The Art of Balance

With my three (four if you count foundation) years of art school coming to an end I’ve been reflecting a lot on the realities of balancing a degree and a job.

As with the majority of degree students I have worked alongside my studies throughout my time in education and looking back, to be honest I don’t know how I did it sometimes. From starting at 7am and then stocktaking until 11pm, not getting home until 1am only to have hand in the following morning, to being messed around and completely screwed over by a certain company. I am completely amazed I’ve got this final stage.

I can’t complain too much, the maximum hours I’ve worked in a week has been 40, and that hasn’t been too often (I’m usually in the 20-30 hour bracket). Working in retail does have its perks (although living wage not increasing until 25 is definitely not one of them) and I have genuinely enjoyed being part of the teams I have been. The struggle really has been staying awake and getting University work done in the night and getting into work the next morning, only to continue this routine everyday for three years.

At times I’ve been on the edge of quitting both Uni and work just to give myself a day off and more than 6 hours of sleep, but my parents definitely did not raise me to depend on other people to pay my way.

As far as advice as to how to manage this balance goes I’ve got none, the only way I’ve got through is knowing one day I’ll look back knowing it was all worth it to get where I want to be (and rent payments, that’s a good incentive to get up and go to work).

Yes, I do think that my grades at uni have suffered when balancing the two, it’s not easy to tick all the boxes and sometimes a few marks did have to be sacrificed, not to mention the massive mental strain of not having a day off every week. I am aware that the stress it has caused has at some times definitely not been worth it, my anxiety although very much under control these days, fluctuates drastically, and ‘down’ days are rather frequent, especially recently. Looking back I feel this has been my main flaw in striking a balance, it’s hard to realise how far things are spiralling when everything else has to take priority, and as with everything in life, there is always someone who’s going through much worse.

Something that I am incredibly grateful for in these past years however, is, no matter what I’ve never missed a rent payment, never missed a hand in and never let my stress get the better of me for more than a few days. It’s been hard, really really hard, and as someone who is insistent on always doing things for myself and not accepting help from anyone, I haven’t made things as easy as they could be. I know my major flaw is not having much sympathy for people who believe they work harder than anyone else, everyone has a struggle, and everyone is working hard in their own way. Working my arse off for so long I find it difficult to see why other people seem to be so adamant that they do more than everyone around them, and I definitely don’t have any interest in ‘competing’ about everything I do.

‘Quietly confident’ is how I have been described by most employers, quiet is definitely right, confident, not so much. I know I do my bit, and in my way I work bloody hard, my main issue (coming back to the topic at hand) is how can anyone be ‘confident’ when none of us really know what we’re doing? One week everything’s going well and the next, everything’s falling apart.

I think the real skill of mastering the balance of work and education is to just keep moving forward, keep working hard, keep growing. One day it will be worth the work.

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