If you can keep your head

I always finished tests first. I finished the AP Latin exam in high school in 40 minutes leaving an hour and 20 minutes for me to nap. One of my classmates and close friends thought that I had given up only to find out after that I just finished really early. I got a 5 on the exam. He got a 4.

I’ve always been this way. If there’s something I can plan for in advance, it will be done ahead of schedule. Papers in college were always finished weeks ahead of the due date. My biopsychology class had as a portion of our grade the requirement to write 1 page overviews of different research studies and articles. We owed the teacher 5 by the end of the semester. I read each research study and wrote all 5 in the first 2 weeks of the semester. When the due dates rolled around, file > print was my only stressor.

Why? Am I anxious or high achieving? Per usual, the answer is really “both”. The interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the “problem” is more that my brain starts brainstorming the second a challenge is put in front of me. Research papers for the entire semester are announced and that day I’m already writing out topics to tackle. I’m lucky in that I’m interested and passionate about a lot of very random and disparate things. It made college incredibly fun and engaging as there wasn’t a class I took that didn’t feel meaningful or engaging.

However, all of this has created a feedback loop. I now want to complete things early even if it’s not necessary. I have a hard time leaving things “for tomorrow”  when I could do it today. This only pushes me to take on more and more. Combine that with what I jokingly call “check off syndrome” where I love checking things off my to do list and I’ve created this monster of productivity centered on how much can I get done today?! It’s almost like a personal challenge. The result is that I do get a lot done both within work and with things I enjoy like lifting.

The problem? What happens when I get sick and I physically can’t enable my check off syndrome? What happens when depression hits or something unexpected comes up in my day? Being agile and adaptive is part of why I plan ahead but, by being productive and taking on more, I’m limited in terms of adaptability from time to time. Think of this as part two of my Seek Balance post but essentially this is something I’m working on acknowledging.

There’s also the aspect that I know has to do with me simply wanting to control the things I can. After having all control ripped from me at different points in my life, I relish the things I can control and can optimize. It re-grounds me but it also deludes me into thinking that control is the norm. It’s not. Being comfortable with being out of control, being adaptable, seeking balance… these are all things that sounds like they’d be the toolkit of an athlete not of a normal person trying to get through life.

Sometimes I lean into my passion – I stay up until 3AM working on something simply because my little heart can’t stand to not do so. Sometimes I reign my passion in knowing that long term it’s more important for me to cook a good meal, get a workout in, and go to bed. This is all part of the learning process. Balancing involves falling down and getting back up again.

All in all, I’m reminded of this:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”
― Rudyard Kipling, If: A Father’s Advice to His Son


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