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I can't help but feel that grad school is selfish

I can't help but feel that grad school is selfish

Let’s face it, grad school is selfish! It’s all consuming. It is a giant monster that bursts into your life and suddenly begins to eat up everything you love as you panic trying to beat it back with only a laptop and a couple of textbooks to use as weapons. And as your life gets devoured by this crazy, hellish thing, you realize that you’re the one who invited it into your home and that you have to protect yourself. 

Before I started school, I had a lot of people tell me that grad school is a time to be selfish. No, it is the time to be selfish, and it’s only now that I’m understanding why. I spent all of last week in an incredibly anxious and unmotivated state. I couldn’t get myself to do much of anything besides watch Friends and old movies like A Cinderella Story and The Princess Bride. I tried and tried and tried to get work done, but my brain couldn’t handle the stress and the pressure; so, I had to basically check out the entire week. I even skipped a night of class. 

Much to my dismay, I’m truly understanding now why people said being in grad school means I have to be selfish. I had to skip one of my best friend’s concerts tonight to do homework. My friends are like family to me, so please believe me when I say that weighs incredibly heavily on me. My heart wanted to be out at the venue supporting him and his incredible music. But where was I? Sitting at my computer, organizing my planner, working on projects, and writing papers and other assignments. And here’s the thing: I’m not even remotely close to having everything done. It sucks! In the past month I’ve only had time to hang out with two of my friends, and one of them is my workout and homework buddy. I’d like to say I’ve spent a lot of quality time with my family, but frankly that’s not true either (with the exception of the wedding last weekend). It seems like all I’ve really had time for is school and work. 

It’s hard for me because this is not how I want to be spending my time. I feel bad that I haven’t been able to be there for my friends and family to support them and encourage them and just relax and laugh with them. That’s where my heart wants to be. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the reality that I live in. I can’t care for those around me the way that I want to right now, because if I try to do that on top of school and work (I also just cut my hours by a third), I won’t finish grad school. I’ll spend my entire time in the program like I did last week: stressed and anxious and not functioning well. 

So, I have to reorganize my life with the knowledge that I have a lot more needs than I used to. I have to be selfish with my time and resources in order to get through this time in my life. Unfortunately, I think that this will take me a lot longer to perfect than I am used to. After all, before school I had my own needs pretty well figured out (I’m quite introspective) and had measures in place to make sure they were being met. But now my usual needs are greater and I’ve acquired some new needs that are of equal importance. So, I have to relearn what it means to take care of myself during this chapter of my life. And that means that I don’t have as much to give to the ones I love around me. It’s a sad, hard, and totally necessary reality. Being in grad school means I have to be selfish. And if I have to be so damn selfish, you can bet that I’m going to make my friends and family proud by completely kicking this program’s a**.

So, keep on keeping on, fellow students. Know your needs and make sure they’re met first. Like how you need to secure your own oxygen mask on a plane before helping others. Make sure that you’re keeping yourself afloat before others take you down with them. You’ve got this. 

Elizabeth Mulherron (@gradu8student) is a second year doctoral student pursing her Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology. This story was published on October 10, 2018, on Elizabeth’s blog, The Young Grad Student (available here) and has been republished here with her permission.

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