When I log out of work my eyes feel like they're on fire. I work remote, about 50 hours a week, staring at a computer. Spending another, I don’t even know how many, hours a week in school did not sound appealing to me. But I couldn't find any school that offered an in-person version of this program, so you do what you got to do. And with 2 years of it, you figure out a way to do it without your eyes melting or your brain frying.
My first semester was rough. This online thing was all new to me. I cried to my best-friend almost every day, telling her things like:
"Whose idea was this?", "Don't do it! Don't go back to school! SAVE YOURSELF!!", and "I HATE IT HERE!"
I felt like all I did was work and school. I didn't leave the house except to walk my dog, and when I did go outside, I felt like a gremlin seeing the sun for the first time.
I'm in my 4th semester now, and nothing has changed, except school…it's not that bad anymore. I can't remember the last time I cried to my bestie. I see my friends, go to concerts, hike in the forest. I even hosted a super bowl party this year! Maybe it's because the end is in sight. Maybe I got used to it. Maybe I've done lost my mind. It could be all the above. But there are a few key things that have helped me in this journey, and I hope, in sharing this with others, maybe they'll help someone else too.
I read in print. Any reading I must do, longer than a page, I print out. I know I'm wasting trees, but I'm saving my eyes, and there is just no way I could do all this reading on the computer. Any textbooks that are required reading, I find the pdf version, and I print out only the chapter(s) that are assigned for the week. I ration them.
I ration workloads. I rarely do the full assignment for any class in one block of time. I break it up. If I need to read a chapter, write a paper, and watch a TED talk all for one assignment, I separate them into smaller, more manageable chunks. I can do the reading one evening. The next, I'll watch the TED talk and maybe start on another assignment. And the next, I'll do the writing. If I try to tackle everything all at once, I get overwhelmed. I don't have time to be overwhelmed. But I always have time to reach small achievable goals.
I schedule around school. I don't commit to anything, outside of work, that falls during the semester until classes start and I see what the workload will be and when assignments are due. That helps me plan, not just my school life, but my social life, and my down time. It helps me stay balanced. I schedule around grad school and not the other way around. And I ALWAYS plan a vacation, something substantial, in between each semester. It helps me to know that I have a 'reward' waiting for me at the end.
I've made connections with some of the other students in my program. I know that we're 'forced' to interact with our peers by responding to discussions or reviewing each other's work. But I also know that, just like everyone else, if I am asked to reply to 2 of my peers, I reply only to 2, not 3, definitely not 4. I've tried replying to more than is asked, replying to replies, but that hasn't been sustainable. What has really helped me are the 'friends' that I've made. We talk to each other every week about class, about life, about work, sometimes completely clueless and frustrated, sometimes bouncing ideas and thoughts off each other. To comrade with others facing the same challenges, having the same questions, it helps. It helps to not feel alone in this. Online school can be very isolating if you let it. And school, life, work, in my opinion, is so much easier, so much more enjoyable, with other people to share it with.
I remind myself that it's not that serious. My life doesn't depend on whether, or not, I get a master's degree. Having letters after my name doesn't define who I am as a person. Don't get me wrong, I want those letters. I want to do well. I want to keep going and eventually get my doctorate so people have to call me Dr Jess. I need to remind myself of that end goal to help me keep going, but I can't focus on that…or I won't keep going. I've tried that. It didn't work. When I started this program, people asked me what my plan was. I told them, "I want my doctorate, but we'll see." I've been navigating this Dr Jess journey of mine one degree at a time, one semester at a time, and one assignment at a time. I'll cross the next bridge when I get there. If life happens and takes me in another direction, to a different bridge, then I'll cross that one, because if that's where life takes me, then I believe, that's where I'm supposed to be. After all, 25 years ago, I never imagined I'd have a corporate career. I never imagined I'd be an educator. And without getting into too much detail, I honestly didn't think I'd still be alive. But I survived, and I am thriving, and I AM alive. So, this school thing…although it's important, it's a goal to be achieved, and I take it seriously, it is not that serious.