Rosemarie Clarke is “exhausted.” But it’s worth it, says the full-time registered nurse, wife and mother, choir director, committee member and, since fall of 2008, continuing education student.

Balancing life and education is a struggle. The key is somewhere between the how and the why, says Shelagh Kennett, head coach at Career Coaches of Canada.

“If you understand the ‘why’ you can endure any ‘how,’” she says, quoting motivational speaker Les Brown.

“When you make the decision to go for it, post a picture of your goal and place it in an obvious place like in the bathroom where you brush your teeth or hang it on the rearview mirror of your car. You are the only person that can keep yourself motivated and positive.”

But getting friends and family involved is also crucial.

“Success in continuing education is realizing that it’s a team effort,” says Gervan Fearon, dean of The Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson.

“Ensure your family, friends and employer understand what your educational goals and aspirations are,” Fearon says. “It becomes a shared partnership where the family understands that there may be certain times you may not be available.”

By her second semester, Clarke realized she had to scale down on some of her other commitments.

“Whatever it’s going to affect, be it extracurricular activities, or your home or job, tell the people ahead of time and let them know you’re not giving up on them but you have this commitment and you need to plan around it,” she says.

On nights when she’s in class or working on assignments, Clarke’s family knows they need to fend for themselves.

“If I had an essay due, I would come home and I would let everybody know: You guys are either going to have to cook for yourself or cook for me. I’ll help you out when I can but you’ve got to give me my space.”

The sacrifices come with benefits.

“Education has so many parts to it,” says Fearon. “Not only is it great in building career development and profession, it also provides life experiences and engagement with a group of people that can become lifelong friends.”

For Clarke, the how of getting her nursing degree with continuing education is worth the why.

“The biggest sacrifice is time for myself,” she says. “Getting adequate sleep and stuff like that. But I tell myself I’m going to school for me, so it’s also my reward.”

Road to success

Below are some tips from Shelagh Kennett, head coach at Career Coaches of Canada, on how to balance life and continuing education:

• Print a monthly paper calendar each month, use a colour marker, and put a letter for the most important component of the week you might forget and want to make a priority. Put the calendar right on the wall beside where you brush your teeth. It has to be in your face every day.

• Have a “sticky board.” Make the top row the “to do” list for today or “as soon as possible.” Use small stickies and reuse if there is room to write again. This way, you have a way to literally plan, chart, write, see, and remove when done, all of the things you have identified as priorities.

• Have a planning session with yourself once a week. This “pencilled-in” time to organize and prioritize also gives you a feeling of control and order that seems easier to manage and lets you see the progress as the stickies come off.

• Be realistic with what there is time for and keep track of how “balanced” your time is each week so you can continue to re-vamp and improve your balance and your life.

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