LIKE MOST 20 - SOMETHING PROFESSIONALS, I work. I work and when I think I can’t do anymore work, I work some more. Between graduate school, homework, and employment responsibilities, 60, 70
and 80-hour work weeks are par for the course.
That professional life in tandem with my refusal not to give up on the gym, not to give up on going out with friends, and to actively work on the relationship I have with my boyfriend, whom I love, means my schedule is packed.
My hope is that when you see me I am happy and energized, ready for the next task, and grateful for all the opportunities my hard work has afforded me. For the most part I am, but there are times when I am absolutely burnt out and ready to throw in the towel., There are nights when I am so tired I wish I could have a bed at work so I did not have to make the five-minute commute home.
Part of me cringes at admitting there are times that my life isn’t one exquisitely framed Instagram moment after another. But it isn’t. And what I fear more than telling people about the struggles and self-doubt I encounter is that often times I don’t let people see my imperfections. I let people believe, especially young people, that I mentor, that my life is always together and one fun-filled moment to the next. I fear that in doing this I let others believe that living full and fulfilled life means a life absent of late nights, long hours, self-doubt, headaches and sacrifices; and as a result, they too construct an exterior façade that hides the struggles and anxieties they are have.
I know I am not alone in this. I have talked with many friends, colleagues, and loved ones who struggle with the mantles of responsibility that they pick up or are thrust upon them. And the saddest part is that many of them think they are alone in their plights. They fear sharing their fractures and breaks because everyone around them seems to be handling life’s toils effortlessly. Too often their breaking points come not from the stress of work but from their self-imposed silos.
If the silo that I am describing sounds similar to living in the closet, its because it is. There is shame in our society around admitting that we struggle; and rather than talking about that struggle, we let our shame lock our fears and anxiety away and pretend they aren’t there while those emotions gut us from the inside.
That was where I was this month in thinking about this column. I knew the deadline to write was coming, and then it passed. Then my back-up deadline came and passed. And I considered forgoing the column this month. If I couldn’t produce a meaningful and thought-provoking column, then I might as well not do one at all. Then I remembered that this is the function of my silo, that in trying to get everything done perfectly, I become less joyful and turn to caffeine, sleepless nights, self-criticism and anxiety to get me through my deadlines. As a result, I let go of my side projects that give me joy, which include writing this column.
I believe we need to have honest conversations about the nature of the lives we live. We need to be told and tell one another that the very nature of striving and challenging yourself involves struggle. The trick is to not let that struggle crush you, but instead to find those small things that save you. So, I did a few things that save me from my anxiety and self-criticism. I took a nap, ate some cheese, watched some TrueBlood and wrote this column.
I share all of this with you because if you read this and feel you are drowning in the sea of your own obligations please know that you are not alone. Please reach out to someone and break out of your silo of silence and if it helps, say these two things to yourself. These are two phrases that have saved me: You deserve to live a life that is more than stress and anxiety. You deserve to guard like hell those activities that bring you joy.