Hi guys! I just got back from bowling with a group of high school friends, and I would like to take a minute to do some self-reflection of my experience.
Now, you may be wondering why a casual outing with friends is important enough to throw me into a state of rumination- so much so that I feel compelled to write a piece about it.
To demystify things a little, I will start by saying that I am a complete workaholic. My “workaholism” started from a young age, stemming from the disciplined lifestyle I led as a competitive gymnast. I find it very difficult to tear myself away from my various goals and projects. When I am hanging out with friends at movies, dinners, or sleepovers, I try to have fun, but there’s always a nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me that I should not be there. That I should be at home instead, working on my goals. Studying. Practicing dance. Reading books. Writing.
So, going out with friends has always been a big source of anxiety for me. Not because I don’t enjoy spending time with friends or having great conversations, but because the very act of leaving my work behind is stressful. I simply cannot do work-life balance.
In the past, I would simply not leave the comfort of my work. I’d constantly turn down friendly invitations with the same excuse: I’m too busy with [something gymnastics/school related]. According to my therapist, this was an act of avoidance. Since going out was such a great source of anxiety for me, I avoided the feeling of discomfort by choosing to stick with my work. And so, my anxiety over leaving my work grew. It got to the point where I was lugging around flashcards in my purse whenever I went out to dinner or outings. I distinctly remember studying SAT vocab flashcards at a Thanksgiving dinner party back in 2011, as an eight-grader! Or bringing my AP Euro review book with me to the band’s spring tour during sophomore year of high school, and studying in the cruise cabin while all my friends were out having fun.
My borderline OCD discipline won me praise from my parents, coaches, schoolteachers, strangers who watched my laser-focus while training. I took pride in my “all work no play” lifestyle.
Now I know that this kind of thinking and behavior was completely distorted and ridiculous. Everyone deserves to take a break and relax now and then. Life is more than just working 24/7. You need time to take a breather and recharge. More importantly, you need to make time for those you love. It doesn’t matter if you are a world-renown surgeon, an Olympic gold-medalist, a famous painter, or a world champion dancer. If you don’t have strong secure relationships, your life will be a lonely one.
This morning, I had half a mind to back out of bowling and spend the two hours studying chemistry in my room instead. This was my “work demon” talking. In the past, I would have succumbed to it. I would have agreed that studying was a much better use of my time than going bowling. In fact, I would have taken pride in the fact that I was above “playing” and “having fun”. This kind of “all work no play” mindset is precisely why I felt so lonely throughout middle school/early high school. I didn’t know how to function away from my work. I didn’t know how to have fun and enjoy life with people I cared about.
Today, I shut down my work demon. I told it that it was wrong. Spending time with friends IS important, and I am worthy of treating myself to some down-time. So I went bowling. And, even though I often found my mind drifting back to the MCAT book sitting on my desk at home, I’m proud that I was able to have a pretty decent time. This is progress, guys.
And now, after a relaxing morning with friends, I am fully recharged to work hard again!
Stay tuned for more on how I tackle my distortions one by one, changing them into more positive, constructive ways of thinking!