Creating a Sense of Control When Everything’s Out of Control

Dapper man with glasses in business attire against a natural backdrop
Luis Ramirez, NU Scholar, January 2020 Cohort

Luis Ramirez
NU Scholar and & BSN Student (Nursing 2nd Bachelor’s), San Diego

Some days you’re the windshield. And other days, you’re the bug. But more often than not, I feel blessed to be the windshield, and these days, in the times of a pandemic, that’s a lot to be grateful for.

Like many, the transition from full-time student to full-time stay-at-home parent and elementary school teacher happened overnight. And the first thing I learned was … I am sorely unqualified to be a teacher. Nevertheless, we do our best and now, after a few weeks of trial and error, my family seems to be adjusting to a new groove and doing our best to make it work.

kids studying
I went to school to become an RN – not a teacher! But, like all of us during this time, me and my family are doing our best to adapt.

For people who like to feel in control (as I do), this is an especially challenging time. I’m not sure if it was out of necessity or desperation for order and control, but I’ve resorted to making lists. Lists for everything. I now have multiple lists and calendars going simultaneously. And even though my wife teases me about it, I love my lists. At first, the kids weren’t crazy about it. I started with a list and schedule of their daily home-school routine. This may not work for everyone, but from the moment I taped copies of the schedule on the fridge, they welcomed the routine and structure. In fact, they actually get excited about following it.

I find that a clear schedule has helped my three young kids to stay focused during the transition to homeschooling – giving me time for my own schoolwork!

I have my list of things to do that day around the house. Some days it’s more ambitious than others. Today the list included trying to make a new coffee drink I saw on TikTok… Dalgona Whipped Coffee. Yes, I’m 45 and watching TikTok (don’t judge). Is it intended for a younger demographic? Probably. Who cares? It’s on my daily watch list. So is Reddit – particularly the always entertaining “TIL” category (“Today I Learned…”).

The other list I update daily is the “Call/Write” list. This is for people who I want to call but, unless I put it on a list, I’ll forget or it’ll just never happen. Of course, there’s the ever growing “Shopping List,” which these days usually consists of grocery items we’re trying to get delivered online, or arts and crafts supplies for upcoming projects with the kids.

I don’t quite understand the psychology behind it. But for some reason, the act of making a list, and crossing something off it, is not only satisfying, but gives me a sense of control over my life. Writing things down helps me capture those ideas on paper before they disappear, poof, in a cloud of idea dust – and then crossing it off the list gives me the sweetest sense of satisfaction and accomplishment (although, many of those moments are short lived, because, honestly, how much credit can I give myself for organizing the spice rack, or for replacing light bulbs that have been burnt out for 3+ years?).

to-do list
The best part of a to-do list? Crossing things off. Remember to have a to-do list not just for work around the house, but for folks you’d like to reconnect with.

Lesson I’ve learned about the power of lists: For me, they create a sense of accountability, and allow me to feel accountable to stick to a strategy for the day, the week, the month. While not everything on the list gets accomplished, it certainly gives me much needed motivation and a sense of normalcy and sense that I’m moving forward, making progress. Some days, it’s baby steps. Some days, it’s big steps. Oh, and something I adopted in nursing school early on… ERASABLE PENS! Who knew? I remember the day I discovered such a thing existed I ordered a set of six on Amazon. That was nearly two years ago. So when you’re making your lists, you still feel like an adult by using a pen. But then as you start to read things back, you can erase the ridiculous ideas or the home repair projects that would likely lead to accidentally exploding something or losing a finger. While lists are great, it’s also good to self-edit. That’s where erasable pens come in.

Some days you’re the windshield. Some days the bug. So, for my to do list tomorrow, be the windshield.

Today my to-do list included trying to make a new coffee drink I saw on TikTok… I think it’s called a Dalgona Whipped Coffee. Yes, I’m 45 and watching TikTok. Who cares?

It’s Just a Season – Balance & Grace

whisper headshot
Whisper Tennis
NU Scholars Program, October 2019 
Master’s in Counseling with a Dual Emphasis of Marriage and Family Therapy and Clinical Counseling,      San Diego Region

This piece was written months ago, but, with the uncertainty of Covid-19, the information in it is more relevant than ever. We are finding ourselves wearing many new hats while still trying to maintain family, careers, and our health. It is so important to take time for yourself in this chaotic season. Give yourself grace and realize we are all in this together. Hopefully this gives you some tools to help you get organized and realize that we are all struggling, trying to do our best in this new norm. I hope that you all can not only stay healthy physically, but also take time for your mental health as well.

As long as I remember I have always been busy. Since I was 16 years old I went to work full-time and school full-time. I studied hard and felt like I could do it all. That mentally put me in the crazy journey of going back to school for a dual Master’s, being a brand new mom, a student advocate, volunteer at church, wife and working full time. Wow, I’m exhausted just typing my responsibilities out.

This year has been one of the hardest yet most rewarding years of my life. I have a beautiful baby boy, a job that is so rewarding yet very difficult, and the opportunity to go to school for my Master’s and reach goals I never thought I could reach. Thank you National University! With all that being said it is important to understand how to stay on track and be successful as a learner with all the other responsibilities in life. We all wear many hats everyday with different responsibilities yet we need to learn how to prioritize those items while taking care of ourselves. Here are some tricks I use to be a successful student, mother, employee while keeping my mind healthy.

New parent, Employee, Student, Community Member, Spouse …. How can I balance all of this?
  • It’s just a season. It is so easy to get overwhelmed in the day-to-day grind. Papers, projects, test, incident reports, dirty diapers, dishes, laundry, lack of sleep, and doing it all over the next day. One thing that helps me ground myself is realizing it’s just the season I am in right now. This is not a forever routine. One day my son will not be in diapers, one day I will be finished school and in a career I love, one day my 4 hours of sleep will be 8 hours of sleep at night ( at least I hope so!). It’s just a season and I can get through the season because spring is coming.
  • Give yourself grace. As a mom and an NU Scholar I put a ton of pressure on myself. I want to be the best that I can be and when I feel like I am not giving my best I get so frustrated with myself. Have you been there? We tend to give out grace towards so many in our lives, yet don’t give ourselves any. We are not meant to be perfect, we all have short comings allow yourself to experience grace. You are doing the best you can and be proud of that not frustrated.
  • Say NO! This is one that is so hard for me. Whenever anyone asks for help I always want to say “Sure I can do that!” Yet sometimes I need to say no so that I am home, I can get rest, I can focus on other priorities. Understanding that “No” is not a bad word but actually can be helpful for self-care was an important skill for me to learning
  • Have a plan. You have schedules, assignments, and meeting to attend. Get yourself a planner! At the beginning of the month write down assignment in the syllabus, meetings you have to attend, and any other task that needs your attention throughout the month. This way you have a visual of what your month looks like and you can start assignments early. I also color-code my agenda book so I can look quickly and see what need of my time is. My colors are “RED” (extremely important, like doctors’ appointments or major assignments), “Orange” (school assignments) “ Purple” (NU Scholars assignments), “Green” (work assignments), “Blue” (self-care , like hikes, coffee dates, or a manicure). Try to make sure that there are a few “Blues” in your month! Planning ahead is key to success.
  • Have a check-in with your professors. Let your professors know if you are struggling, need some extra guidance, or unexpected things happen in your life. They can’t help you if they do not know what you are facing. NU professors are so helpful and understanding, we just need to talk with them.
  • Turn off the TV. It’s been a long day – all you want to do is sit and veg, but you that know assignments are due. Turn the TV off and finish the assignments, because, at least for me, the moment the TV turns on, time just disappears. Before I know it I am ready for bed and have gotten nothing done. If I come home from work and spend time with my little, take care of dinner, bath and bed, then sit and do my assignments rather than turning on the TV, I become much more successful and focused. I also sleep better because I accomplished things instead of looking at a screen, letting the evening slip away.
  • Ask for help. Whether you need someone to watch your kids, help with errands, or just talk to, ask for help. We are not meant to do everything alone, it’s okay to have help.

By having goals and proper time management you can be a successful student, parent, and employee.

balance-beach-peace-2002946 (1)
Balance – Give yourself Grace