Believe it or not, there’s more to life than grad school. After a first semester which sucked the very life out of me, I’ve learned that healthy relationships = a healthy lifestyle. Without healthy relationships in our lives, we live secluded with the possibility for stress leading to complete despair and obsession. It is well worth the time to invest in forming healthy relationships…even in the throes of graduate school.
At times, I’ve felt like the demands of research and school left no time for forming relationships. However, this mindset led only to a downward spiral of self-absorption, depression, and excessive stress. I’ve found that having meaningful friends is one of the best lines of defense toward those negative states of mind.
Yes… ”finding friends” can be challenging, time consuming, and even discouraging. It often requires a lot of “actively waiting.” This means that we can’t force these things, but we must be willing to put in the effort if opportunities present themselves. Relationships of all types require sacrificial investment. We must give up our time and comfort zone in order to be willing to place our intangible resources at the disposal of another human being. That eventually requires vulnerability, as well. Vulnerability is uncomfortable. Vulnerability, however, is the risk which reveals to us how similarly, beautifully flawed we all are.
There is something so refreshing about connecting with someone over a shared interest, background, passion, goal, (even) struggles, etc. It reminds us that we aren’t as alone as the lonely life makes us feel. These friends give us a place to feel safe, loved, and valued. Furthermore, others who have already walked through similar situations (whatever type of situation it may be,) can provide indispensable counsel for our own struggles.
While having professional and field-related relationships has networking value, these interactions are high-stakes. Everyone has a “dog in the fight.” Peers have a competitive angle, professors and advisors have a deterministic impact on your work and life, and “underlings” depend on you for helpful direction. Therefore, I feel that having non-field related friends/social interactions while in graduate school is a crucial part of our graduate work. Having friends with whom we can discuss our “real lives” aside from our research are crucial to our mental and emotional health. They don’t have any ulterior motives for the interactions. They are there simply because they care enough about you to invest the time and effort.
I firmly believe that we were all made to crave interactions (of some sort) with other people. Don’t believe me? Well, without this desire for human interaction…how could any of us seek greatness? After all, isn’t it the ultimate approval/applause of others which renders our work important or negligible? Although some more than others, we all desire the enrichment which others bring to our lives. Because having friends does require sacrifices, it makes us a little less selfish. It opens our eyes to what is happening in the world and the lives of others. A sad life lived would be one in which we never took the time to look up from our own affairs to share in both the struggles and triumphs of those around us.
Most likely, almost everyone would agree that having friends is nice. So, what is my point? My point is this: don’t give up…don’t get apathetic…don’t become self-consumed. I wish I could reach out to everyone who struggled as much as me in these ways last semester and somehow make a difference. When opportunities arise to reach out and be that friend
to someone else…take them. You can make a difference. Be the friend you wish you had. Let’s be the ones willing to make those sacrifices. In time, maybe they will be reciprocated…maybe not…but, isn’t it worth it to know that we’ve made even a small impact to make someone else feel a little less alone in the world?
Heather is a masters candidate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.