Choosing being well, over doing well

I used to take pride in doing well in things. After all, I’ve found myself on the better side of the bell curve in a few significant ways over the years, whether it be through either luck, fate or hard work. I tested well in high school, wrote a bunch of good stuff that got me journalism awards in college, scored a good metabolism and healthy skin (thanks mom,) and who would have known it — ended up being pretty decent in math.

All that’s benefitted me in enormous ways and helped me access a variety of privileges. But recently, I discovered something about myself: I get particularly uncomfortable when I don’t know if I’m good at something. I have a tendency to look for some sort of yardstick or benchmark to figure out how I’m doing it relation to it.

Perhaps the highly regimented education system from my days in Singapore had created a false sense that educational outcomes are laid out well — that I was meant to go to this school because I scored in a particular range for this exam, for instance. But the work I’ve been doing at grad school does make me a little nervous. So much of is independent work that it isn’t really possible at all to compare my trajectory with someone else’s. It’s the first time I’ve had to really deal with understanding myself with no other mental crutch, no other barometer besides myself, the work I need to do to achieve my goals and where I am in that quest.

For a bit, I was caught up in noticing what I hadn’t accomplished or completed yet. I was using my inadequacies to build a roadmap of what I needed to do ahead. But that wasn’t healthy. I found myself getting worried about a seemingly endless stream of things I hadn’t done, wondering where I stood in relation to everyone else in my class, and feeling I was playing catch up with my to-do list and inbox. Without realizing it, I started reducing the amount of time I spent on self-care — like working out, or meditating — because I needed to “work” and “catch up” and “get ahead.”

Then a week or so ago I realized that I’d strayed from one of my core beliefs: that it’s important to ultimately prioritize my well being over all other things in life. I’ve done better at prioritizing myself in many other aspects — especially interpersonal relationships. But in my professional/ academic work, I’d forgotten to care for myself as I got nervous about the minutiae of the everyday, trying to fix every single imperfection like one of my other less pleasant habits of picking at scabs before they fully heal.

So I have been trying to place my well being again at the center of my life. I’m learning to be okay with not knowing where I’m going, of not being on top of everything and trusting myself to get things done eventually, and focusing more on being well — that is, remaining balanced and equanimous amidst the curveballs life throws. It’s still a work in progress.

I’ve been getting back on my usual running schedule in the past few days and found myself on Saturday afternoon stopping every 10 blocks or so to take in the sunshine. A little part of me resisted this urge: after all, I wanted to run that full 6+K without stopping and to be able to run faster and for longer distances over time. But then, another voice in my mind said: Fall’s still miraculously here after more than a month, so why not stop and take it in? And so today, after 2 miles, I stopped and watched dogs ram into each other playfully at the 87th street dog run, and last Monday, I chatted to a man who was painting the Sailors and Soldiers tomb because it was interesting to get to know a stranger.

So maybe I’m a bit more behind on my quest to fun run my way to 7K and beyond, but I feel happier and more content for noticing and appreciating all the beautiful things that I missed out when I was singlemindedly focusing on my goal. And so bit by bit, I’m challenging myself to let go of the idea that I have to excel, or that I have to give up self-care, or mindful enjoyment of the everyday to make progress on my goals. That’s probably why I chose to write this post at this time of the day — when I’m usually catching up with the monster that is my inbox. Sometimes, the world can wait while I care for myself.