Creating Year One
We are officially celebrating one year down of our medical school journey! Noah has been a rockstar student this year and I’ve been a rockstar wife. We have navigated school, our ever growing always busy toddler, church responsibilities, our business, personal hobbies, trips, a worldwide pandemic and quarantine, side hustles, passion projects, learning a new routine, making friends and meeting people, getting used to living in a new place with an unfamiliar climate, budgeting in ways we never have before, keeping our mental health strong, and keeping our relationship alive and well. Sheesh, I’m tired just writing that. This year has been filled with challenges and lots of joy and we have had to be creative and flexible all the while.
Below I share five of the biggest ways we have we have been creative in finding something like balance and creating a life we love during this season. I hope this is helpful not only to other medical school friends, but to anyone who finds themselves in a time of busyness and is craving some order (which probably includes most of us)!
1. Creating a mindset of permanence in the midst of temporary.
Noah has been planning on medical school as long as he can remember. Because of the nature of the medical school journey, we have known since our beginnings that we would have a lot of temporaries in our life together. I personally was very uncomfortable with that reality for an embarrassingly long time. When we were dating it was easy to tell myself that there was a chance Noah would change his plans, it was far enough in the future that I didn’t have to face the reality of what medical school would mean for us, blah blah blah. When it came time for him to apply, however, I started panicking. I asked him to look into other fields, I asked him if he’d ever considered any other direction for his career, I found chemistry related masters and PhD programs for him to investigate… basically I was trying to talk him out of it. Which wasn’t fair, but it was an honest concern. What what I most scared of? Not the crazy huge student loans you have to take out, not the lack of geographical familial support, not having to live in some random place… what scared me was the temporary. I believed that our life wouldn’t be able to “start” until he was finished and we were settled somewhere. Which wouldn’t be for years, and years and years. I was afraid that without a steady stream of income, and without the promise of an indefinite stay I wouldn’t be able to be happy and live a full life.
Luckily I eventually recognized the colossal lie I was telling myself. After several years of living in a very temporary way, we finally got it. We had to make every stop along the way permanent even though they are not.
We have slowly but deliberately created a mindset of permanence and this has made all the difference for our mental health, overall happiness and the way we live each day. For more insights into this, check out this instagram post.
2. Creating familiar in the middle of the unfamiliar
We moved to St. George smack dab in the middle of the summer. And let me tell you, it was a brutal transition almost exclusively in terms of climate. We came from Logan, where summer heat means 90’s for a couple weeks in July and August. Evenings and mornings are typically cooler and there are canyons close by to escape the heat. St. George is another story! Triple digits every day for weeks and then months and then even after the triples were gone we were in the nineties and eighties deep into the fall. Noah and I are cold weather people, and the heat was killing us. Just walking from our car into stores felt like an ant walking the length of an oven set to broil (we’re clearly not dramatic at all). On top of that we were trying to furnish our new home, prep Noah for medical school, meet people, find out where the heck we had to go to get our mail key... the usual post move adjustments. We were a little overwhelmed, but instead of moping like we sometimes wanted to, we created a familiar routine to help us have some normalcy.
We started going to the pool almost daily. Sometimes twice a day. We threw in visits to splash pads, evening walks around Target or Costco for something familiar (and to enjoy the free air conditioning of course). We invited new friends over for dinner to start meeting people, and those people quickly became a support system for all of us. We exercised and ate fresh summer fruit, scoped out hikes and went to local events and painted together. These things started out as new and unknown but became more and more normal and routine. Noah and I were both surprised when we started feeling settled and at home after only a couple months. We still sometimes feel like newbies here, and we still don’t love the heat, but by diving in and “practicing” living here, we were able to feel familiar and settled much more quickly than we had anticipated.
3. Living creatively on a strict budget
Budgeting isn’t a sexy topic by any means, but holy moly my friend, I love to budget. Noah and I used to think we were good budget-ers but after starting medical school we realized that all we used to do was track where our money was going. That turned out to be very helpful when planning our real budget but in and of itself it wasn’t necessarily helping us to save money or plan where our money would go. We currently live off Noah’s student loans which isn’t ideal but it’s a blessing to have an income that allows me to be a mama full time and run Thackshack on the side. We realized very quickly when we started the loan life that if we wanted to make our bi-yearly allotment last us until the next one we would need to track our income and spending very carefully and be creative about how we allocated money. Noah had whipped up a killer spreadsheet when we were first married (the one we used to track our spending), so he altered it a bit to fit our new circumstances and it holds our financial security firmly in its systematic little squares.
We have a big budgeting “meeting” together each time we get a loan installment, then each month we sit down and look at the previous month to determine how much we will spend in each category then track every single dollar we spend. It maybe sounds scary or overwhelming but honestly it has set us free financially and I am committed to doing this forever, even when money isn’t so tight. The cool thing about a budget is that you actually get to buy what you want with more freedom and more confidence. You get to see where you’re spending too much money, and where you’d like to spend more and it allows for some planning around holidays, birthdays, and to save more carefully for emergencies and other unexpected things. We have a very set amount of money to spend each month so we use our creativity to determine where the money should go, how we can stretch it farther (using a reasonable amount of coupons, promo codes, eating out once or twice a month instead of once or twice a week, etc).
This has also given us the chance to be creative about other less obvious ways we save money and live more joyfully like meal planning, grocery shopping, living somewhat minimally, eating healthy and exercising to avoid unnecessary medical expenses, cutting out certain expenses we don’t really need but didn’t realize were costing us so much money … I could go on, can you tell? I love budgeting. It is a creative process and one that has allowed our family of three to live very comfortably on a small limited income! Want to see what our budgeting spreadsheet looks like? Click here!
4. Creatively making time to be together
Medical school, like many other educational and career pursuits is a very busy experience. After a typically nine hour day of classes and labs, Noah gets to keep studying. Between his school schedule and everything else happening in our lives, it would be very easy for Charlie and me to only get quality time with Noah for a couple hours a week. However, we decided from the very beginning that we would not let that become our reality. Yes, there are days and weeks that we don’t get much time together but that’s just life. Here are some ways we creatively navigate Noah’s busy schedule, my busy schedule and Charlie’s baby schedule, aka nap time.
-We set time limits on work and studying. Depending on the course Noah is in, we choose a time to be Noah’s studying curfew. We used to do this during our undergrad and it has been a blessing since. Once that time hits, he stops studying, I stop working and we spend time together. This time has varied from 5pm to 10 or 11pm but we always have a time.
-Noah has adopted the mentality that less is more. He studies less than many of his peers but still has done incredibly well in his classes. He has realized that for his own learning process, if he over studies he struggles more with recall and comprehension. Don’t get me wrong, he studies a lot. But for him, studying late into the night or excessively reviewing things isn’t helpful. Obviously the exact execution won’t be the same for everyone but the principle is sound.
-We don’t study or work on Sundays. I’m talking zero study, zero work. Zero errands, zero “to do” items. We also usually take this day off social media, TV, and anything else that distracts us. Doing this on Sunday is a personal decision based on our religious commitment, so a day off could be any day. We’ve been doing this for over five years now and let me just tell you, taking an entire day, or even a half a day off from your normal busyness is a massively helpful mental health practice. I love love love Sundays because I know for a fact that regardless of how busy our week was or will be I have an entire day with my Noah and Charlie to just be together without our phones or laptops in the way. We have heard from some who know we do this that there is no way they could take off an entire day from school or work but hey, we’re super busy too and we do it! The sacrifice comes when we spend a little extra time studying or working or getting things done on week days to have time for a clear Sunday. But we have also found that with that deliberate break comes increased productivity and less burn out throughout the week. This takes some creative juggling and planning, but it’s worth it. In all our five plus years of doing this, we have never once made an exception for school or work and rarely for the other things. It’s possible people, and it will change your life!
5. Creating, period.
Ah. Breath it in people. Creating. Creating is so good for your soul. Our bodies and minds are built and programmed to create. That is our purpose. Noah and I frequently set aside time to paint, build block towers or draw chalk or do other creative activities with Charlie, to plan our dream home, to cook or bake together, to play or make up card or board games, to rearrange rooms, change out decorative pillows, journal… we need to create. YOU need to create. Noah’s brain needs a break from school and mine needs a break from mom life and running a business. Creativity is a refreshing way to take a break. We watch our fair share of TV and we do plenty of lying face down on the carpet because we’re just too tired to get up and do something, but other than that we spend our time using our creativity. This takes deliberate action and planning and motivation but again, trust me, it’s worth it.
This year has been stellar. Lots of ups and downs but we have learned a lot, lived deliberately and navigated it all with grace for ourselves and others. I hope my words bring something helpful to you and yours.