The Graduate Life Paradox

By Rachel Wong


And then God said, “Let there be freelancing.”

I overdid college, going in with almost a years worth of college credit from high school. After graduating with my BA at the age of 20, I realized that graduate school was the path I wanted to take. It was an extension of my short college experience and allowed me to work toward a Masters degree while learning from professionals in my field.

Since the program I entered catered to those already in their careers, the majority of my classes are at night. This leaves my day open to do, well, anything I wanted. However, after a semester, I realized I had to keep myself busy. I slept at all odd hours and, though I spent most of my late nights working on possible thesis ideas (like a good girl), I found myself more often than not watching TV and snacking.

Realizing this, I began to shift how I went about my days. I started to force myself to work out first thing after I wake up, which pushed me to eat healthier (and not gain another Freshman 15). I also started looking for work.

Now, everyone told me, “Don’t work while you’re in school. Enjoy it. You’ll be working soon enough.” However, this brought on the paradox that I first discovered in undergrad: if I don’t work, I have plenty of time to do homework and hang out with friends, but I have no money to do so. Yet, if I do work, I’ll have the money to do the things I want, but have less time to study or hang out.

My solution? Freelancing.

Most people look at freelancing as unstable, poor paying, or not as serious as a “real” full-time job. To be fair, the stereotype is rooted in some truth, but, in today’s job market, it is actually the opposite. In several studies, it is predicted that by 2020 a third of all workers globally would be freelancing online.

Freelancing widened my prospective customers, allowing me to diversify my income, and negotiate my salary from Day One. On top of everything, it allowed me flexibility for my classes and a nice influx of money.

However, even freelancing nudged me back toward what I dubbed “The Graduate Life Paradox.” I worked to supplement funds for my education and to have some left over for networking (aka “hanging out”) but the more I worked, the more I realized that I had substantially less time to study. There were times I stayed up late to finish work for my classes, which caused me to wake up later than usual and have less time to work for my clients.

So, how do you stop the cycle of the Graduate Life Paradox?

  1. Fleece your priorities
    Do you really need to watch all of your favorite TV shows as soon as they air? Would your social life suffer if you don’t check your Facebook every hour? Probably not. Each distraction you succumb to takes an additional 15 minutes for you to refocus on your task (not including the time you took to procrastinate). You’ll find that you have a lot more time to work, study, or nap, if you just cut out unnecessary things.
  2. Do take regular breaks
    This may sound contradictory to my prior point but it’s not. Stand up. Stretch. Go take a walk, maybe to a Starbucks for a latte. It is good for you to take mental breaks and get away from staring at your screens. This does NOT mean you should use this time to catch up on social media. Fifteen minutes of tech-free breaks can rejuvenate your mind and make you more focused. If you continue to stare at your phone or computer during your “break” time, your mind isn’t allowed to relax and the break would be counter-productive.
  3. Set boundaries
    There’s a time for work, a time for socializing and a time for school. Set them and keep them. Only you can set the boundaries and maintain them. With the growing use of technology for telecommuting for work or corresponding for class, it’s difficult to just click “off” and allow yourself time for other things. This is especially hard for me since I freelance. What I do to maintain these boundaries is turning off the notifications for certain apps and emails 2-3 hours before I go to bed.
  4. It’s okay to say, “no”
    No matter what you’re doing, this is something you should remember. It’s okay to tell your boss you can’t take on that extra project because you’re taking classes on the days you’re supposed to be in. It’s okay to tell your professor that you can’t make it in for a class due to work or familial obligations. Most young adults who are caught “in-between” the life of a college student and the life of a career person find it hard to say so because they feel obligated to do everything for all aspects of their lives. A good boss or professor would understand and know you have other obligations.

If you do all of this, you’d be surprised in how much time you have to devote to the things that matter most to you. If you’re still pressed for time, think about how you can cut down your classes, work or other obligations down a little bit more to a manageable size.

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