I returned home from my last meeting of the day around 9:30 pm, shrugging off my tote bag and sliding out of my shoes. My heels aching from the hours of walking and standing around; the 13,000 steps in my health app a reminder of the many moments that unfolded throughout the day. I was feeling frustrated, betrayed by my own lack of boundaries and the growing fear in the back of my mind that said, “If I can’t do everything, I am letting everyone down”. I looked at the growing mess of clothes, empty food containers, and miscellaneous office supplies and hot and angry tears began to well up in my eyes. After hours of learning, difficult conversations, and assisting other people I still had more than four hours of homework on my plate. Not to mention showering and dinner.
It was then, for the second time in my life, I acknowledged I was experiencing burn out. The last semester of my junior year I forced myself to balance 17 credit hours, two part time jobs, involvement, classes, and homework - still maintaining 4.0 level expectations of my work. Up to this point in my life I had been carrying the misconception that doing the work I needed to “succeed” was not supposed to be fun or easy. Call it cultural, call it self-prescribed -- being a life-long student and over-achiever, I had never paused to factor joy into my formula for life. Instead, I found myself questioning, “What am I even doing if I can’t manage it all”. I found myself wondering, “Who will I become if other people can’t depend on me”. This self doubt and lack of identity finally pushed me over the edge. In the quiet moments sliding into bed past 2:00 am with an alarm set for 6:00 am, I began to acknowledge that somewhere along the way, my work and the ideas that I had of success had become the things that were draining the life out of me.
When I looked at people around me and I thought of the many adults who had shared their frustrations with their own lives over the years and how miserable they’d been playing into the ideas of success that our society prioritizes; I decided that I wanted a different path for myself. I craved moments of peace throughout each day and I took a leap of faith when I began taking steps in the direction that sounded like success to me: building a relationship with my inner child. For all of the days I spent wondering what she would say to me, I found myself listening to her suggestions: create, read, design, play. Through all of these conversations her voice which had always been in the back of my mind saying, “life doesn’t have to be this way” rang clear.
This summer marks a year since those lonely, explorative moments began. I have worked tirelessly through a year of art therapy and tough conversations to honor that voice in my mind and work to make peace with myself. This summer, I graduated and started working full time as I said goodbye to all of the sad, burnt out parts of myself. As a result, I began to see the world through different eyes. I see now that there are enough hours in the day to sit and watch a movie, to stay awake reading romance novels into the early morning hours on my weekends off. I am rediscovering what it means to say “no” and understanding that my inability to do something in the current moment does not reflect upon my worth as a person. At the core of my discoveries, I am learning to make peace with pausing. I learn every day to create space for the things that bring me joy as a necessary means of nurturing the spirit and life inside of me. And while I am still a work in progress, I find that I can genuinely smile again. As I bury my face in novel after novel, I can enjoy reading and writing again in the way that my childhood self did. I intentionally make space in my day to decompress and revamp my perspective when I need it the most.
My hobbies and play create space for me in the same ways that I now choose, when able, to create space for my friends. Through these small moments in the park, to special film screenings in the local indie theater, to long drives sipping slushees and chatting about the future with the people I adore: I have found my joy. These are the reasons to continue defining success and carving out a path for my life that I once found so meaningful. These are the reasons I am dedicated to forging out a life for myself that allows for work, play, relaxation, joy, and all things in between. These are the reasons I am dedicated to finding, and in many ways creating, me.