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.

perfect. Oh wait…

We have a desire to make the most out of what we have and the time we have. The problem is that it’s not always clear what is the “the most”. How do you quantify relaxation? Or fun? Or productivity? Feeling like you aren’t getting everything you can out of an experience or thing can make life feel disappointing.

We have standards for everything, based upon what we’ve experienced before. Perfectionists tend to take those reasonably set standards and rocket them sky high. We don’t want to relax, we want to be completely and fully relaxed enough to be able to do lots of work later on! And for some reason, that mindset doesn’t facilitate rest. Even work can be frustrating because everything you are doing could be better, more, different. Thinking like that can be draining and distracting.

Being perfectionistic isn’t always bad. It drives us to think about problems in various, creative ways. It drives us to be the best we can be. It makes us ambitious and passionate at times! The problem is, our minds can be difficult to train down and tame. Not everything needs to consider 20 solutions. Here are three tactics that help perfectionism: 1. Alter the bar. Seriously look at what you’re expecting of yourself and question why it’s there. Change it to a more managable goal. Then change it to half of what you think is “manageable”. 2. Rule of thumb, if you are exhausted and trying to push through it constantly, you’re overstretching yourself. It’s sometimes acceptable in fitness, but always being tired and stressed is a sign you’re pushing yourself too hard. Notice your pushing and make yourself hang out with people who will distract and relax you. 3. Meditate. Pray. Read. Do something that forces you to take the focus off your problems and gives you a look at the bigger picture. You are not the center of the world, if you do not achieve those massive standards, life will still go on. Keep your goals, but let the standards of the waypoints be reasonable to achieve. It is working consistently and doing our (non-self destructive) best, that we bit by bit achieve our goals.

what we require

Light is one of those phenomena that seems harmless. People can claim it’s power for acne treatment or pyschological help, but it almost seems ridiculous. Most people know how dangerous UV light is, and on those burning hot days of summer, might be careful to put on sunscreen. Yet normal light? You can’t touch it or hold it, it goes the nature of most physical matter we encounter. Light is not only physically astounding, but pyschologically stunning as well because it can affect mood and atmosphere; Compare the lightning in the movie The Matrix to an Applebees and the result is quite amazing.

Light is truly incredible, has all these features, but still we underestimate it. For most, light is something that surrounds us, accompanies us from day to day. Unless you’re blind, most people come to accept it as something we deserve and need. It’s importance to us is because of its consistency. If we all were in the dark, we would learn how to do without and it would remain some sort of novel thing, intriguing perhaps, but unessential. As it is, since it’s there, we begin to think we need it as much as water.

Everyone needs vitamin D from the sun to survive, but symbolically and without too much scientific depth, we don’t really need light. In our lives, we begin to think a lot of things are essential. We begin to think that these things that surround us are somehow integral to survival. However, really, most of what we have, if not all, is a gift. We are given so many things, and yet we pretend as if we deserve them and require them. Obviously being able to barely survive shouldn’t be the standard of living; however, reminding ourselves of this can keep us grateful for everything we have. If we see ourselves as lucky rather than wanting, we can live with a better context in mind.

The unglamorous life

Our mental image of life always seems better than the concrete events themselves. Camping in the woods sounds fun! Smores’, tents, bonding, and nature! What could go wrong? The answer is everything. There’s loud humans nearby, loud animals nearby, annoying small insects biting you and sucking you dry, no one knows what they’re doing or everyone does at the same time, and even the “fun” part doesn’t seem to have a huge pay off. On one hand, maybe camping isn’t for everyone. On the other hand, we tend to do this a lot. We have big dreams and the physical outcome is lacking.

However, there’s another perspective. If we expect incredible things and get something ordinary, we’re disappointed. If we expect ordinary things and get ordinary things, there’s not much to be excited for, and there are few instances in which we expect incredible things and get incredible things. The key then, is being able to look past the ordinary, messy problems. Life isn’t some happy-go-lucky commercial, there’s ugliness and conflict of every sort no matter where you go. However, there’s also those good, pretty bits too.

There is a kind of line between being delusional and being optimistic. The optimistic person doesn’t think everything is going to be perfectly fine and that everything’s okay; you have to be at least some way insane to believe that. Things aren’t okay. Life isn’t perfect and we shouldn’t pretend like it is. Optimism isn’t about lying to yourself, it’s about having hope and seeing the potential in what’s around you. Maybe it’s wearing rose-tinted glasses, but the glasses are still translucent. It’s going camping and realizing that everyone close enough to be able to yell at each other when the other puts up the tent in a non-traditional fashion. Maybe the smoke from the fire keeps getting in your eyes, but there’s no bugs, and being around the fire with those you love trumps the pain.  Bugs are still gross, it’s still uncomfortable to argue, and smoke can really hurt your eyes. Optimism is being able to take a few hits in comfort to do something that matters.