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Recently, at the end of a Dominican SOIS virtual workshop for the students/alumni Career Day, a student asked a great question. In fact, it’s one that most of us who’ve been through grad school have grappled with: how do you juggle grad school, parenting, and a job? Or to take it a bit further, how do you do it without dropping any balls? Without disappointing any family members? Without blowing an assignment? Basically, without going to pieces?

My answer: let balls drop when you need to.

“Grad school plus
Anyone who’s stepped up to the overwhelming level of time commitment of “grad school plus” – as in plus a job, a family, a health issue, or any combination of these and other life circumstances – is already functioning at an amazingly high level of performance and grit. The reality is, it is impossible to do all of these things well at the same time.

While you’re in grad school, you’ll be prioritizing and reprioritizing on the fly which of your commitments has “first dibs,” and you’ll pretty much constantly feel like you’re not living up to your standards of performance in every other area.

But rather than beat yourself up over your slipping levels of perfection, instead celebrate yourself for all of the amazing and often heroic things you’re doing:

  • You’ve been willing to work hard to open up opportunities in your life.
  • You’ve committed to learning new skills to not only be part of the future, but also to help create it.
  • You’ve been willing to work through the discomfort of “not knowing,” of being a beginner at something even though it’s way less painful to just stick with what you already know.
  • You’ve dealt with, and are continuing to deal with, the emotional upheavals that result from too much to do, not enough time, and too little sleep.
  • You’ve managed to find the physical, psychological, and mental reserves to complete one more assignment….

These are just a few of the things that set you apart as someone who’s undertaking a huge, if very worthwhile, personal challenge. You’re already amazing, already a hero, already worthy of applause. Now it’s time to give yourself a break.

Let go of perfection (and the perfect GPA)
Recovering perfectionist and author Brené Brown (The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are) notes that

Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.

Translation: healthy striving means you’re going to drop some balls, because, well, you’re a human being and it’s just part of the package when you decide to do the work to open up your life.

Even though it’s a temporary circumstance, however, wouldn’t it be great if part of what you learned in grad school (plus) was how to embrace imperfection to enable the greater good of fearlessness?