My definition and intention with frugality has remarkably little to do with money. Rather, I’m motivated to save and protect time. Being frugal allows me time to read, write, and enjoy my time with friends — it’s not just about padding my bank account. With a lower cost of living, I can maximize my work-life balance.
As a Ph.D. student, I’ve been asked how I have time to “do it all.” Doctoral programs tend to be arduous and lengthy. But I usually blanche at this hyper work-focused “compliment,” which usually comes from peers and fellow colleagues. They look at my “accomplishments” and wonder the recipe. They quickly surmise it takes lots of time.
It’s not true and doesn’t accurately represent my values. Once I got into graduate school I threw away the perpetual drive for good grades and professor’s good graces. While I care about what they think, I’m not motivated to perform in the classroom. I don’t really care about essays or exams. My heart and efforts are always outside the classroom.
When I was an undergraduate student at Colorado State University, I realized A grades were very difficult to achieve. The plan often included late cram sessions, lost weekends, sacrificed social gatherings, flashcards, and fewer passions outside academia. Not only was I paying to be there, I was without time for anything but school.
To know what an A grade took also meant knowing what a B felt like. In college, the B is considered the new average. It didn’t feel like an option to “slack off” and shoot for Bs. But I knew that Bs were easier to receive and life became relaxed. I could get a B in almost any class with a bit of study and meeting expectations for essays. I didn’t have to stress and worry and struggle. It just happened. As soon as I entered graduate school, this new philosophy took hold.
Today, the answer is simple for my acknowledged “successes”: I’m a self-identified B student. For many of my peers it’s hard to let go of the control, academic achievement, and rigor for classroom activities. I can’t blame others, as we’ve usually spent about two decades in training and indoctrination. Doing anything less than stellar inside the classroom is tantamount to treason. Unfortunately, by failing to let go of this mentality, time is lost. It’s time to think about another, better way.
Here are ten reasons you should become a B student:
1. Develop a well-rounded life (and resume/CV)
In the academic world, a resume is called a curriculum vitae (“CV”), but the same general rules apply. Everything related to my studies (work, research, teaching, and clinical work), which will be used for future employment, is in this document. My CV serves as a history of involvement and diversity of activities. It says a little something about who I am and want to be perceived as. But my grades and GPA don’t represent me. In fact, I don’t even put my GPA on my CV. My goal now is to develop a well-rounded life. If beneficial experiences for future employment come around, perfect!
2. Participate in anything at the flick of a finger
Previously, I was held back when offered opportunities to participate. I remember all the way back to high school when I declined an opportunity to travel for a golf-team match because of a class conflict. School frequently came first. When I relinquished some of the focus and power on classroom materials, I could — without much concern — participate in activities that enriched my schedule and made me happy. Recently, a professor asked about serving on a committee and I immediately said yes. If it means a grade suffers, that’s an okay trade off.
3. Stay grounded with your friends
Academic endeavors never trump friendships and relationships. A class is for a semester, these people are (ideally) for life. Curiously, I think I believed this, even as an A student. I would stress over friendships while in class, and feel pressure upon leaving to study more. It was the vicious cycle. Now, friends are a huge priority in my life. Interestingly, with better, healthier friendships first, my grades got better. What strange logic, right?
4. Read for fun
In my second year of graduate school, motivated by the master note-taker, Tim Ferriss, I began tracking how many books I read. It was abysmal at first, but over the next few years it rapidly escalated. To lose myself in a good book is more powerful than a class could ever really be. It’s just me and the book — wherever we go. In the last three years, I’ve read 51 books — all while “achieving,” “publishing,” and getting fine recommendations from professors. And yet, it had nothing to do with grades. Intriguingly, like the preceding reason, my essay writing improved because of the reading. I can write faster and with greater clarity — all while maintaining a B average.
5. Brainstorm and cultivate new methods to earn
Remember how I said time is the key variable? Well, being able to renegotiate my academic schedule allows me to find ways to earn money, too. As a student for years, I cannot and do not accept the rationale that it’s okay to take on more debt to focus on academics. Instead, I redirect time gained from being a B student to endeavors like Frugaling. They’re passion projects, which hone my writing ability and have healthy income benefits.
6. Encourage creative thinking
Classrooms tend to emphasize rule-following, timeliness, intrinsic motivation, and rote memorization. And don’t get me started on the dry, pedantic, boring textbooks! I’ve rarely been encouraged to be creative within a classroom. Actually, I take that back… There was art class in third grade. But aside from elementary school, creativity has been stifled and discouraged. An essay has objective and traditionally strict expectations. The professors have grading rubrics. Staying and coloring within the lines is a must. By breaking out of the classroom mindset, I can draw, write, photograph, and participate in the world as I see fit.
7. Write for fun
I didn’t like writing when I was younger. Writing was associated with classwork. It was a chore and/or homework assignment. Writing never let me be free — it only asked of me. Then, as I stole back time, writing became a love. I process my thoughts, concerns, and inner debates in words. The words can be read back years later — providing an arc and timeline to my days.
8. Advocate within your community
I’m a firm believer in social justice. Essentially, social justice is about working to correct society’s wrongs. An example of this would be the recent advocacy for affordable housing that I worked on last semester. Vulnerable populations were being disturbed by rapidly escalating rental prices in the university/campus community in Iowa City. I felt like participating and providing a voice. My grades and classroom involvement waned. Those textbook readings and presentations didn’t much matter to direct action. I will never forget that advocating for others is far more important than an A.
9. Stop defining yourself by your grades
Grades used to represent my identity. To be an average or above average student wasn’t enough of a title. I was desperate for excellence. This drive for titles was an insecurity of mine. Without excellence, who was I? Was I a good enough student for graduate school, employment, etc.? What I learned is grades are terrible measure of a person. When I refocused my time, I lost unhealthy competition, sleepless nights before exams, and stress throughout the semester. Now, I’m defined by my actions around school — not in it.
10. Embrace the weekend
Whereas weekends used to be dedicated to studying and writing essays, now they are largely for recharging. I write for Frugaling on the weekends (usually). I read for fun on the weekends. I hang out with friends on the weekends. I run when it’s sunny on the weekends. All it took was the acceptance of the second letter of the alphabet: Mr. B.