By Sarah Ungerer
School starts at 8 a.m. During lunch, I head to a meeting with my counselor. When the last bell rings in the afternoon, I take a short walk across the street to work with my robotics team. After a few hours, I leave campus and head home for a virtual meeting. I close off the rest of my night by finishing up homework as fast as I possibly can, and head to bed an hour or two past midnight. The cycle continues.
This is how I remember most of high school. It was kind of like a repetitive blur. The anxiousness surrounding my academic performance and extracurricular involvement in my sophomore and junior years specifically was the perfect formula to get me into this mindset of constant work. My younger self knew that college applications were right around the corner and how my top schools were paying attention to my every step. So, because they were watching me so closely, I made sure to respond in a way that would appeal to them. I put so much time and energy into all of my activities, even to the point where I was sacrificing time with friends and neglecting to attend big school events. Skipping junior prom? I promised myself to make up for it when I could be a bit more relaxed in my second semester of senior year, post-college applications.
And then, COVID-19 struck—smack in the middle of my final few months of high school. It was sudden and emotionally damaging. In March, I remember reading our principal’s announcement about a temporary shift into online learning for two weeks. My classmates and I just thought of it as an extended spring break, so we didn’t think much of it at the time. However, two weeks turned into two months, and eventually, it turned into the rest of the school year.
Everything was canceled. Prom, competitions, awards ceremonies, senior lock-in, senior sunrise, graduation… the list could go on and on. Because of the nature of this pandemic, I didn’t even have the opportunity to hang out with my friends outside of school to make up for lost time. And, as exciting as it was to receive college decisions and start looking deeper into my future during this pretty bleak time period, I couldn’t help but wonder if the non-stop hard work and neglect was truly worth it.
After I finally processed this abrupt change, I was able to think back on my priorities. This reflection led me to a lot of conclusions. I thought about being productive beyond work. I thought about my family and friends that I pushed aside in favor of “reaching for the stars.” I thought about all of the momentous occasions I purposely skipped out on in order to prepare for a test. But most of all, I thought about the control that I have over my life and how I had failed at being my own best boss.
Instead of hopelessly lingering on this failure, though, I made sure to look at it as a chance to grow. I merely viewed it as a small obstacle in my journey to reaching the happiness and success that I desperately wanted for myself. So, let’s take a deeper dive into this growth. How did I switch my thinking to be less work-oriented and more self-oriented? And, how can you follow my footsteps and take inspiration to do the same? Here are a few lessons that I have collected for you all to help with managing your life and priorities better:
1) Productivity ≠ Work. How do you define productivity? Most people’s instinct is to connect that word with work… and a lot of it; however, it’s of utmost importance to remember that there is so much more to productivity. Beyond doing homework and chores, for example, it might surprise you that a good night’s sleep, paying attention to your hygiene, and going out with friends on a Saturday night are all productive activities. These help you take care of yourself and your needs. They help keep your body and mind healthy and, dare I say, productive.
2) Make your relationships a priority. As you have already read, one of my biggest regrets from high school is not giving my friends the time and attention they deserved. Upon reflecting on this guilt, I’ve found myself thinking about the beauty of time and how telling it can be. Work comes and goes, but the connections that you have with those around you are constantly evolving and, oftentimes, long-lasting. You can spend five hours on an essay and forget about it the minute you turn it in for a grade, but spend one hour at a diner with your friends and remember every single conversation. Basically, make sure to give yourself the opportunity to form these memories with those you love.
3) Have fun (seriously). Cheesy, right? But it’s also unarguably true. So much of life is centered on achieving the absolute most or trying to impress another person. I think the best thing we can do, though, is live for ourselves. Whether your version of fun is cracking open a book at sunrise or taking a solo mini-golfing trip on a Friday evening, giving yourself time to do the things you love can make you feel happy and energized. Think about it… what gives you that spark?
It’s easy to get caught up in how hectic your work life can be. You might finish an assignment, set it down, and boom! Another task is waiting for you to complete it. The truth is that work isn’t avoidable, especially if you’re a student and/or working in any type of job. What you can do is think about how you might be able to better manage your priorities. Don’t just think about those projects you have to get done. Think about how you can take care of yourself by eating healthy and getting some sun. Think about how you can find time to be with your friends. Think about what you can do to relax. And, most of all, think about how you can become your own best boss.
National Intern Day is July 29! If you want to hear more from Vivensity interns, check out more blogs, listen to the Spark Moment™ podcast on Spotify, and follow our Instagram (@vivensityinc) to see some interns get their spotlight!