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Four Years at the Mount

The Graduate

Has being an adult made me boring?

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

(6/2015) Right now I'm sitting at my desk. I have already written one article for a newsletter, and I paused momentarily for a five-minute coleslaw break, so I didn't starve to death. It's a Tuesday, and right now I should be in class, but I am fortunate enough to have snagged an uncommon Virginia snow day. As I listen to the plows scraping outside of my window, clearing away perfectly good snowman material, I am here, flipping through a seemingly endless to-do list of graduate school assignments: projects, readings, meetings, paperwork, and lesson plans. A pile of tax paperwork and FAFSA information sits next to me. Books literally encircle me as I run out of safe places to step. Is this what being an adult feels like? Staying holed up inside an apartment day in and out, paying bills, doing homework, running errands, and hopefully finding enough time to eat and sleep in between it all? Well, I refuse to accept it. There is responsibility and then there is lifelessness, and I refuse to have the excitement of life completely drained away by adulthood obligations.

In no particular order, here are some ways I'm choosing to live a vivacious life. There's no secret to them, and they may even be cliché, but they help keep me energized and loving life, even in the smallest of ways.

1. Volunteer.

I've written about this several times before, but what can I say, I love volunteering! You learn new skills and meet amazing people. Last month you heard all about my adventure walking dogs at the SPCA; I am a big advocate for a regular volunteer stint such as that. However, sometimes it's nice to mix things up with a completely different venue. For example, two weekends ago I volunteered at a ski resort called Wintergreen. They hosted a Wounded Warriors Weekend, where service members who had been disabled due to an injury or illness received in the line of duty brought their families for an all-expenses paid weekend of modified skiing and snowboarding with specialized instructors. My job was smaller, but just as important—babysitting the little ones so that their parents could tackle the snowy slopes. I heard amazing stories from veterans and acting service members alike. I even met a warzone journalist turned White House correspondent. She was 70 years old, had Parkinson's disease, had recently had hip surgery, and was there to ski! Where else can you meet someone as tough as her?

2. Take time for myself.

For me, sometimes I just need to read a book that has nothing to do with my degree in speech-language pathology, even when I should be reading my textbooks. It doesn't have to be much, just a chapter or two so that I'm not interfering with homework, but it's still enough to make me feel sane again. I've also taken up teaching myself a little piano. It's slow going, especially since I have such limited time, but I feel so accomplished when I finish "When the Saints Go Marching In" without missing a note.

3. Connect with others.

This one is trickier than you might think for a grad student. Hanging out just isn't the top of my priority list, but staying in touch with my family and friends is. I make time almost every day to call one person for at least a half hour, though it usually ends up being much, much longer. FaceTiming is fun too when it's been a particularly long time since I've seen someone's happy face. Penpalling is also a wonderful option for those anti-phone call friends. However, all the modern conveniences of communication can't replace human contact, so about once a month I visit someone or they visit me for a weekend. Sure, sometimes it's a bit of a drive, but what's a little gas compared to making new memories with the people you love?

4. Go to church.

I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of my church. They offer services three times a day almost every day, so whenever I can squeeze it into my ever-changing schedule, I'm there. I probably don't have to tell you how rejuvenating a good service is or how calming just sitting in a chapel and praying can be. As important as it is to maintain your relationships with your friends and take care of your body and mind, so it is equally important to maintain your relationship with God and take care of your soul.

5. Walk more.

I am no runner. I am no weight lifter. I don't swim laps. I don't play sports. That doesn't excuse me from taking care of my body. I found the simplest thing I can do to stay healthy is walk more. I walk to class, walk to church, walk to the laundromat, walk to my landlord's office—if it's within walking distance and it isn't hailing outside, I walk there. Unfortunately, being a student means being glued to a desk and textbooks. I wasn't even fully aware of it until a friend recommended I buy a FitBit bracelet, which tracks your walking and sleeping habits. All of a sudden, I found myself taking extra walks during the 20 minute break between class and my next meeting instead of sitting in the waiting room. In addition to that, it made me aware of how poorly I was sleeping. I invested in a sound machine and have been sleeping like a baby ever since, which makes me more refreshed and ready for the day.

6. Share the load.

I'm one of those people who doesn't say "no" that often. Call me a people pleaser, but I like to help when I can. Sometimes that means I overextend myself, which inevitably makes me frazzled. Other times, I say "no" too sharing the job. Tis the season for group projects, and for several of them I have created a particular vision that I delude myself into thinking only I can create, and admittedly, I usually become a bit of a project hog. I'm trying hard not to this time. I find that if I explain my idea and delegate the work load, the project is usually done just as well and faster than if I had done it alone. I guess learning to let go of the reins every now and then is still hard for this cowgirl.

7. Cut out the bad.

Life is too short to be around negative influences. For some people that could mean a particular genre of movies, books, or music that puts them in a foul mood. For me, it means negative people. I hate to admit it, but there is a "Negative Nancy" in my program, and I'm lucky enough that she likes me...which means every day I hear about how the world is out to get her. This is not only annoying, but also emotionally draining to me. There are only so many times I can show her the silver lining and be shot down before I just want to say, "Fine. Live under your cloud of misery, but stop trying to drag me under it too." If I were a more direct person, perhaps I would, but I usually just find a discreet way to walk away or at least include someone else in the conversation as a buffer.

8. Say yes more.

I know I just said I haven't been saying "no" enough, but sometimes life needs some "yes" thrown in. Like, yes, I would like to go that Imagine Dragons concert in a few months. Or, yes, we should arrange a weekend at the beach with some friends. Or, yes, when the weather warms up we should go camping. Yes is the bread and butter of my adventures! I'm not the most spontaneous person, but give me advanced enough notice (and let me do some of the planning), and we'll be on our way to new sights before you know it! Just don't forget the camera.

9. Wear what I want.

Admittedly, this one may only apply to me. I get weird when I look in my closet every morning. I'll pull out five different outfits that work and concoct an excuse to not wear any of them. Well, I'm saving that one for Thursday's client, and that one would be perfect for work on Friday, and those are good for days I don't have to be in the clinic, and this one is nice for my meeting on Monday. What? I mean, I understand saving a nice suit for interviews or buying a specific dress for a special occasion, but only a crazy person delegates every outfit for a particular day of the week. I'm shooting down perfectly good options and limiting myself...with CLOTHES! Shouldn't I be spending that decision making power somewhere else in my life where it will be more productive? Like, perhaps, which therapy techniques to use for my client's next session. You know, things that actually matter. Now, when I catch myself going through the crazy clothes lady routine, I just stop and put on the very first outfit I had laid my hands on before insanity set in. I'm out the door quicker, and guess what? I still look just as put together as I would have had I spent 20 minutes picking out four more outfits to choose from.

10. Try something new.

Now this one kind of permeates throughout my other nine life simplifying and energizing methods. I don't have the time to try new outlandish things every weekend, like go skydiving or bungee jumping. I can and do, however, take a new walking path occasionally, volunteer at new venues, cook new recipes, mix and match new outfits (especially when I missed laundry day and the options are getting slim), and other little details that are part of my daily routine but can use a little zesting up.

You've probably noticed that these are all pretty small ways to freshen up life, but let's be honest, we all have our own busy schedules we need to stick to, and complete spontaneity simply isn't realistic. Maybe you found something new (or old) here that you can integrate (or reintegrate) into your routine. Maybe you were just mildly amused by my rambling article. Whichever you walk away with, I hope life is a little more enjoyable because of it. On that note, I think I've spent enough time sitting and staring at this computer screen. I'm off to build a snowman. What will you do for fun today?

Read other articles by Nicole Jones