Work and Wellness
Creating a lifestyle that balances work and wellness may feel like juggling bowling pins while riding a skateboard. But understanding how you work best and developing those habits that support a thriving routine will help you conquer college life. I learned that getting up early, eating breakfast every day at 7am, then hanging out at the campus coffeehouse for a couple hours before class was efficient for me. Working in some quiet, secluded place was unappealing. I could spread my papers and books in a large booth, listen to the backdrop of conversation and soft music, smell the aroma of coffee brewing, and refill my mug every 30 minutes or so. I was fresh, focused and could accomplish a great amount of work in a short period of time. You might be a night owl and crave the solitude and silence of a library cubicle. Which is fine. You just need to find what works for you and consistently practice that habit. Make a commitment to always go to class, be on time, come prepared, avoid procrastination, be positive, and ask for help when you need it. A reliable work ethic combined with simple, consistent practical habits will serve you well. And that leaves more free time for wellness and play.
So in addition to loathing quiet study in secluded places, I hated to participate in athletic endeavors that made me sweat. I wasn’t particularly coordinated or competitive. I discovered walking was my thing—no skill, no expense, no gym, no special equipment. I’ve been walking regularly my whole adult life. I added some extra activities I enjoy such as yoga and a little weight lifting. Again, it’s the simple consistent practice that is the most effective. Of course, wellness is more than exercise. Eating and sleeping regularly, living within your financial means, developing creative hobbies, hanging out with good people who care about you, volunteering your time for something you care about, and finding a spiritual perspective on life are all valuable. I won’t kid you. These beneficial habits sometimes feel more aspirational than actual, even now after all these years. We all have to cope with unexpected changes and stresses. And maybe you come from a family that was more chaotic than orderly so you’re figuring this out without much role modeling. But I think it’s critical to manage a lifestyle that works for you and discipline yourself to create foundational work and wellness habits. They will be your mainstay throughout your life.
Love of Learning
Ray Bradbury, an American literary giant, wrote, “There’s no use going to school unless your final destination is the library.” So when you walk down the aisle at commencement to Pomp and Circumstance you are continuing a journey you began at Denison, not completing your education. Hopefully you will leave The Hill with curiosity, ambition, and an eagerness to continue learning.
I am sure my parents, hard-working good people who didn’t finish high school, were hoping their oldest child would finish college with some useful skill like nursing or accounting. When I graduated with my B.A. in Philosophy, I think we were all wondering what would be the next step. It wasn’t always pretty as I experienced some discouragement and confusion. But I continued moving forward and enjoyed many wonderful years doing a lot of other things and, of course, always learning, learning, learning. I had the feeling that there was some unfinished business in terms of my education. When I applied to graduate school as a middle-aged nontraditional student, I found it was easy to get back into the rigor of academia (remember those useful foundational habits?) But everything had changed. Certainly technology impacted education in monumental ways. Information has exploded and we can know anything in seconds with a tap on our Smart phones. That is just access, not real learning. Because of my liberal arts degree, I realized that I knew HOW to learn new information and I knew HOW to think about it. What is a reliable source? How does one critically examine information? How does one organize and execute tasks and projects to reach objectives? How does one synthesize information to create new ideas? How does one appreciate another point of view that is repugnant to one’s biases? Yes, it’s tough. It may feel like your head is going to explode as you try to grapple with the writings of Foucault or recover emotionally from election results that feel devastating to you. But you can use your learning to respond thoughtfully and intelligently to that that which causes angst and discomfort. That’s how you begin to make a difference.
In addition to the technological changes, I mingled with different people and heard diverse voices and participated in unexpected conversations. Too often we stay locked in the way we saw the world when we were in our twenties. We live a particular lifestyle with the same kinds of relationships and never step outside it. With knowledge and critical thinking comes heightened awareness. New learning beckons us to consider the world with other lenses. I’ve changed my mind politically, religiously, socially, aesthetically, and I’ll continue to do that. Embrace everything that Denison offers in these four years. Love the ongoing journey of lifelong learning and critical thinking that is launched by that degree.
Flee perfection. Risk vulnerability. Stop unreasonable expectations of yourself. Banish shame. Forgive yourself when you mess up. Do not compare yourself to others. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Read some Brene Brown books and strive to be the best version of yourself and not someone else. Certainly make plans and give everything your best effort, but don’t dissolve into anxiety because you can’t find the map for a perfect, meaningful life. It doesn’t exist. So the route includes wrong turns, bad decisions, steps backward, stumbles, and losing your way. And there are unexpected roadblocks. Someone doesn’t love you back. You struggle with a mental health problem. You don’t get accepted into your top graduate school. Your parents divorce. And on and on. Accept there will be difficulties and it has nothing to do with your worth or your ability. You have been given specific life circumstances and you have the power to interpret and choose your response to what has been given you. Here at Denison, there are many outstretched hands offering some help when you feel stuck. Grab those hands.
Know that mistakes, setbacks and failures are part of an important part of your story. What I have suffered has made me a stronger and more compassionate person. I also realize that lacking control over my destiny is often a blessing. I am truly relieved I did not get everything I wanted. Some of my fulfilled desires would have been disastrous. A lot of opportunities are serendipitous—they just land in your lap when you aren’t striving for them. It’s like a retrospective connect-the- dots picture. Ah, now I realize how that experience benefitted me …
I know First Generation students are trailblazers in their families and they face extra challenges. But I have also learned in my time at Denison that they usually have more resilience and grit. What feels like a deficit may actually be a strength. You are stronger than you think. Just remember to keep moving forward, develop those work and wellness habits, nurture your mind, and be kind to yourself along the way.