April 21, 2024

Dear Jo: Doing it all

Jo responds to an inquiry about balancing life.
Columns represent the views of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Tennessee Journalist.

Dear Jo,

How do you balance everything—work, school, social life, etc.?




Dear Doing-it-all,

The short answer is…you don’t; but, there’s more to it than that.

All your life before college, you might’ve had someone telling you where to go, what to do and maybe even what to wear. With little agency, you only dreamt of your future in the abstract.

Now, you’re on your own. Going to college, doing it to get a job and you’re knitting your own sweater. Even if you’re working through school, you now have more agency than ever before—the challenge is knowing what to do with it.

Although this may sound philosophical and abstract; let’s apply it to say, using a planner. Sure, you’ve got events and tasks planned for the day and week, but you can’t predict if your mother calls you with a family emergency, you get sick and have to miss class or your job calls you in on your day off.

My point is, no matter how much planning and diligence you place behind each aspect of your life, life itself will still be unpredictable. Not to say that planning and diligence aren’t good and necessary things, they both are; but, unless you make space and time for this fact, you’ll only make yourself miserable.

Perfection is a human construct further exacerbated by technology. You are more than a number—whether it be your checking account balance, GPA or Instagram follower count. You are a living, breathing human being—knitting a sweater for you. You can’t do it for your parents, or your friends or your church member’s approval; because, at the end of the day, you’re the only one who has to wear it—and a beautiful but itchy sweater is still an itchy sweater.

When I entered college, I was more concerned with who my family wanted me to be—I joined a church ministry group, and I would write, but I was terrified of trying to be published anywhere. When I told my mother I wanted to change my major to English, I remember her voice yelling over the phone ‘You’ll never make any money if you do!’ But my junior year, I did it anyway.

Maybe you knit your sweater quietly, you joined a knitting group or you’re knitting your sweater by juggling three balls of yarn in the air. My point is, the path to forming a concrete identity is not linear, and looks different for everyone. You can’t compare your journey to anyone elses—just keep focusing on your sweater.

You will occasionally knit a knot, and have to stop everything you’re doing until you’ve got it loose again. This is natural; what matters is you’re still making your sweater. That you didn’t throw your needles into the nearest bush. That each time you hit a knot, you slowed down and patiently unwound your work until you could start again. The more you practice this, the more you’ll learn and grow, so you’re faster at rolling with the punches the next time around.

Last fall, I was working at a paid internship, going to school as a full-time student and working 30-35 hours at my job downtown. I was exhausted and miserable a majority of the time; but, at the end of the semester, I made all As and Bs. I felt more accomplished than I ever had before.

This fall, I’m doing the same thing, with different variables. I know it seems crazy, but it’s easier this time around. Sure, there are days I fall and miss the mark, but what matters is that I never give up. I keep going and knitting my sweater. Even in my second to last semester, I am still working on knitting my sweater.

Like I said, the short answer is, you don’t…but with time, and practice, you learn how. As soon as you learn it, it’ll be over—so you might as well knit with joy.




This column was conceived of by people like you, asking questions of people like me.

To submit a question, visit here.


Featured Image by JoAnna Brooker/ Creative Commons

Edited by Vanessa Rodriguez 

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Class of 2018 Journalism/English Rhetoric Major at the University of Tennessee.