The past couple of months, I hit a turning point in my life. The sort of experience I have had is something many people can resonate with.
I decided to write about it a couple of days ago on my usual 6:30 am bus ride to my classes. The night before I was going insane. Why—you might ask? I made the executive decision to cut back on my extracurricular activities, and I was unable to make peace with the fact that I had all of this extra time. While I was not as busy as some of my peers, who legitimately get no sleep and pack every single waking second with activities, I did run long mileage every day for cross country and participated in a couple of clubs (though they did not demand much attention). Without the structure in my schedule, I was not used to just…chilling.
Wow. Is the utterance of such a word even prohibited within the walls of an educational establishment these days? I learn in an environment in which it is expected that students are tired all of the time. We live in a world where stress is synonymous with success. What has this expectation created? It has created unhappy and unsatisfied people. One of the first messages that I got on my phone that morning from a close friend–after feeling so utterly disappointed in myself for relaxing—was “school is making me so tired and sad that break is the only thing keeping me going”. Naturally, I asked her why that was the case, although I knew the answer, and she responded with: “because it’s a never ending cycle of tests and work and then after winter break, we have it for like 3 straight months”.
I do not believe that people should wake up dreading their day. All of my life—and probably all of your life—we have been brainwashed into thinking that the only way you can be happy is if you make it through the system. You know, a life loaded with extracurriculars and exceptional grades, in order to attend a reputable school to get a job that pays well… and so on. I could write a book about this perfect, picket-fenced life. These expectations have the byproduct of people who are too busy doing things they think they should be doing, to get to know their own needs, wants, desires, and skills.
I cracked under the pressure, and I am happy that I did.
The Rocky Relationship
Things just are not working. There’s a miscommunication between you and yourself. You guys just are not happy.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, pause to think. Pause to think right after these next questions. What is the purpose of living your life: what drives you, what puts that gigantic, contagious smile on your face, what do you wish to get out of your life?
Getting to that rock bottom place allowed me question a whole slew of things. It made me question all of my intentions, decisions, and most of all how I treat myself. It made me ask myself what in my life makes me happy. Along with that, I embarked on a crazy journey where I began to learn to listen to myself. It sounds very simple, but I recommend giving it a go. After all, you only have one life to live. Is it really worth doing what other people want you to? Is it worth not doing what you innately want to? I apologize for the questions, but I genuinely want you to think about this.
If you are getting the answers I think you are getting, then it may be time to go on a break, or at least it’s time to reconsider parts your life to shape them into how you actually want it to be. There is simply not enough time to not be living the life you want to. Don’t worry: you are not going to end up living on the side of the road if you let go a little. I promise.
The AWKWARD Conversation
It is time to part ways with the expectations other people have for you or the expectations you think are there. This shows up in the part of yourself forcing you to do things you do not want to. “I am sorry, but I think that it is best that we go our separate ways until I am ready for you again”
You must re-train that part of yourself to work for you; not against you.
Re-define YOUR Success
Think of the ways that things have been done in the past and how they are being done now. Now, I challenge you to think of the effect that it has had. According to some expert google searching, a Teen Ethics Poll that 787 teens between the ages of 13 and 18 taken in 2006 found that “44% of teens say that they feel strong pressure to succeed” and that “eight in ten student feel that success is important no matter what” (Source 1). I wonder how these students have been taught to define success. That was a whopping twelve years ago. Just imagine how much that statistic has grown with the newly social media immersed environment we live in.
Now is the time to look inside of yourself instead of outside of yourself to define your success at the moment and what that might look like to you in the future. It is so easy to check out what everyone else is doing to see how we are doing in comparison. If you do this, it probably is not serving you.
Task: Journal the following…
What you are proud of in your life
What makes you happy to be alive
What you are currently responsible for
What does your schedule look like
What do other people expect of you
What the pressures you feel are: from your peers, parents, society, etc.
Lastly: What does success look like to you?
Where are you right now?
Maybe it’s been a long time since you have checked in with yourself. Sit down. How are you doing in this moment? How does your body feel? It is important to do this research. Chances are that it has been a long time since you have had a real one-on-one. All of this stress may be presenting itself in the body. Where you are right now is an accurate indicator of what you need.
First of all, take comfort in that in this moment you are where you belong. You always are.
Do a body scan like this one.
Take it all in. Maybe write everything down in a journal.
Take each feeling and equate it to something. For example, if you are tired, you need more sleep. If you are feeling restless, you might need a breather. If you feel tight, maybe you need to get moving. Your shoulders could be tense: you are stressed. Maybe you are hungry and/or thirsty.
Take note of what is on your mind.
-Examples: lonely, scared, anxious, unfulfilled, etc.
Decide what you need.
You did not just do all of that work for nothing. There is a reason for everything that you feel right now. Do not ignore all of that. Take action in a non-judgmental way.
It’s time to Breathe on Your Own
Guess what? It does not say anywhere on paper that you must do high school, college, work, or life a certain way. I repeat: You are not required to do it like everyone else. Once you remove yourself from the cycle of things, you can observe your life and change whatever you like. No, you really do not have to remove yourself from your activities or do anything radically different.
It may be helpful to do some research on alternate paths. Even if you would never actually do online schooling or do not have the means to study abroad, it is freeing to consider what options you might have. You have the opportunity to make time for something you are passionate about. People have found very interesting and unique ways to do this. I added a few links below for you to begin some research. You have the ability to customize your life. There are innumerable ways to do life the way you want to depending on your goals.
Consider your passions
Look for more opportunities to incorporate that into your day
Take a look at your needs and decide how you can incorporate them into your daily practice as well.
Tell the people in your life about what you might change. It is definitely worth talking about, and you may encourage them to do the same.
Here are a few options to consider doing in order to jazz up your normal routine:
Customizing your High School Career
Online High School
Starting a Business
Make a Website
Write a Book
Confronting your Ex
No, you are not going to exterminate all of your responsibilities and become a monk living in the mountains meditating all of the time–unless you want to of course. However, it is worth becoming more in tune with yourself. I might have just told you something you already know, but a reminder like this is something EVERYONE needs. I want this article to be like one of those road signs that can point readers in the right direction. Also, no this is not a vain or self absorbed thing to do (just look up the Oxygen Mask analogy). If you did not know already, you are human. Everyone may seem like they have everything together, but they sure do not. There is certainly no shame in being a mess–nobody is immune. Take a breather and think a little bit. There is no harm in thinking about what you want. Showing up for yourself is not a waste of time. Take it from someone who just spent two hours doing something that I enjoy, purely because it made my life even more worthwhile.