Surviving a Study Program With EarPlugs, a Hiding Place, and Lots of Coffee.

We had a great, and much needed, weekend. Thanks to everyone who helped to make my birthday awesome. Emily and I took it easy all day Saturday. It was good because I actually feel pretty well-rested and ready to go. The next couple weeks are going to get crazy around here. As most of you know I’ve been working on a seminar on Alasdair MacIntyre, with Nancey Murphy and 14 other brave souls, I also have two lectures in the next two weeks so that’s keeping me busy as well.


In our MacIntyre class, We’ve read through “After Virtue,” “Against the Self-Image of the Ages,” and we’re now right smack dab in the middle of “Whose Justice, Which Rationality.” I’ll be reading that momentarily.

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I’ve been enjoying the life of a full-time student again, but it’s been difficult learning how to balance everything. I certainly know it’s possible, but it seems like there are so few who are able to do it successfully.

I haven’t been completely successful in staying on top of everything either but I am slowly getting the hang of it. Here are a couple things I’ve been doing to keep up with it all (I’d be interested in things that have helped you as well).

Located a places to hide:

I’ve discovered a little spot in the Library, in a dingy old corner, where I am able to hide from just about everything and plow through reading. I make sure I’ve reserved it, and I make sure to kick people out if they try and take it over. It’s my space at Fuller, and it’s been very help in keeping me focused on my studies.

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Create some regular patterns:

I am not by nature a person of pattern, but being married to Emily (who loves patterns) I’ve found that I actually really like them myself. So I have a little calendar I write my to-do’s in and keep a pretty neat schedule for my week. I get up at 6am with Emily so I can see her off to work, do my morning routines, and try to leave the house by 7:30 and bike to school.

Sunday through Wednesday I almost exclusively focus on MacIntyre (our class meets Wednesday night). Thursday I do work for Ryan’s class. Friday I read an extra text, something that I need to read but isn’t assigned, or use that day to catch up on something else. Saturday I do my grading. Of course, it gets more complicated by the day, but I won’t spell out what I do each hour.

By most nights I try to stop work between 8 or 8:30.

Blend what you like with what you need to do:

Here’s where I have the most fun. I love going to coffee shops and reading. I love coffee and so I try to schedule enough coffee shop time in my week that I don’t begin to feel like I am having no fun whatsoever. Of course, I have friends who like to go to pubs and read, some watch TV while they do their stuff and other’s have their own ways of keeping things interesting. But for me the coffee shop is the place I get the most done. Often times, Emily and I will go to Peet’s together to do work, this is one of my favorite ways to spend time, It’s a great blending of my favorite things.

Get some earplugs:

I’ve got headphones that close out the world. You know the isolating kind, they’re great! I plug in my ipod, and depending what I am working on, I select some appropriate music. However, MacIntyre is only for silent reading only. He requires every single fiber of concentration I can muster. So for that I have some old fashion foam earplugs. It’s amazing how much those little things can help concentration, especially when you’re at the coffee shop.

Make sure to get some face time with friends:

I’ve been making sure to have some time with friends. I do breakfast with some of them once a week. I live with some of my friends (really, five plus my wife), I go to church with a bunch, and I work with others. They tell you all the time when you’re starting your program that it’s a lonely job. I’ve been trying to avoid that by making set times when I meet with people and just chat. But it’s really hard to make time for people outside these set parameters, and this is something I am trying to learn how to deal with.

Take some time off:

Taking time off is something Emily and I continue to try and figure out. It’s not easy to take time off in our culture. Everything around us tells us we need to be working harder, faster, better, so that we can accomplish all we have before us. But Emily and I have been trying to make time for each other. This is one reason why I try to stop by 8-8:30 every night. This gives us some time to hang out (we also make and eat dinner together), read to one another or just talk.

But we also keep a list of fun and interesting things we’d like to do. Some of the things are things we’ve never done, or places we’ve never gone, some things are the good old standbys, like going to Peet’s. But we try very hard to take time off. It helps that there are two of us holding each other to our commitment, but it’s really needed. We can always tell when we don’t take time for each other.

Stay involved in your church:

Our faith and our meeting with other Christians can often take a back seat to everything else, but this is one of those things that needs to be the last to get cut. I know for me that I need time to center down. To focus on the Lord and pray. I will often pray the Lord’s Prayer. Everything I do focuses on me, or seems to, and without these moments of gathering it wouldn’t be hard to become completely absorbed in ourselves (I may be anyways). Meeting with others in prayer and in the name of Christ can keep us other-oriented.

There’s a lot to learn about learning (and learning well), and how to survive school in a healthy way. I intend to find those ways that will keep me healthy, my marriage alive, and my faith vibrant. If these things can’t happen then this would be worthy nothing.

In the ipod:
Palimpsest from the album “A River Ain’t Too Much to Love” by Smog

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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