Updated: May 18
“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in” – Arianna Huffington.
A work-life balance, in the current industry and academics, is the establishment of a stable and sustainable way to work while maintaining health and general well-being. While this quote is used in a career sense, its principle can be applied to academia and schoolwork. In principle, the creation of a balance between academics and your outside life should be easy to create. In reality, we often forget that we are human and that such a change is influenced by multiple factors.
Pursuing higher education is a rigorous curriculum by itself, requiring a student to devote almost all their attention to understanding challenging concepts and applying them to future issues. STEM and dentistry are no exceptions to this rigorous application of knowledge. As students pursuing a career that requires being detailed while also being able to engage with the community, the challenge can be daunting to many students. As such, we spend much of our days working on improving ourselves, but consequently, lose focus on the most important aspect, ourselves. We fail to recognize that as humans, we have limits to how much we can apply ourselves to the field, making us lose focus of who we want to be in the future.
As the same with many of you, I started college bright and eager to learn when I first stepped on campus. However, it became quickly apparent that a university classroom was drastically different from what I was used to in high school. Many long nights in the library still led to drastically different grades from what I was expecting. In December of that same freshman year, I burnt out, exhausted from the constant pressure to excel and be better than before. Something had to change.
The winter break allowed me to think about what I wanted to really achieve and how I was working to reach my goals. Over the next two weeks, I came to realize that there were three factors that I needed to incorporate in order to find success. This single winter break ended up becoming extremely impactful, both in my undergraduate/dental studies, and my personal life.
First and foremost, I realized that I failed to create any boundaries for myself and what I was able to take on. A common mistake that I’ve seen from myself, and many other students is that they participate in too many activities off the bat, overstretching themselves with too many commitments. An important I learned was to recognize that I did not have unlimited time. After my first quarter at my school, I made sure to prioritize a few extracurriculars I valued most while withdrawing from other activities. The additional time I had allowed me to put quality time into these events, making a meaningful contribution to these organizations.
The additional time I freed up went into my second lesson; make time for yourself and your hobbies. An important, yet overlooked, quality that should be valued is the ability to prioritize your well-being and your interests. I found myself spending more time with friends, exercising, and exploring the city. Not only did this benefit my mental health, but it also helped create a positive atmosphere, as these constant hobbies allowed me to stay optimistic.
Finally, the third lesson that I felt resonated with me the most is that your goals require a marathon, not a sprint. While cliché, the statement is true for almost all long-term goals you want to achieve. Being good at school is not something that happens overnight, and over time, I learned that being a good student takes time. Patience is a value that everyone can gain from this lesson; by being patient, you find yourself enjoying the education and the memories you make on the way to achieving such goals.
I am currently a D1 at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. My experience was never picture-perfect, and there was so much uncertainty about what I wanted to become as a person and through my career. However, looking back on my journey, I would not take back anything I did. From these lessons, I fully lived my undergraduate career and came out as a better person, both academically and mentally. While school now has been busier than ever, these values have remained by my side, allowing me to make many memorable experiences while also reminding myself that there is more to dentistry than the oral cavity. To those of you who are on this journey to dental school, trust yourself and trust the process; it was never meant to be easy, but it was never meant to be impossible. Learn to love who you are as a person, and in time, you will find what you love the most about dentistry.