Nailing the Work-Life Balance

As easy as it may sound, keeping a balanced life is something I struggle with. Without consciously thinking about it, I tend to overextend myself rather quickly. That overextension develops into stress, which no one really likes. For me, the trick hasn't been eliminating stress completely, but to limit the stress to an amount I can manage.

School, Sport, Work, Family

To preface, I am currently in the latter half of my second year of my master's degree, I compete for the Canadian wheelchair basketball team, and I am engaged to be married! In school, I am studying movement behavior physiology which fits under the umbrella of active aging. My research is primarily with older adults, looking at acute cardiovascular parameters during exercise and movement behavior monitoring after exercise. Basically, what I would like to find out is how much we sit after exercise. If we are going out and advertising exercise as healthy, but end up sitting for the majority of the day, are we really reaping those benefits of exercise? Or is the prolonged sitting negating everything we did in the gym?

On to wheelchair basketball! I have had the opportunity to represent Canada internationally for almost 10 years now. It has been a thrilling ride, traveling to a wide variety of countries I doubt I would have otherwise had the chance to visit. I went to my first Paralympic games in Rio 2016 and I am now working towards Tokyo in 2020.

While on the subject of Japan, if you have never had the chance to visit, you need to! Coming from a western, North American culture, Japan was by far the biggest culture shock I have ever experienced while traveling the world. As you explore the city, you get the feeling that you're somehow both 50 years in the future and 50 years in the past. The Japanese use technologies in their everyday lives that separate them from other countries you may have visited, but at the same time they hold on to other cultural traditions that have been around for ages. Their bullet trains, reaching speeds of 200 mph (320 kph), is something we don't have in North America. And on the other hand, you can walk down the street and see people dressed in their traditional Japanese kimonos.

Japanese women wearing traditional kimonos

I am getting married this month, which is exciting! We decided on a destination wedding, so we will soon be on the beaches of Jamaica, promising ourselves to one another in front of our family and friends. Interestingly enough, with all of the countries around the world I've visited, I have never been to an all-inclusive resort... or gotten married, for that matter! Firsts all around.

Nik and Annie in Toronto

Life Out of Balance

When things are going well in all aspects of my life, balance in easy. The real struggle starts when things go less than perfect, stagnate, or get monotonous. I began my master's degree program a year and a half ago and the first three months were great. I had just come off of playing wheelchair basketball in Germany for a year and it was refreshing to get back into academia. After the first semester, the stress began to set in. I began to see the differences of a master's degree compared to a bachelor's degree. I felt completely lost; I was expected to produce documents I had no experience writing, all on my own schedule. I had a vague idea of what the document should look like, but no idea how to get to the final product. I found myself spending way too much time looking at a blank document without any idea how to write even the first sentence.

On top of all this, I was still training full-time and I was a part-time teaching assistant to help pay for my degree. I was anxious at first about the teaching assistantship, but it turned out to be the best part of my first year. I basically taught undergraduate students in the laboratory on how to use equipment, the keys to exercise physiology, and grading papers & exams. I was grading about 60 papers every week, which was a daunting task for someone not used to it. That's when my life balance really fell out of whack.

I was struggling with writing my proposal for my master's degree and spending a crazy amount of time marking up papers; my personal relationships got the short end of the stick. I found myself reading, grading papers, and trying to write my proposal into the late hours of the night, almost every night. In retrospect, I definitely neglected my relationship with my fiancé during that time, spending very little time with her without distraction. My thought at the time was, 'I am stressed with school related materials, so I will spend most of my time dealing with that.' Keep in mind, I was still training full-time, so I would leave the house at 6:30 in the morning, run over to practice, shower afterwards, eat something in the car on the way to school, and then work on papers after I got home. I was less stressed about school, but now my fiancé was not happy with me, so that stress was just displaced into another facet of my life. We talked it through and decided that after 9:00pm, all electronics are off and we will spend time with each other, without any distractions.

Nik and Annie snowboarding

Finding Solutions

Now that all work was to be put away at 9:00pm, I needed to find that time elsewhere. Now it was basketball's turn to take a hit. I was obviously distracted at practice thinking about things I needed to do afterwards. This took away from my focus and made my practices sub-par. That further stressed me out, as I felt that if I couldn't focus on basketball while at practice, I was wasting my time, getting nothing out of it, and not improving. I had a chat with one of my coaches and we talked about this life balance and what my goals were. I felt as though I was overextending myself, unable to do anything at 100%. This was all around the time we were preparing for the World Championship.

Nik competing in wheelchair basketball

We did not perform well at the championship, and I think it served as a kick in the backside for a lot of us. When we got back, we all had a month to decompress and figure out what we needed to do to avoid similar ass-kickings in the future. I found myself thinking about how I can focus 100% on all the things that are important to me: basketball, school, and my fiancé. I decided to combine my training location with school. I began training on my own in the mornings at my university instead of the national training center. I figured if I didn't have to spend more than two hours driving to and from home, school, and practice, I could use that time focusing on things that would help alleviate the stress, not add to it. It has worked well for me; I feel my passion for basketball and academia growing once again.

Nik presenting an academic research project

I am still working on my work-life balance, but I am in a much better place now than I was at this time last year. I managed to find time for my social life, my fiancé, school, and basketball without losing out. Some of this came with experience; I've gotten more efficient with my work from school and grading. I can have 100% focus on just basketball for 1.5-2 hours a day and go home afterwards to spend undistracted time with my friends and fiancé. My days are busy to say the least, and there is definitely still some stress, but it's manageable now. It was really just figuring out the things I want to do, managing my time appropriately, and devote all of my focus to whatever I am doing at the moment, without distractions.

The holidays are here, which is always great. The best part? No stress. I get to spend time with family and friends without thinking about what meetings I have tomorrow or other things I need to do. I got my new RGK chair the other day and being that we had nothing planned for the next few days (an amazing feeling!), I took it for a spin at the mall.

About the Author


Nikola's journey began when his parents immigrated to Canada in 1994 as refugees from Yugoslavia. After a fulfilling childhood, at the age of 15 he was diagnosed with bone cancer, forcing him to transition from an able-bodied basketball player to a wheelchair basketball player. Years later and Nikola would be named Junior Athlete of the Year 2014 for Wheelchair Basketball Canada, MVP at the 2013 Under 23 World Wheelchair Basketball Championships, as well as the 2014 Junior National Wheelchair Basketball Championship, paving the way to earning a spot on the Canadian Paralympic wheelchair basketball team for the Rio 2016 games.

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Date: 1/15/2019 12:00:00 AM

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