The lost art of being selfish

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By Lauren Soluk, graduate student in DISE, shares an opinion piece on life lessons as a graduate student.

Attending a new university, I was eager to involve myself in graduate university life. As my first semester progressed, I choose to take advantage of all the opportunities that presented themselves. Ambitious, like many other graduate students, I had difficulty saying ‘no’. Studying a full course load, working, maintaining familial and social relations, all while trying to remain mentally healthy, began to take its toll. How much can one person handle?

Being me, and like many other graduate students who don’t want to say ‘no’, I took on too much. Saying ‘yes’ to every job opportunity that came my way proved to be my demise, which I would experience later in summer. In the summer, I worked a full time day job part time, part time hours with university departments, provided childcare at night, and committed to other familial obligations. By July, I had reached the point of exhaustion, self-inflicted because of my inability to say ‘no’.

For the first time, I felt like I failed, especially when I knew I let down those who relied on me. For someone who wants nothing more then to succeed in life, that was a difficult experience to go through.

The other day, I noticed a professor had the sign “slow down” taped to his doorframe. When I commented on the sign, he directed me to a blog post he had written to explain the meaning of the words (his post can be found here). The moral of the story was simple, despite the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century, we need to slow down and take time to appreciate our surroundings. We need to realize that work will always be there – something that many of us tend to forget.

When I lost my father two years ago, my life philosophy changed and I vowed to appreciate my life more and take time for those around me and myself. The hustle and bustle of graduate living seemed to take its toll on me as I soon forgot this mantra. This fact was recently pointed out to me when my significant other’s mother said, “Tell Lauren it’s okay if she can’t attend [Thanksgiving in Muskoka]. She has a tendency to overcommit herself!” I believe my summer experience with exhaustion, reading the slow down story, and recent reminder that I overcommit myself, inspired me to write this blog post and reconsider my actions.

Recently, for the first time, I was proud of myself. I had previously decided that I wanted to involve myself in yet another school activity but after careful consideration, I decided that I shouldn’t overcommit and extend myself. For the first time, I felt as if I put myself first. I was selfish!

As graduate students, we often forget that we are people first and graduate students second. Although it’s a competitive job market out there, it’s okay to say ‘no’. While some may read this and think, “No! You have to take every opportunity because it could lead to bigger and better opportunities,” I urge you to reconsider. I’m not suggesting that we should say ‘no’ all the time however, I am suggesting that we strive to strike a balance between the two. On that note, I want to end this post with one final thought: Whether you are a graduate student, a professional, or someone who is just busy, I want you to ask yourself, do you work to live or live to work?

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One Response to “The lost art of being selfish”

  1. Jennie Ferris says:

    Thank you for an interesting and important post. It’s surprising how challenging it can be to say “no” — how it goes against what we sometimes seem expected to do, whether as students, in our work or elsewhere. I think sometimes it is actually selfLESS to say no and do less: when we spread ourselves too thin, we are less able to contribute fully and productively to the various responsibilities we have.

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