Summer is upon us, and with the change of seasons comes a change of pace. For some of us, transitioning from a full semester to summer school, a job, an internship, or something else entirely gives us an opportunity to reflect upon what we’re doing. I, too, find myself engaging in some self-reflection as we head into warmer weather. While I’m in school and doing extracurriculars, there isn’t a lot of time to think about why I do what I do, but summer (or any break really) provides a chance to do just that. Ironically, I end up becoming stressed out during my breaks.
Time gives us the chance to think about the big questions: Why am I doing this degree? What do I want to do after graduation? Am I doing enough?
The last question is one we can find ourselves facing quite often when we look around us: at our peers, at successful people on social media, and at role models. It is not uncommon to wish for success in a place where everyone tells us we need to be successful, have money and be well-respected by those around us. A competitive job-market, along with a culture of grinding makes it easy for us to feel like everyone else knows what they’re doing except us. That everyone else is working hard and reaping the rewards of their labour, so we have to as well. Social media is one of the easiest places to see everyone else’s accomplishments: be it a side business, the completion of a prestigious degree, or being a leader in some recognizable area. It becomes almost too easy to fall into the comparison trap and think that we need to do more to keep up. More extracurriculars, more money, more of anything that will make us look better on our résumés, or on our social media pages. The hustle mentality we see almost everywhere can be unhealthy for us and burnouts are not taken as seriously as they should be. Saying we slept a little and worked a lot becomes an accomplishment, rather than something we should think twice about. As a student, I’ve heard others seemingly brag about how they managed to spend long hours without any breaks studying, sacrifice hours of sleep to work, or burn themselves out regularly while handling multiple commitments.
The need to do more is almost compulsive, and the fear that we are falling behind in the race of life isn’t a rare one.
It can feel like we have to meet a lot of expectations about what our lives should be like, or that we have to meet deadlines or a schedule for success. We set high standards for who we should be based on what we see growing up and what others tell us is desirable. Sometimes these almost-perfectionist standards are not questioned and the reasons for setting them up in the first place aren’t examined.
It wasn’t until recently that I took a step back, sat down, and began to question the expectations I had for myself and where they were coming from. Why did I feel like I had to do so much to keep up with others? For what reason was I doing them? A résumé? What were they really helping me with?
I realized I didn’t find any intrinsic meaning in doing a bunch of things. I was just doing them for the sake of doing them.
Of course, a big change in mindset doesn’t happen overnight. Rather than taking on more, I realized I needed a different way to deal with the feeling of not doing enough.
At that point, I was asked an important question: What do you value?
It seemed like such a simple question, but as I attempted to answer it, I realized I had never given it much thought. I was so focused on doing things others recognized as worthy that the concept of personal values had bypassed me entirely.
We forget to ask why we “have to” do something, but taking the time to think about what we value can help change our perspective on what we need. If we live by our values, we are doing things that are truly meaningful to us. We are growing as human beings and building qualities in ourselves that make a difference in the lives of those we care about. Perhaps it is about being more empathetic, being a better listener, or simply taking more time to understand ourselves and others.
Thinking about our values gives us the courage to step out into the great unknown, away from carefully crafted expectations. It gives us the opportunity to define what success means for ourselves. Instead of doing, we are being.
Realizing the difference can help our self-talk and how we go about our daily life.
When we are focused on doing, we are more goal oriented. Something is unsatisfactory in our lives, and we seek to fix it. This mindset is fine if we need to do our laundry, but becomes problematic in our internal world—in how we think we should be as people. Perhaps we believe the best way to fix that disconnect between our current selves and our ideal selves is by taking on more activities or studying more. When we always feel like we have to reach some ideal of who we should be, that feeling sits in the back of our mind and is revealed when we aren’t busy, just like how a change of pace brings back questions that cause me stress.
If we focus on being, there is, as said by Thich Nhat Hanh, “nothing to do, and nowhere to go”. We are simply fully present in the moment without worrying about what we should be doing now, or in the future.
This shift in mindset can change how we view all the opportunities available to us.
I’ve decided to think about what I really want to try. I have accepted who I am right now, rather than worrying about who I should be and what expectations I should be meeting. I appreciate simpler things that matter to me.
Rather than doing more for the sake of a résumé, we do less and find what about these things hold meaning for us. We step back from the comparison trap that presents itself to us in glittering advertisements and subtle messaging. This means we spend less time worrying about who everyone tells us we should be, and more time connecting with the people who matter to us, picking up old hobbies we enjoy, and becoming comfortable with not knowing what the future will look like.
We are doing enough. So instead of being caught up in whether we will ever be doing enough compared to those around us, maybe we should think about who we want to be to those around us instead. Who we want to be to ourselves.
We can change the question from “What are we doing?” to “Who are we becoming?”
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: MUSE ILLUSTRATOR SADIE LEVINE