How to Juggle Work, Studies, and Personal Commitments
By Sadie-Jane Nunis
There has been an increase in the number of people juggling both work and studies. We look at how one stays motivated, especially when the classes progressively get more difficult. Some executives who are juggling both work and school share how they find the right balance between work, personal commitments, and school.
Juggling work and school is draining so ensure you get sufficient rest whenever you can.
PEOPLE are becoming more affluent in Singapore. There are a large number of diploma and degree holders in the 21st century in comparison to the last century. There is an increase in the number of people taking up executive masters in business administration, EMBA, and other masters programmes. Both the public and private education sectors are profiting from this influx of people who are looking at improving themselves and expanding their knowledge. This group is made up of Singaporeans and foreigners.
There are various reasons for people to return to school. Some opt to quit their full-time jobs and become full-time students. They probably thought long and saved hard to be able to afford to be fulltime students for at least 18 months. A majority decided to continue working full time and studying part time. Most do this due to monetary reasons as they have family or other commitments.
Some Singaporeans decided to go back to school as they didn’t have a chance when they were younger. This may be due to poor results, lack of motivation, and no monetary support or because they went to work immediately after “O” levels. Others want to better themselves and improve their chances of getting a promotion. There are those who go back to school as they are considering a midlife career change.
For some, returning to school may be the most ideal solution, as they can foresee the future upon achieving their goals. For others, it may not be the best move. Ensure that your education and career goals are aligned as this ensures that the career change you are aiming for will be successful. It is a minimum of a year or up to four years for some courses. By making the right choice, you decrease the likelihood of wanting to quit halfway through the course, wasting all that energy, time, and effort that you have put in.
There are various options, ranging from physically going to an educational institution to attend classes either during the day, night or weekends, to learning online. This is dependent on the field you are considering going into. If you are thinking of changing your field, there are various career-oriented or degree programmes that are available to help you. This is important especially if you are considering specialised fields like copywriting, Web designing or early childhood education. For those considering upgrading to the next level of the education path, there are brochures available at various schools or online.
It is not only the time invested but the huge sum of money too. Masters programmes can cost at least S$20,000. If you do not make the right choice, it will be money, time, and effort wasted. Consider speaking to someone who has been through the journey and find out more about what you need to prepare yourself for. Better yet if you can find someone who has completed the course you are considering. At least you know what to expect, apart from what is stated in the brochure or what the programme manager has told you.
Corrine Tan, who works for a bank, went back to studying and has just completed her Masters of Business Administration, MBA. Prior to splitting her time between school and work, she prepared herself mentally and emotionally for the stress and challenges to come. She knew of the pros and cons of juggling studies and work and weighed them out. She reflected on the pros and cons: “The work environment and experiences that I have gone through can be a part of the ‘real study’ that I can use as part of my research when doing my MBA. The cons were that my stress level definitely increased and I started becoming a caffeine addict as I drank too much coffee to try to stay awake while preparing for my assignments or exams.”
Darren Tan quips: “There were only pros for me. Juggling work and studies actually helped me be more self-disciplined. I felt there were more pros to juggling study and work. Work gives me the experience to understand what I am studying and hence I can contribute during class discussions. Studying helps me understand other aspects of my work, especially in areas that I am not involved like marketing, strategic management, to name a few. Apart from initially feeling fatigued when I first began, I see no other cons to this tough but fulfilling journey.”
Lindsay Chan, a director for a large organisation in Indonesia, was self-motivated to get her MBA. She felt that getting it would make her more qualified to be in the position she is in her company. The degree that she obtained previously was different from the field she is working in. She advises future and current students: “Pick assignments that are related to work situations or that you feel could be helpful to work problems. This helps to lessen the tonne of research that you will need to do for your assignments. This helps you stay motivated as you can see the relevance to what you are studying when you link it back to your work-related situations.”
Juggling study and work requires you to be a self-motivator and self-starter. If you are unable to motivate yourself to study or find that you feel like giving up halfway, this writer would advise you to find a group of people that you can get along well with and form a study group. It does not have to be a big group, anything between two to six people. This group will help you get through the tough times ahead. Studying with others makes you feel like you are not suffering alone. It will also give you an opportunity to tap on each other’s knowledge. There may be some who are stronger in certain subjects and they can help the ones who are weak in that same subject and vice versa.
Freder Cheong, a corporate financial officer at a multinational company, MNC, agrees. He feels that study groups help you maintain the drive and stamina during class and when preparing for exams. Tapping on each others’ strengths, while helping in the weak areas builds up camaraderie. This will be the inspiration that will make you yearn to follow through with your course when the going gets tough. Think of this group of classmates who will later become good friends as your own cheerleading squad. During tough times, this is exactly what you will need.
Another form of self-motivation could be as simple as envy. Louis Nicholas started juggling work and studies for that exact reason. He says: “Seeing all my peers and people around me having at least a degree pressurised me to get my degree. I had been putting it off as I had to save money and after eight years, here I am. I asked myself how I would survive in this country where the basic education and requirement for most jobs is a degree. After saving and looking at my options, I decided to go ahead and start my journey to get my bachelor degree.”
Jonathan Wee, owner of Ice Cream Chefs, a successful ice cream chain in Singapore had a different sort of motivation. Despite the fact that he is currently running a successful business, he is realistic to know that it may not last forever. He analyses: “Knowing that a business cannot be stagnant forever, I knew I had to upgrade myself with knowledge so that I can further improve and market my business. I look at furthering my studies as a safety net so that I will still be able to support myself even if the economy declines.”
For many who have not been studying for many years, one major concern is how to cope with attending classes and staying awake during the class. Attending a class means that a few weekday nights and your weekend will be burnt. After work, you are physically and mentally drained. To drag yourself to open the textbook to either work on assignments or exams might be difficult initially. Getting back to the momentum of studying is a real challenge but a necessity if you wish to get that piece of paper.
Wee adds that it was really difficult for him, even till this day to juggle his work and studies. He laments: “The only way I can survive and sustain juggling everything up to now is due to my supportive parents, girlfriend, and God. Time management and spirituality helps keep me grounded. If you do not find the right balance or understanding of the people around you, you will end up not only failing your studies but also losing your business or job. The plus side is I know I can withstand any difficulties in life and persevere.”
Before embarking on your programme, do your homework. Compare your options for the programme that you are keen on. Ensure that you choose the programme that best suits your needs and your schedule. If it allows you to give something back in any way, that will be an added advantage and motivator to your desire to pursue and complete your studies while juggling work.
Passion for a Subject
Seow Bee Leng, principal trainer of Continuum Learning advises: “It helps when you find a subject or topic of your strong interest. That love or passion for the subject will drive you. I have always enjoyed learning and bring with me a strong willingness and determination to make a significant contribution to the understanding of customer service knowledge and practice. This doctorate research study programme is a natural extension to my corporate service excellence training too.”
Nicholas says: “Ensure that your bosses are supportive of your juggling work and studies. Acknowledge any concerns they may have about your performance at work and reassure them that you will not let your studies affect your job. Hopefully, your boss understands and is supportive otherwise you will face a lot unnecessary stress and additional pressure.”
Speaking of pressure, the Framingham Offspring study that was carried out in 2011 states that the more advanced degrees a person has, the lower their blood pressure tends to be. According to their findings of both men and women who had 17 years or more of education (Masters or doctorate) had lower blood pressure readings compared to high school dropouts. This was based on an analysis of approximately 4,000 patient records from the past 30 years. The same applied for those who had degrees compared to high school dropouts. According to assistant professor of public health at Brown University, Eric Loucks, the study could explain why developed countries tend to be closely associated with education and lower risk of heart disease. Still, the reality is, one needs to prepare for the pressures and stress.
Darren Tan says that one has to be prepared for the hard work to come and to be disciplined at all times. “Enjoy the experience of learning new things, meeting new people, making new friends. Know what you want out of this whole situation and get all the support you can. What is most important is, when searching for a programme, make sure you study with an accredited university.”
Calvin Chan says: “Be sure about your choice of school and course. Select a school that is accredited at least in its own country. Make sure that it will help you get the job that you want. Do not study for the sake of studying. It is not only expensive but time consuming too. Be mentally prepared as it is going to be a rough ride but the satisfaction at the end of the course is huge. Ensure that you have a supportive employer who is willing to help in any way.”