How to do ALL the things you want to do at the same time

A little over a year ago, I made a life-altering decision: as a mother, wife, and full-time employee, I decided to go back to a major university and finish my degree. At 30 years old, I was preparing for a campus life of laptops, leggings, and social chatter, an environment I had left 10 years prior (and the laptops were few and far between back then!). Although I was slightly intimidated and scared of the classroom environment, every time I looked down at my three-year-old daughter, all of the fear melted away. I knew it was something I had to do for me—for us, as a family. I embarked on one of the most stressful, inspiring, challenging, and sometimes “oh-my-God-my-head-is-going-to-explode” times of my life. I managed to come out on top as an aspiring writer with a B.A. in English, and a perfect knack for knowing how many Starbucks double shots I could drink in one night and still get four hours of decent sleep. Throughout this time, I continued to work full-time, mother full-time, and be a wife (albeit not always a wonderful one) full-time. I only wish I had a how-to list back then, but with the kinks worked out the hard way, I’ve made a list of my own (you know what they say about hindsight.). It may work for you, it may not, but if I can inspire at least one of you to chase a dream, or change your thinking, then I’ve succeeded.

Get your head straight before jumping in.

I got my numbers together, I figured out how much money it would cost, and I calculated how much time I had in the office, on campus, and at home. I had everything but a pie chart. Once I had my head in the game, I had myself convinced that it could be done. I was confident that I had everything I needed to move forward with a game plan. Winning the argument with yourself is half the battle. If you’re more of an “I need to bounce this idea off of someone” kind of person, then go with your gut. Talk to a significant other, mentor, or parent. Compare and contrast your ideas together. If, in the end, you’re still convinced you’re heading down the right track, then go for it.

Get a strong support system.

My husband is my rock. After I got my head straight, I laid it all out for him. As a woman who always said, “Oh, I’ll go back when I’m ready,” I’m not sure he ever really expected me to actually be ready. When I approached him with the idea, he successfully kept himself from falling out of his chair. Turns out, the face he makes when he’s wrapping his brain around something is the same face he makes when he’s reaching his hand in the toilet bowl to pull out a baby doll that mysteriously decided to take a bath.

But after the shock wore off, that man jumped in feet first. He repeatedly told me that he’d do anything I needed to help me through this. Anything. He meant it. By the first day of school, I knew that all I had to worry about was me—he had the rest. I’ve told people many times that without him, I couldn’t have done it. I’m forever in his debt.

Again, whether it’s a parent, mentor, or significant other, make sure that there are people out there that believe in you. My husband wasn’t the only one: my family was always behind me. I even had my co-workers in on my plan, and they accommodated my schedule. It’s OK to be selfish sometimes. It took me a long time to convince myself of that, but once I decided to take back the awesomeness in me, things fell into place. The biggest challenge is believing in yourself. It’s amazing how many supporters will come out of the woodwork once they learn you’re sticking your neck out there for the greater good. My supporters inspired me, and kept me going.

Wear one hat at a time.

This one was hard for me. I had to wear my work hat at the office. My mom hat was on when I was in the mommy spotlight. My wife hat was secured when I could see my husband stressing about something, or needed my support or needed nurturing. My school hat was omnipresent when I was in class, in front of my computer typing papers, or sitting on the couch, reading countless classic novels. The biggest challenge I faced was my lack of sleep. The lines got very blurry when I was facing exhaustion, but if I allowed them to blur, I could feel myself spiraling. The best thing I ever did was commit 100% to my environment, no matter which environment I was in. Some days, I was on it. Other days, I was way off, and worried I’d have to commit myself if I didn’t get it together. It’s OK to stumble. Nothing will ever go as planned. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and always secure your hat with a bobby pin, especially if you’re feeling a bit wobbly.

Don’t give up.

This is kind of cheating. It’s pretty obvious that you shouldn’t give up, once you’re all in, no matter what you are tackling in life. It will be temping at times, however, and when those times happen, go back to step one. Get your head straight again, and it’ll all come together. If it means you need to take a day off of work to just crash in bed, do it. After you’re back in a good place, get up, put your sensible yet fashionable pants back on, and keep going. You’ll be glad you did.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Losing it at home? Lean on someone close to you to talk you through it. Having problems balancing work and home life? Talk to someone. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help, even. If you feel yourself spiraling, get help. No one is perfect. We will all need help once in a while. If you’re really in it to help yourself, be in it 100%. You’re worth it.

YOLO is becoming a cliché, but there’s actually a lot to it. You really only do live once. If there’s something out there that you know is calling you, be open to listening to it; and if you decide to go for it, jump in. YOLO. If you are thinking of making some serious life changes and they are making you nervous, get your head straight and move forward from there. If you’re in a position such as myself—you want to go to school, but you also know life can’t stop just because you’re committing yourself to your education—weigh your options. Take your time. Don’t rush, and know your limits. Take it from an overly-anxious person, living in Small Town USA, who doesn’t adapt well to change: if I can do it, you can do it. Wear the heck out of those hats, and don’t forget to take time out for you; and have some fun along the way.

Audra Dittlinger is a working mom, music junkie, and domestic goddess-always-in-training. She loves to write about anything and everything, and she writes to empower and entertain. She enjoys a good book, dogs, wine, and her family. Things she’s certain of in life: death, taxes, the Great Pumpkin, the Oxford comma, and Aerosmith.

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