Talking her off the ledge

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

With my friend Amy, sophomore year of college

I remember the first semester of my freshman year of college. After a whirlwind week full of orientation activities, including dances, parties, receptions, matriculation, and workshops, I settled into my tiny dorm room with my roommate who had a real love for brewing beer and listening to opera music. I wanted to make friends, do well in my classes, work part-time to pay for necessities, and spend time with my boyfriend. But finding the time to do it all was difficult. Ultimately, I spent most of my first semester holed up in my dorm room or a study room on campus, cramming and memorizing and reading and writing. Having graduated from a less than stellar itsy bitsy high school, I knew I had a learning curve if I planned on maintaining a good GPA at the difficult, private, liberal arts college I’d selected to attend.

I couldn’t find the mean between extremes my first semester. I made all A’s, but I didn’t meet many new people. I didn’t have much time to relax. I don’t even recall going to many events on campus or watching a movie.

Second semester was a different story. The pendulum swung back toward the middle. I hung out with people on the weekends. I danced my heart out. I made friends with new people, sat around doing nothing in the quad but eating apples and watching grass grow, and skipped class a few times. I still kept my grades up, but I stopped obsessing about having a perfect GPA. I just lived my life as a college student and enjoyed it.

This morning I talked to my favorite college freshman. I heard my 18 year-old self in her desperate voice, trying to balance work, campus life, friends, family, and course work. I remembered the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do and never enough time to do it. I remembered the constant stress of feeling that my life could not possibly get busier.

This morning while my 9 month-old baby napped, I shared a little of what I have learned about balance, eating the elephant one bite at a time, making a budget and living below my means, learning to ask for help when it’s needed, prioritizing long-term educational success over short-term employment, lowering expectations, and making new friends.

But I tried to bite my tongue, too.

My experience has taught me that advice is ample. Ultimately, though, the lessons I have learned were learned by doing, not listening or talking. “Show, don’t tell” is not just a great writing tip I procured from Dr. Tebbetts in Advanced Composition. It’s a way of life.

Talking to someone who really listens is good. Praying with someone who loves you and lets you fall helplessly into the arms of a loving God is priceless.

Sometimes talking someone off the ledge doesn’t require many words.

Just outstretched hands.

Eating an elephant

Procrastination_by_diablo2097I’m not sure if I agree with Tom Petty’s claim that waiting is the hardest part. Sometimes getting started is more difficult.

Recently, my friend and recent guest contributor to this blog, Mary Agrusa, posted a writing prompt on her LinkedIn group, Christian Bloggers – Cross Currents, related to the word “initiate.” I didn’t have time to write at the moment, but my mind began ruminating on the word as I nursed my baby and stoked the fire in our wood stove.

11 years after graduating from college, I was able to begin pursuing my Master’s degree. It took me 11 years to get started for many reasons; primarily, I procrastinated going to graduate school because I couldn’t make fiscal sense out of the decision to take out more loans in order to pursue a degree which would most likely provide me with opportunities to earn approximately the same income (or possibly less). However, when my husband suggested that I consider going back to school after hearing me daydream aloud about how much I would enjoy spending more time reading, writing, and studying literature, I began praying about it and asked God to open the right doors and close the wrong ones. He did, and I’m grateful. I started school last January at full steam ahead.

I’m now preparing to graduate after completing two more courses this spring and (hopefully, fingers crossed) passing the required comprehensive exam for earning my degree. It took me 11 years to get started, but at least I’m almost finished. The part I’ve been dreading is the only part left–passing the big test and preparing for it. This fall, in addition to my coursework, I read 11 novels in preparation for the exam. My to-read list now contains only short stories, essays, and poems.

Even though I’m down to the home stretch, I dread finishing reading all those works of literature, attempting to commit the styles of writing and gist of the pieces to memory, and perusing practice tests and essay options. Lack of sleep and something new parents refer to as “baby brain” have sucked my scholastic motivation dry.

Photo by Tim Laman, National Geographic

Photo by Tim Laman, National Geographic

But two days ago, I recalled a phrase my wise mentor often repeats: “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

So I printed out the list of the works of literature the test will cover and charted out a plan for completion. I read one essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the following day, I read two more. And honestly, they were somewhat interesting and thought-provoking. I even found a few quotable lines here and there for my Facebook status updates.

Thankfully, I finally got started.

Eating an entire elephant seems daunting and pretty disgusting. But taking one bite at a time isn’t so bad.