance: “Balance is important because it keeps me happy; it’s so easy to get absorbed in school, but I have a lot of interests and if I ignore them, I feel like I’m not being true to myself. Besides, when school is done, it will be nice to look back and know I enjoyed where I lived and made new friends.”
So how are you doing now? How much is schoolwork invading your personal life, and how is your personal life affected by the stress of trying to balance all of your many responsibilities? To figure out your gap between clock and compass, take this short quiz.
If you’re like most students (and most people in general!), you’ll find a gap between what you say is important to you and how you spend your time.
Here are some helpful hints for bringing more balance into your life:
- “Unshould” your life
Learn to say no to some things so you can say yes to the things that are most important to you. Saying no is not a selfish act – it’s the way to free up time to do the things you really want to do and to keep yourself from becoming sick or tired from stress. Ask yourself what you are doing out of obligation and whether you can give it up or find someone else to take it on. Let go of the guilt that comes from saying no. It doesn’t serve you. Learn to say no.
- Let go of the drive for perfection
Can you strive for excellence instead of perfection? Being a perfectionist in an imperfect world is a stressful combination and a sure-fire way to stay out of balance. There will never be enough time to be perfect at schoolwork or in the hospital. What is the cost of your perfection? Is it really worth it?
- Design an action plan
In the areas on the assessment with the lowest satisfaction scores, pick one or two actions or activities that will help you feel that you are living this value. For example, taking time to try a dance class, to meditate, to call your parents weekly or to work in the garden. Plan time for these specific activities just like you would plan time to study or to go to class. Put it into your calendar or day-timer and approach it as a non-negotiable. “When school started, I told myself I would go on a long hike with my dog every weekend and that I would make time to swim and make time for my friends,” Byrne says. “I think I’m doing pretty well with it because I made a commitment to myself.”
- Focus on the future
Think of the benefits of leading a life that is more consistent with your values. Can you imagine a more interesting life? Less stress? Better health? More supportive relationships?
In the end, you need to find the balance that works for you, which is a very personal thing. Celebrate your successes and don't dwell on your failures. Because just like life is a process, so is striving for balance.
First Things First, Steven Covey
The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
Associate’s Survival Guide – Chapter 1: Balancing Career, Family and Life; Shannon
Pigott, CVPM, Samuel M. Fassig, DVM, MA and Elizabeth I. Fassig, MA, PsyD
Give us your comments
What do you do to maintain balance in your life? Share your tips and strategies for balancing your school, work and personal life here.