366

Last year at precisely this time, I spent a couple of days reflecting on the year that had passed – a big year that held many happy moments, opportunities seized, travels to brand new corners of the world, but also many challenging obstacles and lessons learned. Then, looking forward, I conjured up a list of all I hoped 2012 would bring – kind of like New Year’s Resolutions but, errr, 21 of them (ambitious, aren’t I?). I shared these with you in a post at the start of the year: http://blogs.mcgill.ca/gradlife/2012/01/12/a-year-that%E2%80%99s-new-4-thoughts-moments-lessons-hopes/.

Although I kept these wishes or resolutions in mind throughout the last twelve months, I actually didn’t re-read the post until just a couple of days ago. When I did, I was happily surprised that I could indeed check off all of these bullets, and that what had seemed to be a random list of wishes actually turned out to be a recipe for a successful, balanced and wonderful year.

One of the common themes in my list of hopes was the need to make room in my days for balance and creativity, with the aim of achieving (or holding onto) carefreeness, peace of mind, and stable health. Every day of the year, I made a conscious effort to make time for my hobbies, make time for my friends and family, make time for ME, for the joys and inspirations of daily life, even if this meant that I devoted several hours to something other than my complex and time-consuming PhD work.

I read books for pleasure, watched movies and weird TV shows with my sci-fi-loving husband, spent weekends playing with my nephew, called my grandmothers more often, tagged on some extra days to conference-related trips so that I could have some time to unwind and explore, often doubled the time that making supper normally takes just so I experiment in my cooking, and took pictures – lots and lots of pictures – so that I would get into the habit of always searching for beauty and inspiration, even on the most ordinary days.

This photo project was one of my favorite resolutions for 2012. I created an album called “My 366 for 2012” and snapped at least one photo every day of this leap year. Some are not particularly good. Some are downright boring. Some days I was home and could not for the life of me find something worth photographing. But, in the end, this collection of snapshots helps me look back on all the moments that were captured, as well as all the moments in between.

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No lists!

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started working with to-do lists – it must have coincided with the time when life got really busy, at the end of my undergrad just when I was about to move to Europe to start my Master’s degree. Then by the time my PhD journey began, there was no turning back: I had become a list-making-machine. Big and small tasks, complex ones and easier ones, emails to reply to, errands to run, questions to ask, feedback to give – it all got jotted down, patiently and meticulously, as if I was rummaging through my head with a butterfly net, catching each thought to bring it onto paper, in order to free up some space in that snowglobe of mine. I thought of them as my lifeline – my best tool for keeping organized and on top of things. With my trusty lists, I would not forget. I would have a system. A plan. I would feel a sense of pride with every checkmark, as well as a sense of anguish upon realization that the checked-unchecked ratio always remained unchanged (because we all know that with every item we check off, we also think of at least one more to add to the list).

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A year that’s new (2): Thoughts, Moments, Lessons, Hopes

Moments

Just like every year, when 2011 began, I had no idea what it had in store for me, and for all of us. I have to say that, this holiday season, I was quite excited to let 2011 slip on by and was ready to welcome 2012 with open arms. It wouldn’t be fair to say that it was a bad year (although I must admit, I have said it a few times already!) but it certainly was an eventful year — both in a truly positive and truly negative sense. I’ve had a couple of big, eventful years in my life so far, but 2011 was by far the most up and down year ever – with very high ups and very low downs.

The past twelve months have held the biggest challenges, scariest experiences and most-eye opening realizations ever. It was a year that shook me up intensely, probably just to see how well I could still stand, in the end. It pushed me in hard ways to change my perspective, and to somehow find a balance between changing and growing, yet staying fundamentally the same. It brought along the most amazing triumph I’ve accomplished in my academic life to date, and the sweetest experience of discovering how much joy a tiny baby can bring to our personal lives. It gave me awe-inspiring and absolutely memorable travel adventures that I would not have experienced if it weren’t for my academic career, and for that I am incredibly grateful. It forced me to find a balance between health, PhD work, family and my passions – writing and photography – and to discover, sometimes through intense hurt and disappointment, which people in my life are here to stay, and which relationships are simply not meant to be, for one reason or another, as much as you want them to be. It renewed my faith in second (and third, and fourth) chances, yet broke that faith as well. It brought many smiles and moments of pride and confidence, yet many tears and moments of sheer doubt and hopelessness. It also made me realize that this is probably just the beginning of such up-and-down years — we’re growing up, after all, and life is bound to get more and more complex, throwing fast-balls and curve-balls that we may never be ready for, but still have to catch somehow.

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Three Funerals and a Baptism

Nope, not the title of a movie, but of my life this week. Actually, that’s the short version of the title. The long version would be something like: Three Funerals, a Baptism, an Anniversary, Three Deadlines, Six Meetings, Two Classes and a Dozen Errands.

My most frequently uttered inner-thought this week was, “This is too much. There’s too much on my mind. All these feelings are too big for me”. We often think and talk about balance during our PhD careers. I think the hardest part about our PhD is probably that we pursue it at a time in our lives where we are old enough for really big things to happen to us, and young enough to still feel unsure, unbalanced, inexperienced and afraid. I’ve realized lately that finding this balance is not only about devoting time to other activities outside of your work, but also devoting a part of yourself, your thoughts and your feelings, to the stuff going on in your life outside of work. It is about getting to know yourself and your needs, and being kind enough to yourself to make meeting those needs a priority. It is about being okay with setting aside time to process things, to have a slow-going morning once in a while, to stare blankly at a wall, to wallow and brood, to enjoy some peace with yourself, your love, your family, and to celebrate.

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Balance

Balancing school and a slowly growing singing career is very difficult.  There is external pressure to invest in both, and there are precious few moments where the two pursuits overlap.  It is a constant battle – live for the moment, or live for the future?

By Aline Fouard

Luckily for me, lately, it has come down to the same thing ever time I am feeling the crunch – Go to a practise room and WORK.  This is one of the only activities that consistently overlaps with both succeeding in my degree program and succeeding in my future career.

Even more luckily for me, the time I spend in the practise room is also the time that I feel the most serene, the most productive, and the most inspired.

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