Lessons from my first year of grad school

A very small selection of my many textbooks for the past year, with a page from my very full planner. (C) 2012 Shelly Najjar
Only a few of the textbooks I have from this past year, and a glimpse of my overly packed planner.

I have officially finished Year One of grad school. During that time, I wrote papers, took tests, stressed about deadlines, and learned some things about nutrition and public health.

But I expected that.

What I didn’t expect was to learn so much about myself, about the way I work and think, and about life in general. Here are the three biggest lessons I learned this school year.

1. Choosing something means not choosing other things.

This is difficult for me to remember, because I really want to do everything. Then I remember to practice saying no, and think about this quote, which I saw when passing by a church marquee:

You can do anything, but you cannot do everything.

After talking with some people who know me and whose opinions I deeply respect, it seems that knowing my priorities is possibly the best way to make choices that I won’t regret, or that may even allow me to manage time well enough to choose more than one option.

2. Don’t procrastinate when facing things you don’t want to do. You won’t want to do them any more later than you do right now.

Speaking of time management, the temptation to procrastinate has become a big challenge for me, so this lesson is extra important. When I have something I don’t want to do (but must do), I find that it is better to just suck it up and focus on finishing, even when I don’t feel like it, so that I have more time to do something that is appealing later on.

I’ve also found that for this past quarter, it works better for me to choose one or two things to work on the entire day, instead of choosing eight things to work on for one hour each. (I used to do this so I wouldn’t get bored, but while learning about doing unpleasant things now, I realized I often used this “one hour” trick to procrastinate.)

3. You can do more than you think.

I have never been more academically challenged than I was this past year. It is frustrating and overwhelming, but it produces the best feeling of accomplishment. If I hadn’t been given as many assignments, as much responsibility with my fieldwork, or as much encouragement, I wouldn’t know that I could accomplish all that I did.

It has been a crazy experience so far, but overall, I’ve made progress toward my goal of focusing on learning (instead of focusing on getting good grades). Thank you to everyone who gave me encouragement and advice over the past year!

-Shelly