by Mary Russell, M.S.
I recently finished up my last year of graduate school classes – likely my last year of class’s period. As one might expect, finishing school is something I’ve been anticipating since my first day of 1st grade. For obvious reasons, reaching this milestone brings with it feelings of overwhelming joy, gratitude, and accomplishment.
Unfortunately, my first free week has left me with some unexpected feelings of anxiety. For the past 23 years, school has provided me with the safety of a schedule that told me where I needed to be, what I had to do, and when I had to do it by. Particularly towards the end, my school schedule seemed to dominant my life, specifying what I did between the hours of 8 am and 9 pm with minimal flexibility. Needless to say, I accomplished a lot during this time.
Now, what I do with much of my time is largely up to me. For many, if not most, this opportunity would be welcomed with open arms. For me, it would appear that I am experiencing a bit of ambivalence about this transition. I welcome the free time to relax and catch up on aspects of my “life” that I have let fall by the wayside while I was consumed by school obligations. Nonetheless, I have also been experiencing irrational thoughts that my failure to use 100% of my waking hours in a “productive” manner as I have been is somehow catastrophic and intolerable.
Transitions can be difficult. Whether one is finishing school, switching careers, retiring, beginning or ending a relationship, or having children, adjusting to a schedule that is different can be challenging. This being said, just because one’s lifestyle changes, does not necessarily imply that it is “less,” bad, intolerable, or catastrophic”. For me, my irrational beliefs were not only leaving me with a narrow definition of productivity (i.e., time is only productive if it is spent pursuing academic success), but also left me to believe that all my time must be spent productively. My failure to live up to my own ridged, unhealthy, and likely unrealistic standards for myself were leaving me with considerable unrest. Thus, I made the choice to think differently in a more flexible, well-rounded and realistic way. First, I broadened my definition of productivity by acknowledging that relaxing with a book or TV, going for a walk, spending time with my friends and family, and dog are most definitely productive. Second, I acknowledged that, even if what I’m doing isn’t productive, there is no rule or law saying I must be productive at all time. Third, because there is no rule demanding100% productivity, I can let myself off the hook if and when I choose to “waste time.” Finally, I can acknowledge that adjusting to my new lifestyle may be uncomfortable, but certainly not unbearable. Without a doubt, my life would be quite boring if we were always routine and comfortable and in the long run tolerating this discomfort will SURELY be worth it.
For better or worse, transitions may always be a tad uncomfortable as they bring with them a certain degree of uncertainty. Nonetheless, if we see transitions for what they are, changes that may be uncomfortable but not unbearable or catastrophic, we will be in a better position to adjust to the inevitable change that life brings us.