It’s that time of year again. Buses are overcrowded, the streets are full of rambunctious youngsters, and the grocery stores are sold out of Kraft Dinner. It used to be a romantic season where big books looked like new adventures, new faces looked like potential friends, and life as I knew it was being refreshed.
I’m talking about September a.k.a. back to school season.
For grad students like myself — who have started and finished over ten semesters of full-time, beat-your-head-against-the-wall, sleep-deprived learning — all the romance is dead. Like any relationship, once the sparks die down, love becomes less of a wind that sweeps you off your feet and more of a deliberate choice. Here are my five tips for keeping the romance alive in your academic life:
1. Start smoking
Now, obviously, I don’t mean literally. As we all know, smoking is not so good for you. However, there is a reason for C.S. Lewis’ pipe and Freud’s cigars. Smoking breaks allow you to stop and contemplate. Take a page from the great thinkers and pause for a few sacred breaks throughout the day where you are conscious of every breath and where you allow the bombardment of education to be slowly broken down and translated into meaningful, savoury bites of life.
2. Don’t give up on fiction
I know, when you have that impossible amount of required words to look at, you don’t dare pick up a book for fun. I challenge you to do it! Whether before bed or on the bus, create a time and space where textbooks are forbidden. If looking at paper makes you want to vomit, then find a good TV series or a good movie to escape in. Real life is overwhelming — make time for fiction and stop feeling guilty about it.
3. Become a regular
Find a favorite seat at a coffee shop or a desk in the library where you can get your study on. Not only will you make a sacred space where productivity is a habitual thing, but you will also anchor your academic work to a location so it can’t follow you home and keep you up at night. Also, find a favourite booth at a pub where you can converse with friends. The guys on How I Met Your Mother had McLaren’s, Seinfeld had Monk’s Café, the Inklings had The Eagle and The Child. Academics is largely about the camaraderie, and every story-worthy group of friends has a meeting place.
4. Celebrate your victories
Every complete paper and every passed exam calls for celebration. Throw parties, get wild. This is your chance to nurse the roots of community amid your peers. Their struggles are often your struggles, their victories are often your victories.
5. Remember the impact
You’re in your field because it changes the world. That can mean so many different things, but whatever it means for you, get clear on it. And remind yourself of it every day. On days when you’re not stoked about the impact your field is having, remember the big picture. Remember that you are changing the world no matter how small you feel, no matter how low your GPA, no matter how much smarter everyone else seems. You got accepted and you haven’t been kicked out because someone is believing that you have a unique contribution to make.
Grad school has taught me a lot, but most of what I’ve learned has not been in textbooks or even in the lectures I pay ridiculous amounts of money to sit in on. These things are great and empowering, but not an end in and of themselves. Mostly, I’ve learned who I am, who I am not, and who I’d like to be. I’ve learned the value of people and relationships, the value of working with both my mind and my hands. I’ve learned how to love more deeply, and that I’m loved far more deeply than I deserve. I’ve learned that choosing to love something (or even someone) — after the initial sparks turn to ash and the butterflies in your stomach turn to gastric cramps — leads to self-discovery. A discovery of who God made you to be in all His glory.