little weights and balance

There is a balance between being patient with yourself, and encouraging yourself to actually get things done.

Oftentimes we have to treat ourselves like small children. We have to reward ourselves with snacks, set time apart for naps, make sure our schedule is in line. Things become messy when we realize the person who will reward us is usually us. It’s easy to be our child-self, far more difficult to convince ourselves to be adults.

Being an adult seems like its own world when you’re a child. It is a set of concepts we associate with responsibility and personal power: opening accounts, setting a budget, going grocery shopping, going to work, etc. It seems foreign to those who haven’t done it, terrifying, really.

But it’s a challenge like every other we face. We learn things one by one. We walk to a place, we fill out a form, and we ask questions when we aren’t sure.

Being “adult” is more or less scary to different individuals, but the same idea holds for a lot of things. Fundamentally, we build things up in our head. We make mole hills into mountains and that makes the prospect of climbing them far more difficult. No matter how complicated a task, we break it down into simpler steps. No matter how important a decision is, the moments leading up help give us the necessary information.

So be patient with yourself on the little things, but get those little things done. All of the huge weights we create are an accumulation of little bits we can handle.

the shift

I’ve been moving slowly but surely, and my mind is slugging down to the absolute minimum rate necessary for survival. Before this semester started, I was aiming for great things, extra miles, the beyond-part of above and beyond. At this point, I’m celebrating if I can get by.

And that’s a shift. A significant one.

I can’t pretend like I’m put together, I don’t have the energy anymore. But the more time goes on, the more I’m disillusioned with the whole idea of “put together” in the first place. If my body is a machine, it’s still running. I’m still breathing, eating, walking around. Consider language! The complexity of it, how even amazing animals like dolphins are significantly limited in their communication. And yet we have that, most of us without effort. Most of us are ‘put together’ in most ways already.

For the rest of our existence, life is variable.

You can try to make plans, but they are fundamental guesses you throw at an unknown that might bend in unexpected ways. We put in the effort anyway, and we should, but why is it a mark against us when the universe doesn’t conform to our tiny, limited view?

The race of life isn’t so much a race as a bucket full of marbles being dumped with a lattice of shoots catching them on their way down.

Do the best you can, but comfort yourself with that same thought: you are doing the best you can. And if you aren’t, re-evaluate yourself. There might be something else going on, and that’s to be expected.

Life is hard, but we keep going anyways, embracing the absurdity and reveling in existence for its own sake.

the thickets in the thick of it

Here’s a short poem about hope

 

I’ve been going the wild side on the thicket near the edge of town

when I go to the grocery store up the ways, and the lights go down

quickly when you walk with the speed of a lazy cat, intrigued by three

noises tickling the tacky tackle of sharp chirping chickweed near me:

Past, future, present fumbling all at my feet, and still just walking longer

and longer as the pitch raises its void into the sky, as a fear-monger

to scaredy-cat hearts like mine.

 

I’m no linen-shirt tipping up my hat to pool my hands in my finds

I’m no gold-laden lad lying in fabulously good turns of binds

I have a thickness resting in my chest that’s mine to fight

to stumble over with the clumsiness of my own feet at night

Maybe I’ll fall down a black hole and keep falling forever

but that will make a story and folks will think me clever

Maybe there’s even no one, no one at all besides me

but just to breathe is a power that confounds the sea,

let relativity blur the line,

and bask in the knowing unknowing that unfolds quietly around us

don’t feel bad about feeling bad

Chet Baker singing “I Fall In Love Too Easily” is one of the smoothest, purest, and delightful experiences I have ever had in my life. Good music is just something that makes me happy, and I think it’s a fair assumption to say other people typically feel the same. There’s just something beautiful about when a song hits you “right in the feels”.

But as magical as songs can be, real life seems to match it with ugly construction sounds. There are moments when we are socially suave, where we fit, and there are also moments that are painfully awkward. We realize things are a balance of the good and bad, but it doesn’t make the bad feel less horrid.

Here’s a fun little challenge: don’t feel bad about feeling bad. When we start pathologizing our own emotions, it can lead us down tricky roads. Maybe your mental state is unhealthy and should be treated, but even if you think you can diagnose something on your own, don’t treat it on your own.

It often comes down to, if you need help, get help. If you are unsure, ask. Even the rarest conditions, the ones where truly no one feels and experiences the same thing as you, have some semblance to something else.

This applies broadly to mental health, of course, but also to the little things, and for the people who think there’s completely fine. If you feel something, you feel it for a reason. It may be irrational, it may be nonsensical, but it’s how you feel. Emotions change and will change, but often the hard part is allowing yourself to feel the way you do, and subsequently forgiving yourself. Feelings do not equal actions. They are related, but they are still separable.

Your actions are your own. If you know something is wrong, if you know that you’re in a tempting place, physically get yourself out of the situation. Take a walk. Listen to some good music.

When we feel emotions, they can take us over. We can feel so engrossed in our own experiences that we forget we’ve felt other things. But we have, and we will.

slackers and try-hards or whatever

There’s been a lull in the crazy storm. Looking at my agenda, I think it’s the eye of this mess, and soon I’ll be again trying to stay afloat.

The interesting thing about college, and also about life in general, is that it seems amazing how people choose to do more or less. There are people who are okay with Cs, their goal is to meet the minimum and spend their time outside of school or work with their friends. Then there are people who are not okay with Cs, who tend to overwork themselves and have few friends. Maybe there’s someone who has both good grades, an active social life, and a full schedule, but frankly, that seems pretty rare.

I’m oversimplifying things by painting this picture that many will want to call the dichotomy of “try-hards” and “slackers”. However, I don’t think it’s a fair assessment of either group, even if they do fit all of the stereotypes.

People have different priorities. The person who wants to be an Olympic swimmer? They are driven towards their goal, they get up early to practice every day, and they are going to be far more upset when some little kid pees in the pool. The fellow around the sleep who works extra shifts so they can afford to go to college without debt for at least half of their retirement? They just see a snobby know-it-all who doesn’t realize kids are kids.

There can be tension between any two groups when the Type A folks think Type B are slacking off, and when Type B see Type A as unnecessarily upset about little things. It’s our natural tendency to think that everyone else shares our same circumstances and priorities.

It seems completely outside of my bandwidth however, to even consider some of the things my friends do. I have friends who are engaged and I have no thoughts about even dating people. I have friends who go to parties, but that’s not my scene. I have friends who only focus on their major, like a reasonable human being would do, without adding on too many extra things. And these people are my friends!

If we are so distinct from our friends, how can we assume the same holds for strangers?

Putting my workaholic tendencies aside, wanting to spend time on work or school is typically good. Caring about your work and what you put out in the world is a good thing. However, so is making connections with people. We cannot exist happily without some of those humans nearby to keep us company.

And even within this simple priorities-binary, we see there is a great deal of variation. Sometimes we prioritize friends and then wait to the last minute and nearly die from trying to catch up. Sometimes friends aren’t really in the picture at all. Sometimes we are more try-hard and other times slacker depending on how tired we are.

As with many things, fighting our instinct to judge pays off in the long run, because we don’t know the full story in most cases. People value what they do for good reason. If we can’t stop to consider those reasons and the person behind the values, we miss the chance to meet them where they are.

when you don’t want to do anything

When it comes to procrastination and burnout, we have a tendency to assume it’s because of laziness and/or improper self-care. Actually, even placing procrastination alongside burnout seems to be an attempt to tackle things too distinct from each other. Procrastination is almost synonymous with laziness, while burnout is often paired with workaholics and cynical doctors.

However, strange as it may seem, they both share a perfectionistic root. The New York Times recently came out with a fantastic article on procrastination. Read it, you won’t regret it.

While reading it, I kept listing all of the people I wanted to send it to. I.e, all of my procrastinator friends. Generally, I try to avoid sweeping statements on gender because I feel like the differences are largely exaggerated, and cross-cultural psychological experiences are hard to pin down; however, the heaviest procrastinators I personally know tend to be male.

As the science indicates, we procrastinate because we feel poorly about ourselves and we prioritize the short term over the long term as a means of survival, but it just makes the long term miserable. In a world that highly censors male emotions and communication about their feelings, my personal hypothesis is that men tend to use procrastination as an outlet for the negative emotions they are pressured to not exhibit.

On the other end of the spectrum it seems, you have burnout. I think we all realize that burnout happens across the board, but certainly, certain careers have a much higher rate of burnout. We think of people like doctors, lawyers, and clinical psychologists who have to work insane emotionally-draining hours with people who are always struggling in some fashion.

So, what causes burnout?

Mayo Clinic isn’t as exciting a read as the NYT, at least not in the same way (if you count diagnosing yourself with fourth stage melanoma because of dizziness when you stand up after a long period of time as ‘exciting’ and not ‘paranoid hypochrondiac delusions late at night’), but it’s reliable enough for basic information. They suggest burnout is likely caused by a lack of control of one’s work, unclear expectations, poor workplace dynamics, extremes of activity (either super monotonous or super chaotic), lack of social support, and work/life imbalance.

But on the more individual scale, there are emotional factors that lead people to burn out more readily. In short, if you try to do too much and the world doesn’t try to accommodate you or fix your schedule. The eager overachiever tries to make the world a better place but then they realize change is much slower and not as wide-governing as they want it to be.

Humans get deeply frustrated. We try to put in effort, and we try to trust that our effort matters. When it seems to not, it fundamentally exacerbates our existence into something miserable.

The reason I grouped procrastination and burnout together was that both have similar solutions: take care of yourself.

Forgive yourself. Let yourself rest. Let yourself relax. Sometimes we find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do, and recovering from it takes us more time than it does for the things we love. We do what we can to create a life where we find meaning and passion, but that’s not always possible.

You are human.

the dumbest saying

There’s a phrase, “Failure isn’t an option”. This is one of the most frightful outlooks to have. It encourages a sort of rampant perfectionism: either you win or you fail completely and you’ve destroyed this whole thing.

What human never fails? It aims high, yes, but it also punishes whoever doesn’t reach a ridiculously high standard. We should all do our best, but the fact is, sometimes that best isn’t good enough to reach our goal. This runs counter to how people want to tell the tale, “Work hard and you’ll get there!”.

Not to be macabre, but effort can be useless if you don’t wield it effectively. For example, it doesn’t matter how many hours you play chess if you only play with three-year-olds. You’re not going to become a grandmaster chess player unless you’re also three and there happens to be a grandmaster chess player for three-year-olds.

Even if you set apart the time to work on something, and you put your heart and soul into it, people can still critique it. Furthermore, they can be right.

Failure is a natural part of life. Everyone fails, and I mean every single person who has ever existed. If failure isn’t an option, neither is success, because the choice doesn’t exist. Sometimes people mess up. Sometimes people are mean and selfish. Sometimes people try their best and it doesn’t get them where they want to be.

The key factor in this is the fact that: just because you fail doesn’t mean you won’t succeed again. We can learn from everything, and not taking the risk in the first place makes us miserable people. Sometimes we need to feel sad and confused because the circumstances are sad and confusing. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to be a bundle of joy and happiness, but it also isn’t guaranteed to be a horrible soggy mess of a day either.

Failure is always an option, but so is Success.

And in most situations? Those labels aren’t effective shows of what you’ve gained from the situation. Things are as they are. We mostly struggle in some parts and do well in others, but it’s a mixed, patchwork of results. That’s okay. Patchwork is what makes us real, live humans with purpose and meaning.

delays and de-lazy

I apologize for the delay in posts, I had a draft that I forgot to publish two days ago. That in and of itself is a bit symbolic for how my head has been. I’m lucky enough to be so supported by a good circle of family and friends, but my mind has been struggling to focus. The issue is that I have a significant amount of work that I need to do.

So here is my advice on the topic: get back up. Even if you’re late responding to an email, respond. Even if you’re late to class, still show up. If you made mistakes, if you couldn’t get the things done you wanted to, jump back in. Do what you can.

“Do what you can”, is incredibly vague. I realize that. Some things we can physically do, but we really shouldn’t or we’ll screw ourselves over in the future. In the most technical semantic sense, you probably could kill someone (it’s what you can do), but that doesn’t mean you should.

When I mutter to myself, “Do what you can”, I’m referring to those specific tasks on my to-do list. Aim for accomplishing as much as the list as possible, and by the end of the day, try to be okay with the fact you only were able to accomplish half.

Some days we are more productive than others. I’m beginning to learn this, although the trick is learning how to be consistently on top of your productivity game.

Some of those tricks include sleeping well, eating well, and staying consistent with your schedule. You can live a fun, novel, and flexible life while still going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 7am. You can enjoy the deliciousness of a good meal while remaining relatively healthy.

Structure isn’t the enemy. When it comes to being free to live your life, there is a certain level of limitation that actually serves us. Limiting our intake of alcohol, decadent food, media, etc., are all ways that improve our ability to be happy and available to do many things.

The issue with structure is that it’s sometimes difficult to implement in our own lives. Sleeping in feels great, even if it ruins the rest of your day.

Furthermore, there are some mistakes we can’t avoid making. Sometimes you forget to publish your post, for example, and there comes a shame because you failed yourself. We wake up late. We miss important emails. The random errors of life will always complicate things.

But so what if it’s difficult? Everything is difficult. The choice is what kind of problems we face for the outcome we want. Again, if you miss the email, respond anyways. If you make a mistake, try to fix it. Misery is comfortable at times, so make yourself uncomfortable.

scrabble and ‘stupid’ strategies

The fascinating part of playing Scrabble or its knock-off Words with Friends (which, for the record, is one of the dumbest names I’ve heard in my life for a game), is that it stretches you. It stretches you linguistically, of course. But it also stretches you emotionally. For example, take the situation in which a friend puts down a word as ridiculous as “Moxa” or “Qat”, and after angry googling it, you have to admit that yes, obscure plant names are acceptable words.

Then come words like ‘Egress’ doesn’t tend to come up in conversation but you’re 94% sure it’s a real word (here’s a link to the definition in case you’ve forgotten it). Or something like, “Moraie” which definitely isn’t a word, but it feels like it could be. For those putting it down, it feels like it should be.

Yet, that’s the tricky part. A game like scrabble pushes you. We all like to think of ourselves as at least reasonably knowledgeable. Yet, staring down at, A, E, A, A, I, O, and M, words seem to disappear. I tend to go the wild luck route, where you physically move the tiles around in a blind hope that a 27-point word will magically pop out.

But what I want to talk about is how you feel when that magic word doesn’t pop out. I want to talk about that moment when you realize, “Oh, I don’t know as much as I thought I did”.

Because it does hurt, in some strange way. It can feel demeaning because, sure, you can drop words like, “pecuniary” and “hamartia“, on the occasion, but those particular words don’t help you at this moment. For all of your expertise, you can’t fulfill the goal you’re striving for, and end up putting, “so” down.

Sometimes situations with a larger impact than a single scrabble game give us that same moment of reflection. You feel like you know everything around it, but you can’t fully grasp it, the thing people are expecting of you. Someone asks a good question, and you want to be able to respond. But you can’t, because you don’t know the answer.

When we can, we should do as much research as we can. We should ask around for advice before making big decisions. We should get as much of an idea about a thing before jumping into the midst of it. But in some instances, there’s just so much we can’t understand until we do it for ourselves. Take picking what college to go to. College is an incredibly, ridiculously expensive investment, and the experience for each student can vary widely. The programs, classes, professors, extracurriculars, transportation, lifestyle, atmosphere, and student/school fit, all of these and more are factors in a decision like that.

Furthermore, college is a new mandated norm– what about those who 1. can’t afford college and/or 2. aren’t fit for the academically-minded track?

The more we look at decisions, the more complicated the situation tends to get. Research can help supplement, but there is too much to boil down and be able to quantify. The decisions we make can feel like Scrabble with too many vowels. Sometimes we really do end up mixing things together and hoping the right answer to peak out at us. There doesn’t seem to be anything else we can do in those situations.

But here is also where we can be comforted. Everyone struggles. Not knowing is part of being human. We do what we can, and “what we can” isn’t always the height of brilliance. Sometimes we guess and try things out until it works. That’s not an idiotic strategy, because, with decisions under ignorance, we are limited in what we know. We make educated guesses where we can. We have to try something out to learn from it.

the ability of responsibility

My spring break was nice, but deep in my heart I had zero intention of updating the blog over it, and so I didn’t. I’ve been having a little revolution inside of me, perhaps for the past year, that keeps poking out from time to time. The revolution is simple: I’m going to do what I want, and I’m going to own it.

As a young adult in an environment of uncertainty, anger, and fear, it’s easy to shut down. The world seems too much, so why deal with it? It’s the strain of defense that drives people into obsessions with TV shows and celebrities or leads people to dive headfirst into their job and ignore the rest. With our growing understanding of how psychology works, there’s plenty of ways to make compromises.

It is here that another person might begin a rant against “snowflakes” and argue about the nonsensical nature of safe spaces and so forth. I will not, partly because I’m a liberal snowflake myself, but also because the issue isn’t that people need to just “suck it up”. Frankly, ignoring emotions and stonewalling communications leads to serious mental health issues and broken relationships. Mental illness is rising in prevalence, partly due to social media that brings in a ridiculously high level of standard to compare oneself to.  We face problems in a new age, and we need to adapt to them.

Yes, our families, friends, environment, these all mess us up. No matter how wonderful the circumstances are, there are always problems. One of the strongest things we can do is realize that we are flawed. Things out of our control have brought a flurry of issues to each of us. However, those issues do not define us. As little or at great as we can, we can make a difference in our lives. There are things out of our control, but there are also things that are in our control.

Hopefully, my advice feels bipartisan: what makes the difference is taking responsibility. This is in both our accomplishments and our failures because we each have both. That rude comment? That was your fault. That awesome shot? That was your practice. That missed assignment? That was your decision. That fulfilling relationship? You are a part of making that relationship what it is.

We cannot assume others have the same capabilities as us. Some demons are bigger through another’s eyes. If someone is struggling, it doesn’t matter if you don’t see it as a big deal. It is to them. The same is true for our accomplishments. If you think you are a horrible person who has done nothing right, you’re wrong. Everyone has done a good deed, made someone happy, made this world a better place in at least one small, important way.

If you have made a mistake, congratulations! You are a human being. Maybe you were awkward. Maybe you were mean. Maybe you were even cruel. If you ignore the flaw, it won’t go away. Instead, we have to deal with it. We have to look it straight in its face and try to get up the courage to ask why it’s there in the first place.

Taking responsibility is hard, and sometimes it’s difficult to see where the line is between your fault and external events. However, whatever small part of the issue was yours, own it. If you did a tiny corner in a beautiful mural, that is your corner. We can often live our lives passing on the blame and recognition because we don’t want the responsibility of our actions, but it matters. You’re doing your best, recognize it in all its glory.