Work/Life Balance. We’ve all heard of it, and some of us are better at actually finding that balance than others. Work/School/Life Balance? No one really prepared me for that one.
Seven weeks ago, I began my three-year journey as a part-time MBA student. I chose an evening program for several reasons, but largely because of the financial repercussions of no longer having an income and trying to juggle student loans and a mortgage. I also was aware that I want to build my network and learn from others with different backgrounds and who may be on similar career paths, so I didn’t care for a purely online program (not that there’s anything wrong with them, just a personal preference). So, that pretty much left part-time programs and I am fortunate enough to have had several options to choose from. I decided to attend Kelley School of Business and to do the evening MBA program through Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis which is catered towards full-time, working adults.
At the beginning of the semester, it didn’t seem like a huge change. My program has a hybrid approach, one class on campus and one class online per week. The first week, the online class was pre-recorded so I didn’t have to be at my computer during our scheduled class time and I could attend my weekly girls’ night as usual; nothing had really changed except adding some reading and homework. However, as time goes on and the more into the subject matter we get, the more and more I’ve been wondering how I’m ever going to be able to complete everything that I need to get done.
Work is a given. I am in the office Monday-Friday, 8:00 – 5:00 (or 8:30 – 5:30, depending on when I get there). Class on campus is Tuesday night 6:00 – 9:00 and online Thursday night. So that leaves Monday and Wednesday evenings to prepare and do homework for the next class. Perfect. But then we have a paper due and a group project that requires research and group meetings. You may be thinking that weekends sound like a great time for that, and you would normally be right. But two of my best friends are getting married this Fall, so that means several weekends out-of-town for bachelorette parties and weddings. You know, the “Life” part. So around week 5, I was falling behind in my homework, my house was a disaster, laundry was piling up, work was stressful, and I just wanted to sit down, cry, and give up. It’s a good thing I’m stubborn.
I quickly realized that I can’t have it all no matter how much I want it to work. I’ve had to apologize to friends for staying home and not going to social activities, sacrifice sleep some nights (as scary as that may make me the next day), and prioritize my schedule to spend more nights with my laptop and books and less nights out and about. Is it easy? No. I didn’t expect going back for an MBA to be, but having an idea of how time-consuming it will be and then having the reality of it actually shoved into your face are two totally different things.
I wish I had some magical solution that I could share with you, some nugget of knowledge that I can turn into a cheat sheet for how to prepare for and get through this next step in your career and life. But I don’t. I do have a couple of small pieces of advice, though, that I’m slowly starting to implement and feeling better about my decision to go back to school.
- Organize! It’s how I come back from the feelings of completely overwhelmed and wanting-to-sit-and-cry. I have all my assignments for my classes in my phone and also a planner that stays with me at all times. It may sound silly, but even my notebooks and binders are color coordinated. When I’m running out the door last-minute in
the morning to get to work, juggling my coffee, lunch, purse, and needing to find my books, it’s much easier for me to grab the two that are the same color and go. May sound trivial, but it’s effective.
- Think back to your undergrad days. Were you one of those people who got by with never doing anything outside of class, but still did well? (Lucky you.) Or have you just been out of school for several years? Well, prepare to re-learn how to study. My professors are amazing, but they also treat us like the adults we are who volunteered for this and worked for our seats in the class. They expect you to have looked at the material and learned it on your own. Class time is for working through problems and answering questions, not necessarily teaching.
- Take some time away from the books. I know this seems counter-intuitive based on what I was saying my schedule is like earlier, but you may need to have a little breathing time in there, too. Set aside a particular night every week for date night, take an evening off to go out with friends, or just have a quiet glass of wine and watch a movie at home without cracking a book. Keeping your sanity is key.
- Get to know your classmates. No one else understands exactly what you’re going through besides them.
- Finally, do whatever works best for you. This is your education, your time for growth, and you want to get everything out of this opportunity that you possibly can.
It has taken me a little longer than I would have liked, but I’m finally getting into the swing of things. You’ll get there, too, at your own pace. Take deep breaths and believe in yourself. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some accounting homework to get to…
Courtney Fleck is a Digital Operations Manager at Indy Star Media, where she supports news media advertising account executives with analytics and sales data. She holds a BS in Marketing and International Business from the Kelley School of Business in Bloomington and is pursuing her MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship part-time at the Kelley School in Indianapolis. When she isn’t working, studying, or writing for HBSAccept.com, she enjoys reading, traveling, watching Indiana University basketball, Colts football, and spending time with friends and family.