This post was written by Alexandra Schonholz, a recipient of the CUNY School of Professional Studies ACE Scholarship.
Turning Homework into Ohmwork:
As graduation approaches, I have naturally found myself reflecting on my unconventional route through academia and my time as an adult student at CUNY SPS. In my last semester, now a passionate supporter and member of the SPS community, I look back on the last several years of my life and think to myself, “How the hell did I manage to pull that off?”
The online degree finally appears to be bypassing the stigma that it is somehow “lesser than” the typical classroom environment. The stigma, of course, is not true in the slightest. Online courses possess more material to read and therein more material to write about, a huge degree of independence and discipline that will make or break your success, as well as the fact that, much unlike a typical classroom, there’s nowhere to hide online. There’s no chance of cramming the moment before the assignment is due or piggy-backing off others’ responses and “faking it” (something I was certainly guilty of in classes).
Receiving an online degree comes with its advantages as well as its challenges, particularly when classes are supplementary to a 40-hour work week. The work-life-school-sanity balance is one that doesn’t come without effort, but is one that is critical to being able to shoulder the weight of the work in addition other life callings. In the thick of it all, it can be easy to forget why we’re all here in the first place. At this point in our lives, whether it be returning to college to finish a degree or matriculate for the first time, we must remember that education is a gift to ourselves. So, in hopes that my experiences may help you not lose sight of that, here are a few tips I found vital to my academic and work/life/school/sanity balance:
- Meditation and gratitude—a little goes a long way.
I’m a relative newcomer to meditation (less than five years) and have found that 10 minutes at some point during my day does wonders for my concentration and quelling anxieties. There are a number of excellent apps out there for free to help you practice for all levels of experience (my favorite is Brain Wave by Benzai Labs; Stop, Breathe, and Think: Meditation Tailored to Your Emotions by Tools for Peace is also excellent). Every day of the week would be great, sure. But is it realistic? Probably not. I find that meditating for a short time is extremely beneficial when transitioning from my job work to school work as well as before bed, a time when the minds has a greater tendency to replay all of the goings on in the upcoming day or weeks ahead.
Remember, meditation is all about practice, routine, and appreciating where you are in that moment—be it distracted or not. Be gentle with yourself through the process. Starting with a guided meditation may be best for newcomers, as it can familiarize the mind and body with the state of being associated with a meditative state.
If meditation isn’t for you, try writing or speaking out loud a list of things for which you have gratitude. Again, while this technique is best effective when employed each day, I found it incredibly centering in moments of frustration and apathy.
Don’t forget to check out adult coloring books, either—yes, I get it, and I know how that sounds, but hear me out. I received one from a dear friend for my birthday last year and, aside from the beautiful detail and general nostalgic fun, the calming effects of this activity are undeniable.
Taking 15 minutes to color leaves winding down a vine or a distant cityscape against the night sky may sound ridiculous or feel silly or even counterintuitive, but there’s actually a lot of science behind the effects it has on the brain. What’s more, since the adult coloring book market has been up for grabs for a little while, there are all types of themed coloring books that are sure to suit your level of artistic ability (minimal, in my case), style, and interest—like these:
There are 40 ornate eggs in that coloring book for the ornate egg-lovers out there. Forty!
There’s even one called Sexy Girls Coloring Book for Grown-Ups 1.
I recently purchased one for my younger sister who is beginning medical school at Mt. Sinai this fall. She was preemptively, very grateful
- Keep good with the holy trinity: sleep, nutritious food, and exercise.
Are you getting enough quality sleep? The eight-hour mantra we’ve all been accustomed to saying, hearing, and striving for may not be true, it turns out. Daniel Kripke, one of the most acclaimed sleep researchers, has now found that getting between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night leads to a longer life as well as increased happiness and productivity. It’s not a matter of being tired the following day (or week), it’s a matter of keeping focus and our brain’s ability to refocus.
Likewise, napping for 30 minutes or less (quite literally, do not sleep for more than 30 minutes). provides numerous advantages and is much healthier than trying to push through with energy drinks, soda, or coffee—all destructive decisions in the end. Napping has a plethora of benefits that will make you reconsider incorporating this childhood-era activity back into your schedule.
Afraid that you’ll fall asleep and won’t be able to wake up? Well don’t be. Drink a cup of coffee before lying down to make the wake-up-get-up process less arduous. On another note, we all have very loud and annoying alarms on our cell phones in these modern times. In a simple search in the iTunes App Store, I came across several apps you might find useful for those days when it may be extra difficult to pry yourself out of bed or off the couch.
- SpinMe Alarm Clock: The alarm shuts off only after you have gotten out of bed and physically spin yourself around until the alarm stops.
- Math Alarm Clock: A terrifying prospect for a words-not-numbers gal like myself, this alarm clock requires you to do math out loud, correctly, to disable it.
- FreakyAlarm: This alarm doesn’t stop ringing until you solve a series of logic games and scan pre-determined items around your house.
- Leave time for yourself and actually use it.
American culture is well known for its “work hard and then work some more” attitude (not to mention New York’s amplified version of that whistled tune). Breaking away from partners, family members, friends, situations that require us to be “on,” and, most importantly, screens lends itself to improved physical and psychological health.
This is yet another task that is easier said than done. For simple ways to incorporate your ‘you’ time, try waking up a half-hour earlier than the rest of your household, close your door, go for a walk, read during your lunch hour, or exercise. It could even be as simple as taking one hour every Saturday to walk to a coffee shop, grab a drink, and sit on a nearby park bench for some people-watching. Find out what “me” time means for you and make it part of your schedule.
- Reach out, don’t freak out.
If there’s one thing that has been at once extremely difficult and incredibly rewarding for me at SPS, it has been the ability to reach out when I have felt like I was in trouble. I’m still bad at it—I want to do everything to fix it first but sometimes find myself spinning in a sea of make-up work after a semester of unexpected roadblocks. Reaching out to professors has been one of the most effective ways in which I’ve been able to keep calm and carry on throughout the difficult moments. The SPS team knows who its students are—we are professionals young and old, mothers, fathers, caretakers, and sometimes, long-time outsiders to academia. The faculty at SPS also knows that each and every one of us is there because we want to be. We share a sincere desire to pursue education for personal growth, not just a letter grade. More importantly, being there doesn’t mean that everything else in life comes to a screeching halt—quite the opposite, actually.
In my experience, professors have always been sympathetic, understanding, and willing to work with me through the tougher times. Do not suffer silently—there is no need. Suffer out loud! Express yourself and the challenges you are facing along with the ways in which you aim or hope to overcome them.
So there it is—a few words of wisdom from a young woman who now questions what it is that she can’t get done with her evenings ahead, each extending the promise of freedom from eternal ‘to-dos,’ and each one bearing a red, flashing VACANCY sign posted where all of the homeworks used to live.
We are a group of courageous and extraordinary individuals, all with different, wonderful stories of how we arrived. At CUNY SPS, we are celebrated, encouraged to be proud of ourselves, and inspired to do great thing. In moments of uncertainty and lack of confidence, I was met with understanding from the people at CUNY. I was taught that those less-than-stellar perceptions of myself were not true; they may have felt real, but they were not true.
In my final moments as an undergrad I am content. I am proud. I am so thankful to be a part of the SPS family.
Remember why we’re here. Remember that it’s not easy and that is okay. I’ll be the first to tell you that the tough times make us stronger, but in those moments you must also find grace. What we’re all doing here is not easy; I would even argue it is a more difficult path (I would also argue that it’s been a million times more beneficial for me to return to school as a working professional but that’s a whole different blog post). Take the time to pause and reconnect with your inner drive and the reasons you’re really here. Don’t forget that sometimes, it takes stepping back for a moment to regain perspective and remember to keep your eye on the prize. To everybody: good luck and godspeed.
Alexandra Schonholz is a recipient of the CUNY SPS ACE Scholarship, a scholarship program designed to support high-achieving undergraduate students Achieve College Education (ACE). She will graduate from the Communications and Media degree program in June 2016.