Student Notebook

The Search for What Else: Typical Student Life as I Know It

Over the past several months, I seem to have re-lived the true graduate school lifestyle: weeks packed full of mammoth research papers, one lengthy presentation after the next, those beloved reading assignments that never end until the semester is almost over. And, oh yeah… practicum! Many hours of practicum, plus commute time. Must I go on?

I recall sitting in my professional development group last year with the school’s president, discussing how professionals in the field eat, sleep, and breathe psychology. But what else do they do? Are they interested in art, are they movie buffs, do they travel on weekends, do they run? So these days I couldn’t help but wonder, what is my what else? Even in undergrad, I was almost always involved in some combination of work (which I loved) and school (which I loved). I had my friends (whom I still love), but not much else. I did the scaled-down version of a hobby: the occasional project. People would ask about my hobbies, and I would talk about things I wanted to develop into hobbies. When you don’t have much free time, how do you squeeze hobbies into the necessities? I was never able to do that very well. And now in grad school it’s not much different.

Truth be told, I would love to have hobbies. I mean, who wouldn’t? But when school is in full swing, what I read and write about is chosen for me. I don’t buy expensive books for leisure. I do have a couple of books on the shelf that I started reading for fun, but I haven’t picked them up for a while. Even cooking doesn’t seem to qualify as a hobby. Does eating count? Walking? How about sleep? The whole idea reminds me of what my dad always said to my brother and me when our work schedules were packed and we had to face the disappointment of turning down nights out with friends. He called it the “working man’s blues.” It seems to apply to school, too.

So what happens when there is no what else, or the what else is really low on the proverbial food chain? From a certain professional perspective, it seems as though being totally immersed in school is healthy. You maintain your focus, you build proficiency within the science, and you don’t have to worry about other things getting in the way. Yet, can this turn into too much of a good thing? Maybe all that psychology gets to be a little bit much come Friday, tempting even the best students to take a “mental health day” when they wake up in the morning so sleep deprived and mentally exhausted that they barely know what day of the week it is.

Okay, okay. Nobody to blame here but the self for not having much time for hobbies. Try as I may, I can only plan so much and so well. Even with one “to-do” list after the next, I don’t seem to pick up much extra time. Lists definitely keep me focused, because looking at my planner leads to highlighting. Then I progress to color-coded highlighting, followed by circled events with arrows leading from those events to alternate dates. Pretty soon it looks like something from a football playbook. And then it hits  me —  somehow out of all the chaos, I have made school into something like a sport. But I was skipping halftime. As much as I love this “sport,” I have come to see that we all need the halftime and some time outs too. It was and still is, difficult to give myself permission to close the books and turn off the desk light for the evening. At the same time, this is essential. At the very least, it’s important for us to stay connected to family, friends, and current events. I think the what else is great when you have it, but it just isn’t essential. Friends and family seem to be the only what else that I have some days, and all I need if there is nothing else.

I periodically re-visit my interest in seeing movies. Schedule permitting, it can be nice to get engrossed in a movie, and it’s certainly less expensive than shopping on the Magnificent Mile with a grad student budget. And if “Borat” could make me laugh, then maybe there’s hope. If nothing else, come June I will graduate and — finally — the homework will be done. Of course, then, instead of what else, I might be plagued by what now….

I’ve known for years that I like to maintain a certain level of busyness, which has made getting an education a great place for me to be in life. But once that intense structure terminates, the world of opportunity awaits. Hopefully I’ll be able to have a career where I can leave my job at work and can catch up on all the what else that I have been missing out on. Truthfully, I cannot wait.

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