HILLIS: Negotiating time for myself

Helen_cutoutLast fall, I challenged myself to an extra class. The grade wouldn’t appear on my transcript nor factor into my GPA. My future employer wouldn’t question me about it. The Tuesday after finals I didn’t refresh Checkmarq countless times to see how it panned out. I was the only one who knew my grade, yet my friends would’ve known if I had failed. There was no syllabus, but I had homework.

Last fall, I challenged myself to earn an “A” in my own mental health.  This might sound odd to some, but after two years of late nights at the library I decided that perhaps the most satisfying way to spend my days was to focus more on what made me happy.

I’d consider myself to be Type A. If you see my apartment, there is no arguing that. My bed is always made. I have to-do lists on nearly every table. So to accomplish my goal, I knew I needed to put it into writing. I drafted what has since been referred to as my happiness contact. The contract was a list of things I promised to do to ensure my life was more than just sitting in the library. Yes, that sounds absolutely ridiculous. Yes, I hung it over my desk. Yes, it is slightly embarrassing to admit this to all of you, but it worked.

Every day, according to the contract, I had to do something that was just for me. I went to Tuesday night mass at St. Joan of Arc Chapel, called my parents and spontaneously took a trip to Chicago for the White Sox game. I still focused on schoolwork, but I saw my happiness as another class I needed to work for. Despite the extra effort in prioritizing my own happiness, my grades hardly changed.

In college, it is easy to lose sight of anything but academics. After the initial excitement of syllabus week wears off, a cloud of fear quickly settles in as our list of assignments grows longer and longer. We tell ourselves that, “this is the semester I’m going to do all of the reading.” I hate to break it to you, but to live a balanced life, that’s nearly impossible. Schoolwork is important, but so is your well-being.  Prioritize. Find a happy medium. Don’t forget that there is more to life than the diploma you will one day have in your hands.

Here is my challenge for this semester: Do something every day that is just for you. Don’t do it for your bank account. Don’t do it for job security. Don’t do it for your parents, your girl/boyfriend or your professors. Do it for you. If making other people happy makes you happy, that’s OK too. But you should be working for your happiness, not exclusively theirs.

Take a seat at your desk. Pull out a pen and paper. Write your contract. Find happiness.