Reflections Upon Reflections – Wrapping Up My First Semester of OT School

Hello, friends! I haven’t gone completely silent now on yall! I hope all is well. Unfortunately, I haven’t made much time to prioritize blogging like I said I would, BUT I would just love to come on here and announce that I have completed my first semester of grad school officially (technically as of last week)! It has honestly been a whirlwind of emotions. I have been challenged mentally and emotionally this first semester in ways that I honestly never anticipated even being challenged by. When I started my grad school journey, I obviously knew that I was getting myself into something that would continuously push me and challenge me to expand my mind, my confidence, and my talents. However, the unique journey that being a grad school has taken me on is something that continuously shapes me and molds me into wanting to be a better human being every day. My good friend sent me an Instagram post that another grad student shared recently on their Instagram account that I feel accurately sums up a lot of what I want to share today. Here is what it said:

“You’ve changed in grad school”. Then it proceeded to say: what people and family see: going to school/working, reading books, studying, busy as surface-level attributes typically seen with graduate students. The post then said: what they don’t see: self-awareness, setting boundaries, holding space for myself, evolving, unlearning and relearning, imposter syndrome, struggling in academia, shifting out of an old identity into a new identity, and many more challenges under the iceberg that goes unnoticed in grad school. This was a powerful post in the fact that a lot of challenges mentioned in that post that often go unnoticed with grad students were things that I experienced myself to various degrees since July. Things like holding space for myself, unlearning and relearning, and self-awareness are particularly what I’d like to comment briefly on since I feel that they were the most salient concepts to grapple with during my first semester.

Holding space for myself – So many times people would ask me, ‘What do you like to do for fun in Arizona?’ and I felt SO lame for replying, ‘Well, I haven’t really gone out much because I usually just study.’ I can’t lie; I put so many things that I typically enjoy doing such as blogging and photography on hold since I was trying to figure out how to balance me-time while being a full-time graduate student and juggling other roles that I have quickly involved myself in. Though I was performing pretty well academically, I also look back and realize that having balance is very important. It is much harder said than done, but the days that I did take off for myself have been so beneficial to my mental health and overall well-being. I also feel that holding space for myself includes not being afraid to say ‘no’ to the things that won’t benefit me so that I can continue to perform and be at my most optimal self. Holding space for myself is a critical practice that reminds me to set necessary boundaries for myself and to accept and love every part of who I am, my progress, and my authenticity.

Unlearning and relearning – In a room filled with people who are similarly ambitious, academically prepared, and creative, the pressure to stand out and feel validated in my academic and professional success was a lot to handle sometimes. I had to unlearn a LOT of things regarding how to do traditional school. For starters, the more I continued my semester, the more I let go of the unrealistic/unnecessary pressure to maintain perfect grades. I spent my entire life scrutinizing about great grades because it was what was expected of the spaces I surrounded myself in and also so I can get into grad school, of course. However though many times professors and even recent grads told me that grades are not a measure of your intelligence or your potential, it was, of course, still hard to actually believe that and not let it get to me if I underperformed on an assignment or a test. The moment I began to shift my thinking by now soaking up the knowledge presented to me and absorbing every moment as a learning opportunity, I honestly feel that it strengthened my academic performance, but more importantly, my confidence in my talents and aspirations. Unlearning is a hard thing but a wonderful thing as well, for it allowed me to take this journey as a way to expand my intellectual mind, critical thinking skills, and clinical reasoning in a way that is not necessarily congruent with what I grew up learning. Knowing that there is SO much to learn and how to now utilize this knowledge rather than regurgitating everything that I know for a test (to merely forget it all again) makes the process of being a grad student a much more rewarding one.

Self-awareness – Never have I ever been so in-tune with my own thoughts, emotions, and feelings than during this time. Sometimes I feel like I am way too in my head about everything. There is so much that I have processed and so much more to continue to process as both an observer and an experiencer navigating this chapter of my life. I know that I will be moving into a career where I do have to be very self-aware of my surroundings, the people I encounter, and the environments that I find myself in because everything that I do or say will have a huge impact on the folks around me – whether it be positive or negative. Being self-aware has allowed me to filter out what I cannot accept into my life as well as what I need more of in my life to continue to show up as my best self. I have been more self-aware of my Blackness, my spirituality, my mental health, and my emotional health in how they all influence each other and uplift/hinder one another. This semester has allowed me to see myself more honestly, identify my emotions more, recognize my strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, work towards growth in all areas of my life.

Now, holding space for myself, unlearning and relearning, and self-awareness (ESPECIALLY self-awareness) are all concepts that I have heard about in the past like a broken record but I have kind of just brushed off partly because I felt like I had a great grasp on it all. However, leaping into grad school has taught me that I know nothing AND that I know more than I think that I know (it is an interesting dichotomy). These three particular concepts have been super salient and important for me to continuously work on so that I can be the best student, practitioner, and person that I can be in my future.

Well, there ya have it! A quick glimpse into how I have been adapting internally to grad school. I am now taking the time to soak up every moment of being as lazy as I can be before I am launched back into the thick of it all. Thank you for reading, once again! 🙂

Peace and love,

Irene

Half a Semester Down of OT School – Lessons Learned

Hello, friends! Ah, I haven’t updated you all about my life! I apologize, but I hope all is well! I just concluded half of my first semester of OT school, and I am utilizing my last moments of my week-long break to decompress from all this studying before I am launched back into the second half of my semester. I wanted to quickly pop in here and give you an overall reflection of a few lessons that I’ve reflected on since starting my grad school journey.

  1. Constant comparison to other people? Throw that out of the door. I can confidently say that one of my weaknesses is that I can become susceptible to comparing myself to other people, especially people who are seemingly doing better than me in something that I am actively trying to improve on. I realized that in grad school, for the most part, everyone is as motivated as me to be an active learner and to excel in the program. There are folks who are going to be two steps ahead of me, and that is okay! Because of this false sense of ‘success’ as a measure of our grades that society has established and maintained, I felt like I had to try my best to get an A on everything that I did. However, one of my professors really put it all into perspective when he said that YOUR thoughts matter in grad school and your ability to critically think and analyze the world around you is really what will take you far in the real world. It allowed me to realize that I am here for a reason, and I have a unique perspective that doesn’t have to be defined by the grade that I receive on any assignment. Comparison devalues all of the goals, ambitions, and thoughts that I have to contribute, and I can’t have that because I am here for a reason in this moment! Sure, there will always be people who are smarter or more knowledgable about a particular subject than I am. And you know what, once again, that is okay! So as I continue on with my semester, I aim to throw comparison to others out of that door because why try to be like others when I can strive to be the best version of myself and be satisfied with that?
  2. Self-compassion – center this because times are tough and I am doing my best! I had a friend tell me a few weeks ago that your best always changes, and it is okay if your best looks different than it did yesterday. There were several weeks throughout my program that I felt like I was not feeling ‘productive enough’ because I could not mentally and physically put in as many hours as I usually did into my studying. This was overwhelming me, and I felt like I was behind. However, I realized that I was creating unnecessary pressure to “succeed”, and for what? To be stressed during the process of learning and growing? We can’t have that now! (Sure, some stress is good for you but you know what I mean.) Self-compassion and affirmations go a LONG way, so it is important that I continue to practice this in order to preserve my mental health.
  3. I can do hard things! Grad school is hard, friends. SO FAR (ask me again in about ten weeks, haha), it is not necessarily the content that is impossible to understand or anything. However, I think the hardest thing for me has been being confident in my capabilities, reframing my mindset, and trusting that the process will work out even if I do not know what that process will look like or if the process makes me uncomfortable. Being flexible is a HARD thing to do, and I have to adapt and be ready to take on the next challenge ahead of me.
  4. Your support system matters SO much. Hearing that ‘you got this’ or ‘I believe in you’ is honestly one of the most encouraging things to hear when going through a unique experience such as grad school where I feel like I am being bent, pulled, and challenged always. Personal cheerleaders and folks who know what you are going through or can empathize with you go a long way. They make the process all the better.

So friends, those are a few of the highlights that I wanted to share that have been circling in my mind for the past few weeks now. I am continuously adjusting to this new pace of life, and I look forward to what is in store. More studying, sure, but more importantly, more opportunities to discover the possibilities ahead of me.

Peace and love,

Irene

Three Weeks of OT School DOWN!

Hello, friends! Can you believe it? I made it through THREE WEEKS of my occupational therapy program! I feel like I literally just started my program, but at the same time, I also feel like I have been in school for months based on the content that I’ve been absorbing these three weeks. Honestly, I am definitely feeling the pace of graduate school. Most of my days are spent studying, digesting, and absorbing new knowledge and content learned. I would say out of my curriculum thus far, anatomy is definitely the most rigorous course I am taking. I don’t think that learning anatomy is an easy task to the everyday person, but I honestly have such a supportive classroom setup, environment, and professors that have made learning anatomy a bit less daunting. I had my first anatomy exam earlier this week which I actually did well on so thank God because I literally studied my butt off! I hope I can keep this same momentum throughout the semester, lol!

I can honestly say that I have seen a stark difference in undergrad compared to grad school. I’ve always considered myself a studier and thought that I had pretty good study habits set in undergrad. However, cramming for an exam and then forgetting about the material was more or less something that I made an unhealthy habit of. In GRAD SCHOOL though, SO much studying is required of you every day. Cramming? I don’t know her (at least I do not want to know her). The expectations are much more different. It is expected that you are responsible for interacting with the material that is presented to you so that you can critically think and apply it beyond the classroom. Because there is a lot of content to consistently interact with, I can admit that it has been pretty easy for me to forget to take care of myself and engage in constant small acts of self-care, whether this is sleeping on time, eating my dinner at a reasonable hour, or taking a break and getting some movement in. It is something that I am actively working on, I promise!

I am thankful that I have found resources and a friend group to help guide me and embark on this journey with me. Unlike in many of my undergrad classes, my grad school cohort actually looks out for each other and all want to see each other succeed! I appreciate and admire the cohesive, united, and collaborative environment that is continuously cultivated. Competing for the best grades is literally irrelevant because we are all in the same place getting the same degree, and genuine learning is MUCH more important than a letter grade! This is something that I have been actively unlearning, and it is truly liberating to reframe measures of academic success that society has shaped.

One thing that I think is SO important to my overall well-being and occupational balance is getting that social input outside of school! I realized that after all the studying I have been doing for a few weeks, I missed being social! I really have not explored the area that I am at, so I made it a point today to go out with friends and treat myself to lunch. Social input is very refreshing and rejuvenating, and sometimes it is hard to realize that when you are constantly on the grind.

Overall, grad school has been a time of critical reflection, self-awareness, unlearning, and relearning. I am glad that I am on this journey though and I am anticipating seeing where I am headed!

Peace and love,

Irene

Mid-Week Reflection: My First Week of OT School!

Hello, friends! I’d like to start this post by prefacing that I haven’t gotten an official picture of me in my newly polished scrubs or at my school’s iconic sign. Therefore, I don’t have a feature photo for this week, sorry! (It is coming soon, I promise!) Currently, I am practicing self-care by doing something NOT school-related – blogging! Blogging is an OCCUPATION that is meaningful to me and to be a healthy therapist in the making, I must strive to have an occupationally balanced life so that I can recharge and put my best self forward. So, here I am practicing what I am supposed to preach!

Technically, I haven’t officially made it through my very first week of grad school, but I have completed the bulk of my in-person classes for the week so I will take Thursday and Friday to study and really comprehend all of the information that I have been presented with thus far (and trust me, it has been a LOT of information). So far, I have had such a positive grad school experience! I am thankful that I have been able to connect and establish new friendships with several of my peers because not gonna lie, making friends as an adult can be a difficult and awkward experience. I am also thankful that I am able to learn in person, for I could not imagine learning anatomy via Zoom University (BIG props to those who did so, I give all my respect to you!). I’ve also met some of my amazing professors (and when I tell you they are amazing, they truly are some of the most astonishing, accomplished, and humble people that I’ve ever met). My school also does a buddy system where I am paired with a second-year OT student, so she has been such a tremendous resource in guiding me through all aspects of how to thrive in grad school, ranging from academic success to personal/social balance.

I’ve never heard so many variations of the phrase enjoy the time you have now because you won’t have this time once you start said SO many times before prior to starting school. I am the kind of person who loves to plan ahead and have things figured out so that I am not stressed later on. To sit idly and really just absorb the moment without attempting to cram anatomy before classes began was a bit of a challenge for me I must confess. BUT I am proud to say that I actually DID enjoy the last moments of my ‘summer’ by really just being present in that moment and trusting that I am going to be okay and well-equipped to tackle the semester. Of course, come Sunday, I did feel nervous about what was to come because I have heard SO many varying opinions on what OT school is like.

Some key takeaways that I have processed thus far include the following:

  1. Every experience is different. No matter what people tell me about what grad school is like, I will have a unique journey that I should fully embrace. I can take other people’s perceptions and experiences and internalize them all I want. However, at the end of the day, I am the one that will walk out with this degree, so I should create my own story and trust the process every step of the way without preconceived notions of how I am ‘supposed’ to do grad school. In a nutshell: I gotta do me authentically!!
  2. Grad school is really a full-time job with so many demands and responsibilities. My brain is currently working very hard to adjust to these new demands and expectations.
  3. Time management is KEY, and I am starting to see very quickly how time is precious in grad school. I admit I am still struggling to see how much time is healthily acceptable to dedicate to Anatomy vs. all of my other classes. I utilize a Google Calendar which has helped me schedule out ‘study blocks’ to keep me accountable for my work. My passion planner is still with me always as well. Having multiple ways to track my time is what I’ve noticed has been working for me.
  4. Organization is KEY. I am SO thankful for my iPad because I feel like now I am the organization QUEEN. Lemme tell yall, GoodNotes has become my best friend, ESPECIALLY for Anatomy where I have a lot of assignments that I have to be on top of. I also love color-coding my notes and my schedule, so it has made studying a more engaging, fun, and aesthetically pleasing experience.
  5. Sleep is also KEY. I cannot sacrifice my sleep consistently to finish an assignment because I will always have assignments or readings that I can be catching up on technically. I also must admit, I am guilty of cutting into my sleep time yesterday and I am now experiencing the ramifications of that via a slight headache. I vow to be better about this for sure (I have a no-class day tomorrow so I can modify my sleep schedule a bit to give myself some grace lol).
  6. Affirmations go a LONG way! I recorded a video of my ‘why OT?’ on Sunday when I was feeling overwhelmed with what was to come. It honestly really helped ease my stress levels and center me back into a place of determination and drive rather than unnecessary fear uncalled for.

As I continue my grad school journey, some things that I aspire to keep myself held accountable for is to give myself grace, practice and implement some form of daily and weekly self-care to the best of my ability, and affirm myself consistently throughout this journey even if I don’t get the ‘grade’ or assessment that I wanted to see or something does not go the way that I thought it would. From the few days that I have experienced thus far, grad school is very much not about who can get the highest score on an exam. It is far from that (which I am SO thankful for). I feel like I have stepped into a supportive environment that values critical/complex thinking, a diversity of thoughts and experiences, and most importantly, self-reflection and personal growth through authenticity. I recognize and understand that OT school will not be an easy one by any means and will put me out of my comfort zone in so many ways unimaginable. However, I also am very grounded in the fact that I am in this profession and in this program for a reason that will transform me and the future folks I get to make an impact on.

I honestly am so positively overwhelmed with the amount of support that I’ve had from the community around me, YOU ALL! The amount of texts, calls, financial support, and messages that I have been receiving from people wishing me well and saying that they believe in me has truly been touching and all the more reason to stay motivated and dedicated to this journey. I look forward to seeing what OT school has in store for me and sharing my growth with you all!

Peace and love,

Irene