Agency and Our Priorities

I just went for an hour swim. It was not like I needed it, as we like to say about time away from the office, but just part of my normal routine.

As graduate students, like most of you know, we are “busy.” Reading, writing, meetings, lab time, undergraduates…when do we have time for exercise, moments with our loved ones, a social life? I often hear my peers exclaim that they “have no time!” but the professors/mentors that I speak to every day have never once said these words in the time that I’ve known them.

Perhaps this is because they have job security, a somewhat routine schedule, families to care for…so much “stuff” to do that they just do not have time to complain.

So, why do we do this as graduate students. It is not strange to see my peers at the gym, running outside, sitting for hours at coffee shops (are we really doing work the whole time??), at the bar sometimes on 3-4 nights a week (I guess I know this because I do it too). And yet, we are pulling our hair out more often than we would like, drinking more coffee than is helpful, and getting little sleep. Our insecurities are forcing us to be whiners and managing our time ineffectively. What’s that you say about agency?

A course of action that has been helping me: accept the chaos, break up the monotony and just stop whining.

We cannot change the fact that our lives are dynamic and unclear–lab meetings scheduled on the fly, important documents that were just never filed, wondering what comes next year/month/…how about the next hour? We’ve all been there. Our professors are there every day, but have the experience/agency to deal with it better than us. When we spend countless hours complaining to our peers at the local coffee shop (or on social media sites when we are overwhelmed), we are literally losing precious minutes that could have gone to a cover letter to that job you are passionate about or listening to a podcast related to your field (or something you are interested in!) on a quick walk. You’ll blow everyone away in your next meeting with new found knowledge or time spent reflecting on the subject instead of just spitting out whatever work you just breathlessly vomited. When we have agency about our daily choices and can effectively time manage, we break up the monotony and inevitably (hopefully) the whining too.

If your pent up ineffectiveness leaves you whining, procrastinating, or just perpetually staring at the computer screen, I’d suggest you reevaluate your priorities. Perhaps then we (myself included!) can find the confidence to feel secure in our daily activities, discontinue the whining, and finally get some sleep.

“I cannot make my days longer so I strive to make them better.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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