Challenging times are often the most meaningful
In some ways, it’s easy to believe the term is coming to an end. Every glance at the calendar reminds us that there are at least half a dozen deadlines to meet and exams are just around the corner.
Exam season is one of the most challenging times for undergrads and, coupled with the slew of final projects typically due in the final weeks of classes, it’s easy to find oneself facing a daunting amount of commitments.
While exam season is largely uncomfortable, stressful and taxing, those same attributes are what make it worth persevering. It’s easy to lose sight of any reason to do anything unpleasant in a culture that is dedicated to the “pursuit of happiness”—that is to say, comfort and pleasure.
Too often, the pursuit of happiness can leave us empty and believing our lives are meaningless. And this is a problem, writes Emily Esfahani Smith in her Atlantic article There’s More to Life Than Being Happy. “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”
For the same reason millions of people choose to run marathons that are often unpleasant or choose to take on challenges no one is forcing them to take, challenging times offer us a sense of meaning beyond plain happiness or pleasure.
Smith cites recent research that suggests living a life that feels meaningful increases “well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression.”
At the same time as exams and projects add to students’ workloads, it can feel like we’re constantly told to take it easy. You need to take a break. You shouldn’t work so hard. As international speaker Eric Termuende puts it, we define a work life balance as a checklist inscribed on the side of a Lululemon bag. If you feel unhappy, you’re not doing what’s right for you. I disagree.
At a recent panel discussion hosted by the Peter Lougheed Leadership college, three accomplished Albertans—Sarah Chan, Giri Puligandla and Patti LaBoucane—discussed their take on work life balance. Two insights stood out to me:
What is too much is relative. What feels like a reasonable amount of work increases as we take on challenges and push through to meet them. Friends and family make a big difference. All three panelists credited their peers with their success and said being around supporting and encouraging people with a similar mindset helped them through stressful times.
Work life balance can be a “long game.” Getting the optimal amount of sleep, perfect amount of time to relax and the rest of the things we need for our wellbeing doesn’t always happen every day, and it’s not the end of the world.
When we talk about work-life balance and stress, we’re often describing a world in which there is no variation and every day we do the same things and can set aside the same amount of time for self care. In other words, a world that doesn’t exist.
Of course none of this makes stress-inducing deadlines, hours of studying or late nights writing papers any more fun. Yet we all have our reasons for being here and those reasons are what make it worthwhile.