We’ve all been exhorted, at one time or another, to make sure we are cultivating “a life outside of grad school.” After all, it’s important to take time away from your work so that you have an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate, as well as to enrich the parts of your life that exist apart from the office space. However, between busy schedules, navigating a new world, trying to make connections with faculty or colleagues, and looking for the way to balance it all, figuring out what that “life outside” is supposed to look like, or even just beginning to look for one, can get moved to the back burner.
Where should I start? What kinds of things should I do? How do I take space for myself? Today’s article is dedicated to answering some of those questions.
A great place to begin this process can be finding a hobby that you enjoy and engage in regularly. This doesn’t have to be something that breaks the bank or makes a huge demand on your schedule; there are a lot of great options that you may find are more within reach than you thought.
Resurrect a Previous Hobby
This might seem like an obvious answer, but it’s easy to come into grad school with hobbies you’re already fond of, only to let them slip away when all of your new schedule items come crashing in. So, take some time to reflect on activities you’ve enjoyed in the past, like sports, fitness, crafting activities, or gaming. If you’ve engaged with interests like these before, the chances are, you still have all the equipment you need to get back into them: it’s just a matter of consciously making the time. For myself, I loved watercolor painting in undergrad, but when I started at Baylor, I got so swamped that I didn’t paint anything for over a year. Fortunately, I still had all my paints and brushes, and once I regained my equilibrium, I was able to reconnect with that hobby, and found it to be an incredibly restful break from the stresses of professional life. So, take some time to look around, see what you have on hand or what you’ve found gratifying in the past, and let that be a guide.
Find Something that Suits Your Pace
Now, not every hobby has to be super hands-on or active in a physical sense. Sometimes you need something that’s less demanding, something that you can relax and enjoy with minimal effort, but that still makes you feel satisfied and intentional about how you’re investing your time. If this is what you’re looking for, then consider attending one of the shows Baylor’s Theatre Arts program puts on over the year (tickets found here), or going to an event by the School of Music (calendar linked here). Tickets for the theater tend to be fairly low-cost, and many of the music events are held for free, so they’re fairly financially-friendly options. Alternatively, you might get together with friends for a movie night (movie nights are also easy, fun events to host if you’re looking to build a friend group), try listening to different kinds of music, or take a long walk in Cameron Park. But whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that fits the pace you want to set for yourself. You don’t need to produce some grand result or product or routinely hit some kind of milestone for a hobby to be worthwhile, it just needs to be something you enjoy.
Volunteer Your Time
Hobbies can also act as great ways to gain deeper engagement in your community. Perhaps there’s a group at your church or in your neighborhood that engages in community service of some kind – these can be great ways to connect with others while also giving back in a meaningful way to the place that’s going to be your home for a fair number of years. If you like animals, the Humane Society of Central Texas is always on the lookout for people to walk or even foster dogs (https://www.humanesocietycentraltexas.org/volunteer). Or for something more people-oriented, organizations like Waco’s Habitat for Humanity branch tend to have regular opportunities for volunteers for help build up their community (https://wacohabitat.org/volunteer/). There may also be volunteer initiatives linked through your department in the form of public outreach, or even things like welcoming and mentoring new students to your program. Keep an eye out for these opportunities are they pop up on your radar, and as you have opportunity, try something new. Not only will this enrich the lives of others, but it will help you cement your own sense of belonging in the space you’ve helped to cultivate.
Finally, it’s important to see areas like hobbies and life away from work as things that are necessary and not as a drain on your time that takes away from more important things. Having this space helps you remember that you are a whole person, not just your labor and the results it produces. It also enriches the way you interact with other people. I remember being at an academic conference dinner, just a few months after getting a dog (for the first time in my life). We’d gone through the typical “How are you?” and “What are you working on right now?” questions, and the table was rapidly falling into awkward silence. In desperation to keep it from falling apart completely, I swerved out of the professional range of topics and made a comment about how different it was to not have walked my dog that morning.
I have never seen a table’s mood change so fast. Within moments, I was learning about the long and varied history of a department chair’s housecat (with pictures) and swapping funny dog stories with colleagues I had barely spoken to up until this point. Creating a space for myself outside of the professional world had actually made me better able to connect with other people inside of it, to better see them as whole persons and not just their academic positions. And when our conversation eventually turned back to more professional-realm topics, it was with a more collegial, open atmosphere as we shared the things we were excited about in our research fields.
So, as your schedule and workload increases, make sure to take some time to cultivate your own life. Because you never know how these important steps for your own well-being can ripple out to positively impact others.