Working whilst studying has become increasingly popular over the years, with almost all of my student friends having a part time job alongside their full-time degree. In fact, research has shown that over half the student population work to subsidise their studies. I could begin by arguing semantics and my standpoint on the increase of tuition fees for our generation, or the unrealistic work experience requirements placed on new graduates, however, instead I want to shed light on my own experience as a working student and how it is possible to: ‘have it all’ (Girl’s Trip, Ryan Peirce).
I’ve been working since I was sixteen — through my GCSEs, A-levels, and the holidays in between- and only now that I am twenty-one do I feel like I have a right to speak on this topic. When I was younger, I felt like I had every part of life figured out, but unknowingly I was putting certain aspects ahead of others, for example: making money or going to parties came before my studies, because I didn’t understand how to balance my time and energy. I’ve often said and heard the classic: ‘if only I focused more’, or ‘if I had my priorities straight back then’, and I now believe that regret is something I shouldn’t feel.
My work has been the fuel to keep me going through the pandemic. Since so many places have been closed, working has allowed a great separation and escape from my house and university work. When I found myself stressed over an upcoming assignment, I was able to focus on something else and exercise a different area of my brain in a productive way. Not only that, but I have also made some great friends from my workplace whom I would never have met had I not had my job. University was (and still is) an intimidating place, but working has helped keep me grounded and focused on a certainty, which I was unable to get through university alone.
I’ve always tried to work in places with lots of students and flexible hours, so they are understanding about deadlines and shift swaps. I recall in my first year of studies I had four different jobs until I found the perfect fit! I value my mental health highly, and in previous roles I felt like I was being overworked and misunderstood. Students have enough to worry about without difficult shift patterns and managers getting in the way! I believe it is important to understand your needs and remember that you and your health come first; you don’t owe anyone anything, and if you don’t hold your ground, no one can do it for you.
It seems like working and studying simultaneously go hand-in-hand with the idea that you’ll miss out on the full ‘university experience’, or you might have heard, “I hope you’re doing some work at that place!” more times during family phone-calls than you can count. Whilst my calendar is full and I’m certainly not without the occasional double booking, working has made me far more disciplined with my studies. Not to mention that current graduates need a lifetime’s worth of work experience before we can even think of ditching the training wheels.
Life is about balance, priorities and working smarter, not harder.
With this in mind, I’m drawn to an analogy I once heard: you have a jar that needs to be filled with marbles, sand and pebbles. Your marbles are your key priorities, for example, education, family, perhaps your religion; your pebbles are things you value but are not vital, like parties, holidays, and work. The sand represents the “small stuff”, like material things. If you put the sand in first, creating a block at the bottom of your jar, then place the bigger marbles and pebbles on top, your jar will be too full. Yet, if you pop the marbles and pebbles in first, the sand will fall into the cracks, your jar will be full and you can close the lid comfortably. Try and visualise what this looks like for you. You shouldn’t have to force anything into place to close your lid. To say this view changed my life would be a tad melodramatic, but it really did enable me to manage my time in a far more efficient and effective way.
Don’t underestimate focus and a clear mind; if you put your priorities in the right order then you’ll be able to appreciate every single moment of your life. If you look after yourself and your priorities then you’ll never burn out, and then you’ll be more than capable of doing all the things you want!