COVID-19 has led me to rethink my overall work life balance

Written By Rachel Ross, Co-Opinions Editor

My relationship with the act of “being busy” is a complicated one. Inherently, being busy is usually not associated with the greatest stuff: stress, running around, being spread too thin, etc. In this sense, of course I don’t like to be busy. I’d much rather lay around and rewatch the same episodes of “Gilmore Girls” for the hundred thousandth time while supplying “Mystery Science Theater 3000” style commentary for no one.

However, there’s another side to being busy: the one that has to do with efficiency, and a sense of accomplishment for completing a task, and feeling fulfilled. In this sense, I do like to be busy. I like to get up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, because if I don’t, I feel like the whole day has been wasted. I’m not very good at sitting and “relaxing” for long periods of time, because I like to make sure I’m using my time as efficiently as possible. I want to work on projects and try to get involved with my community around me, because, along with allowing me to be a part of something I’m interested in like writing, or journalism, or video editing, it gives me a sense of achievement. Since middle school, this side of being busy has encouraged me to welcome a full plate of activities and commitments. And then of course the other side, the dark side, encourages me to regret it, or at least feel overwhelmed at times.

During high school, I came to develop a method for dealing with my schedule when I found myself feeling overwhelmed, which I referred to as my “West Wing mentality,” a show that took me four years to finish because I’m bad at binge watching TV for reasons aforementioned. For those unfamiliar, “West Wing” was a TV show that ran in the early 2000s about a fictitious president and his staff. Those guys were constantly insanely busy with, you know, running the country and everything. I found it admirable how well they always seemed to manage everything even when they claimed they were stressed, they had a pretty good handle on things. The mantra of the whole show was, “What’s next?” as in, “I just settled a dispute between countries that could have had devastating consequences for thousands of people, what’s next?” At one point someone gets shot, and the first thing they say when they wake up is, “What’s next?”

So I figured, that’s what I’m going to do. Not specifically that last part, but you know what I mean. I’m going to be Bradley Whitford, I’m going to take everything head on, boom boom boom, what’s next? And the feeling of successfully achieving that is a great one of course. That feeling that you’ve got everything, you can handle anything, and you can get all this stuff done is fantastic. However…there’s a fine line between that and feeling like there’s no possible way you can manage everything, you’re never going to get anything done, and who were you kidding, you can’t be Bradley Whitford. During my tenth grade year of high school, and the beginning of eleventh, it was a lot of this back and forth. Of course, I’ve experienced it some since then, but I see it a bit differently now because of the pandemic.

As it did for most everyone, the pandemic forced me to have to get used to an entirely different way of living and spending my time day to day. School was online now, and a majority of extracurricular activities had been paused. Other things I participated in like a leadership program and dance classes were ending their run early. Instead of running from classes to clubs to homework everyday, I had a chance to kick back and watch a movie or a Twitch stream, ride my bike when the weather was nice, or try my hand at drawing again, because I bet if I took my time and didn’t rush I could actually make something nice, except no I couldn’t because I’ve tried that several times throughout the years with the same substandard results.

It felt really nice to be able to indulge into the activities that usually got pushed to the wayside. It felt refreshing to be able to slow down, and not have to be caught up in the shuffle of a normal hectic routine. It felt like a major discovery to see the benefit of actually taking time for myself and easing off of the gas pedal a little, something that I don’t think I understood the importance of before. With all of these positive impacts, I was determined, even when things did start sort of going back to normal again, to maintain it; to take more time for self care. Easier said than done.

During my senior year, and even this year with starting college, there have been times where this determination to take time for myself was definitely put to the test. At least in my experience, it can often be easy to exchange time you had set aside for yourself with just getting a little further on this paper, or just doing a bit more of this reading, or just finishing this worksheet so there’s less to do tomorrow. Of course, I’m not advertising chucking all of your responsibilities in the bin in favor of rewatching the same episodes of “Nathan For You” you’ve seen a million times. Like I said before, I do very much enjoy being involved in things. I loved my time in the extracurriculars I did in middle and high school; some of the best memories I made over those years were during those activities. I wouldn’t change anything about the schedule I had in high school…I would just change my way of thinking a bit.

Now, as the world has sort of started turning again (somewhat), I do still believe in my “West Wing” mentality, just not in the same way. It’s not about trying to be Bradley Whitford and working past your limit because that means you’re being productive and efficient, it means being inspired by their example of strength and determination, but understanding yourself enough to know when you need a break.

That’s the piece that I think I was missing for a while. I didn’t really put a lot of importance on time for myself, out of thinking I didn’t need it or I couldn’t possibly make an exception for it. I didn’t see it as a necessity. Now, I do think I’ve found a better balance. I leave time every night to watch the streams I like, I have Declan McKenna music video marathons when I need a minute, I pick out a movie to watch or treat to look forward to every weekend as a reward for the week’s work. Sometimes I still struggle with knowing when to turn the computer off, or at least stop using it for work and start using it for Netflix, but I try to remind myself of the lessons I’ve learned, and how much more balanced life can feel as a result.

For anyone else that struggles with pushing themselves too hard or taking time for breaks, I would encourage them to do the same. Everyone needs and deserves time to unwind and reward themselves for the work they’ve done. Especially right now, as everyone tries to settle into the new groove of the spring semester, amid the stress of rising COVID-19 cases, it’s important to take those breaks and give yourself those rewards. Buy an overpriced coffee, play some video games, watch a movie or start a show, whatever makes you happy. Just make sure that when you’re asking yourself, “What’s next?” throughout the day or the week, at some point it’s a break.