Transitioning Between Different Life Roles
September is Self-Improvement Month, which makes it a perfect time for some introspection on how we can be the best version of ourselves. September also correlates with back-to-school season, which makes sense as learning something new is a great step towards self-improvement. The challenge with this is that many adults, despite wanting to further their education, struggle with managing all their different roles – whether they’re an employee, a significant other, a parent, or a friend, balancing these roles takes a significant amount of energy and the thought of introducing a student role on top of all that can seem overwhelming.
“In the boundary management world, one of the things they talk about are transitions; you transition from being a manager to a friend or an employee to a student,” said Professor Pressley Rankin, an Associate Professor and Academic Director at CityU, whose research focuses on boundary management and work/life balance. “Those transitions take a lot more energy out of people than they realize, and those transitions take an effect on your psyche. They go into what makes people stressed out.”
A significant portion of stress comes from transitioning from too many different roles without being conscious about it, which is why being thoughtful about your transitions is so important. Finding a way to make a clear transition helps to alleviate that stress. Often those transitions can be represented through simple actions, such as hanging up your keys can signal the end of the business day. This is true with students as well – if you are going to be a student, it is essential to have space to be a student and know that when you go into that space, you are entering the role of student. That will help put you in the correct mindset to begin thinking about school and studying instead of other aspects of life.
Pressley helped to break down some key things that we can do every day to help improve the balance between the many different hats that we all wear:
1. Understand all the different roles in your life. It is important to know each hat that you’re wearing and what’s expected of you in each role.
2. Set clear boundaries on each of those roles. Know where and when you need to be in each role. If you are with your child, you’re in a parental role; if you’re in class or a designated study time, you’re in a student role, etc.
3. Be aware of the transitions between each role and how often you are transitioning between roles. Try not to jump back and forth between roles too often as that can increase stress. Take the time to find that balance and keep it under control.
According to Pressley, one of the hardest things about being an adult student is turning off the student part. “When you know that you have something due, it’s constantly on your mind that you could be studying or working on a project,” he said. “Not doing that really stresses students out, which is why it’s so important to know your boundaries.”
While there are definitely some challenges involved, returning to school is completely doable. Adult learners will have to be prepared to make some adjustments in their life and ensure that they are very aware of their different roles, but being mindful of those transitions and setting clear boundaries can help to allay that stress so that you can begin making those changes and finding a path back to school.
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