If you’re an adult going back to school, achieving any sort of work-life integration may sound like an uphill battle. But trust me, any temporary adjustment is worth the expanded opportunities you will have.
Most women (and some men) have been conditioned to think that we should strive to find a perfect balance between our work and personal lives. Well, spoiler alert, that’s a myth! It’s time we admit that a perfect balance is an illusion. This is never truer than when you have a job, a family and are going back to school.
The moment you give up hope of an unrealistically perfect work-life balance you can create opportunities to integrate the four key aspects of your life work, family, community, self with less stress. The first principle you must accept is that you can’t do everything at the same time. You need to set priorities and understand that they will change at the different stages of your life, throughout the year and even day to day. Your job is to start the day by looking at what is the most important thing that day and make it your priority, adjusting the other areas accordingly.
Going back to school as an adult: Work
Technology has made it easier to be on 24/7 and harder to not be tempted to answer emails during your child’s soccer game. Start by setting some boundaries for yourself. Turn off your electronics when you’re with the family or when you are studying, and establish specific times to check for urgent messages.
Practice bartering with your boss, colleagues and family. If you need to leave right at 5:00 every evening, offer to connect after your kids are asleep so you can be part of an important project. If you need your husband to cook every night for a week in order to finish a paper, offer to prepare the snacks for the team he coaches on weekends. And so on. Show flexibility and creativity and you’ll think of many potential bartering opportunities.
Going Back to School As an Adult: Family
As you learn to prioritize and re-prioritize constantly, you will also learn to commit time and energy to what’s most important at any given moment. Being present, and always valuing quality over quantity, is the best recipe to get rid of the guilt many parents feel.
Practice my version of “crowdsourcing” by leveraging the power of several people in a similar situation to make an unaffordable convenience, affordable. For example: Agree with four moms of your kids’ schoolmates that each of you will pay a babysitter for all five kids once a week. You’ll all take turns hosting the group at home after school. That way, you’ll not only pay a fifth of the cost for babysitting, but you’ll only have to get home early once a week. You can do the same with tutors!
Going Back to School As an Adult: Community
We feel better when we contribute to something larger than ourselves. However, when your time is constrained by work, family and going back to school, this is an area that you may want to consider putting on the back burner for a while. Unless you can be part of a community effort undertaken by your employer, it may be wise to step aside until you finish your studies.
Going Back to School As an Adult: Self
As an adult, one of the best things you can do to honor yourself and your dreams is to pursue a higher education degree. So if that’s what you’re doing, you may have to temporarily forgo the Friday happy hour with your co-workers in order to spend that quality time with your family. But don’t forget that you still need to take time to nurture yourself: Take a walk, have a cup of coffee with a good friend, listen to your favorite music, anything that enables you to decompress regularly.
These four aspects of your life are all part of who you are. It’s unrealistic to think a perfect balance is possible. But you can easily integrate them and live a happy life if you are willing to review your priorities every day and put your energy where it belongs.
Lastly, keep in mind that one of the best ways to achieve work-life integration is to learn to say no to things that are not your number one priority in the short and long term.
I’m compensated by University of Phoenix for this post. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.