The Myth of a ‘Balanced’ College Life

I am sitting down to write my column two hours late, with an exam worth 45 percent of my grade in two days. There is a lot left to study and two other classes to read for. Already, I am thinking about the hours I spent away from my books and computer screen this weekend and the ways I could have better organized my time. Tailgating on Saturday was not exactly necessary, nor were my two episodes of Criminal Minds with my roommates yesterday afternoon. I am feeling stressed, frustrated with myself, and slightly guilty for all the minutes I may have wasted.

We all strive to live balanced lives, but we are not perfect, no matter how often we pretend to be. If you were to talk to my friends, teachers, and club leaders, they would describe me as involved, eager to learn, and, probably, organized. But I, like the rest of us, am not a robot, and still often fail when it comes to time management. My own procrastination and forgetfulness aside, I often wonder if there are enough hours in the day, enough days in the week or weeks in the semester, to live what we would call a “balanced” college life.

When we really consider all there is to accomplish in our days, it can be eye opening, because we don’t often think about everything all at once. First, there are 12.5 hours of class each week. The work we do for these courses often seems constant and all-consuming. I can’t recall ever hearing a friend or classmate say, “I don’t have any work to do,” because even when everything due tomorrow is done, the rest of the week’s work needs attention, and that long-term research project is always lingering in the back of my mind.

To be a balanced college student, one must also participate in at least two clubs, regularly visit professors’ office hours, eat healthy food, work out at least a few days per week, and be constantly applying to internships and attending interviews with potential employers. College is also supposed to be fun, and we have to make time for our social lives, for our friends, roommates, and significant others. We have to foster relationships with professors, network, and connect. Our Jesuit education also encourages us to foster our relationship with God, so many of us shuffle into church each week. Finally, we must of course remember to call Mom and Dad.

This is what a balanced college life looks like. A balanced college life looks unattainable.

What we expect of ourselves really is a lot, maybe even too much. But there is something else that every student is thinking about regularly, either consciously or subconsciously, that keeps us working at the ideally balanced college life. We recognize that all our schoolwork, all our commitments, all our friends and classes and clubs, are incredible privileges. We are so fortunate to have the education, the opportunities, and the relationships that we do, so all of our commitments are really fortunes. The things we balance are more than mere obligations, they are the things we enjoy and the things that make our lives individualized and fulfilling. With so many privileges in our lives that take up so much of our time, it can truly be difficult to remember and appreciate these things. Living our lives mindfully is difficult, but often I am reminded of how much I appreciate this busy, difficult college life.

Last week, as I walked out of an exam, my professor handed me a piece of Halloween candy with a big smile, wishing me a nice weekend and making my completed test feel that much sweeter. In the Stylus office, as I worked to lay out our fall semester magazine, a fellow editor looked at my work with excitement at seeing the pages come together. In that moment, I was thrilled and proud that I was actually making our magazine, a medium that would publish the work of so many talented students. And often, as I walk through campus on these fall days, I am still amazed by the beauty of my college. Every minute of my busy life—albeit some minutes more than others—has something good in it. These are the things we have to look for when stress starts to feel consuming.

We also really need to recognize that what we view as a balanced life at Boston College is just not always possible, and we shouldn’t constantly expect it of ourselves. When I realized I had forgotten about my column on top of all the work that still remained for me to complete, I briefly considered heading into the shower for a good cry. Instead, my roommates began offering suggestions for my topic, solutions, and help. It made me feel cared for and loved, so now it was certainly not a time to feel sorry for myself or beat myself up. I am still not happy that I let my deadline slip through the cracks, but I have the self-awareness to recognize my flawed self and my humanness. To live a good life, we all must come to terms with these unavoidable aspects of ourselves.

So no—I cannot tell you how to balance your life at college. As you can see, mine is not balanced, either. Instead, I try to prioritize the things and people and projects that matter most to me each day. When something or someone really needs attention, I give it that attention. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves for missing a workout, laundry day, class reading, or even an application deadline. The most balanced college life we can hope for is one where we do the best we can by participating in our classes and putting our best effort into our assignments—our best effort is not perfect. A balanced college life is one where we mess up or forget or wait too long, learn, and repeat. We find passions and leave clubs and lose friends and gain friends. We get A’s and we get C’s. There is no perfect, there is no ideal, there is only living and trying, though not always succeeding, to be our best selves.

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor