I took last Tuesday evening off. Really, I should have been in one of two places--either working with a client or at my husband’s wind ensemble concert--but since my last client of the evening cancelled, I decided to come home for an evening for myself and do not feel too bad about it.
In practicum this summer, our professor warned everyone that life was about to get a little crazy for a while. Anyone who has lived through practicum and internship is probably smirking right now and thinking “Yeah, that’s an understatement.” I totally believed him, but what I did not understand was that I wouldn’t settle into much of a daily routine from May until about now. For someone who needs a little structure, that’s a very long time to go without a routine. Without structure, the things that I need to do to stay healthy and happy tend to go out the window first, like writing in my own blog or exercising, and from there I feel like I can barely hold on. Forever an overzealous student, even my homework is suffering a little as I try to hang on to a new schedule of work, internship, school, home, and social demands.
After about five months, some structure is in sight. As my daily schedule starts to fall into place with the start of my new job, I am so thankful for the other piece of advice my professor gave on the first day of practicum in May: make sure to keep communicating with the important people in our lives about how hectic the next few semesters will be and about what I need from them to succeed. My work supervisor knows the importance of my internship and my intention to graduate on time in May. My internship site supervisor knows that I need some flexibility until I settle into my job. My school advisor knows to check in periodically, since he’s up in Nebraska and no longer sees me daily. And my husband knows that I need some extra help and flexibility at home in order to accomplish all of this--and that this year’s craziness is temporary.
This structure-setting was not without some growing pains for a recovering people-pleaser. I had to apply my own work with clients in setting up boundaries and saying no, and this has been tricky at both work and home as I negotiate and renegotiate how I spend my time and energy. I’ve resorted to being really blunt with both my husband and my boss: How important is it that I go to this concert, event, happy hour, etc.? Is there something more important coming up that I should attend? It always feels tactless, but at least we all know each other’s expectations.
Of course, finally having some structure doesn’t necessarily mean that my schedule has hours of free time, so I’ve learned to take advantage of the holes in my day. Last Sunday, an issue at my internship meant that I couldn’t do our group activity that week. I rescheduled, and the spent that afternoon in Mandeville proudly listening to my husband’s first concert with the Louisiana Philharmonic. My last client canceled on Tuesday evening and I took that time to go home, put on my PJs, and reconnect with my schoolwork. If I’m not deliberate about the use of these holes, I end up messing around on Facebook for an hour and then feeling anxious.
I still haven’t reached a perfect work/life/school balance (if that’s even possible), but I’m finally starting to feel the flow in my days and weeks. I always laugh a little at the irony of counseling students working with clients on balance and wellness but having so much do to for school that balance and wellness is pretty difficult. At least we’ll come out understanding firsthand what needs to happen for our clients to achieve some balance, and we’ll be better counselors because of it.
Kristen Eckhardt is a counselor-in-training at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, completing her internship this year in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Read more about her experiences and her takes on counseling issues at www.feetintwoworlds.wordpress.com.