Hard Truths #2: You Do Not Have To Do Everything

Hello everyone and happy Inauguration day! I meant to post this earlier, but the new semester is kicking in quick. Now that the New Year is finally here, people are trying to follow through with the resolutions that they have created for themselves the year before. Some of them are physical such as losing a couple of pounds, finding a new hobby, saving more money etc. Mine however, have been more mental and spiritual. I thought about all the experiences I have gained and the things I have learned not just within this past year, but the years prior. Something that stuck out to me is how I continuously feel that I need to check in nonexistent boxes in my head to make sure that I am ahead, without really taking into consideration of how negatively it is affecting my ability to thrive. It’s a coping strategy called John Henryism, in which those who are exposed to stresses such as being an underrepresented minority, expend high levels of effort for success which results in physiological costs (Wikipedia). I never realized I had it until I took a minute to reflect on my way of thinking and everything I have gone through to get to where I am today.

To start off, I am the daughter of two Guinean immigrants and the oldest of five children, so I thought I had to be the example of a “perfect” child. I maintained the best grades possible starting from elementary school until, well, now, and I managed to stay out of trouble. The problem started to arise when I was in high school, towards the end of my senior year. That time, I knew I wanted to get into a great institution and later on get into medical school. I already had my eight year plan and I would do anything until it reached perfection. That is when I started joining organizations, becoming a leader of this project and that project, putting my all into it, until I morphed into a workaholic. I would go out of my way making sure Spaghetti Dinners were planned, staying after school to make sure the Homecoming I was not even going to attend was set up properly, and advertising meetings to friends. I was even volunteering weekends at a local hospital and teaching for some days during weekend school. I just remember feeling so stressed but it all felt worth because I got into the college of my choice.

However, my John Henryism got worse. I was majoring in biochemistry, one of the most difficult majors the university had to offer, working as a phlebotomist, running from organization meeting to meeting each and every day, becoming a teacher’s assistant and picking up research, to name a few. By the time I got to my junior year, I was burnt out. I remember just not wanting to go see people anymore because I just felt such a huge burden on my chest. I even lost some positions because they thought I was not bringing my best work in. During a huge biochemistry final, I had a whole panic attack because I thought I was going to fail, not get into medical school and that the world would crumble. Now looking back, it was pretty dramatic, but at the time, I felt like I was drowning. I had so many obligations, people who looked up to me, and things that I wanted to complete that I had to take a step back and analyze what was going on. I needed to change.

“I needed to change”

When my senior year rolled around, I made sure to tell myself to only be involved with three things that I was passionate about. That was it. I would become president of a student org, do research that I enjoyed and work with teachers and advisors on some projects. But even that took a toll on me. The most difficult challenge was in fact, being president, because I was in charge and if anything went wrong, I would ultimately be at fault. I kept on trying to please my eboard and organization members, hoping that they would think good of me and the work I put forth. However, because of that, I felt myself forsaking my school work, even medical school related things. I was battling with the worst anxiety and stress because even though I was doing less, I was still doing more than I could handle. To be completely honest, the silver lining came when COVID hit, because had that not been the case, I would have been stuck preparing for an end of the year event that was spiraling out of control and causing a huger rift between me and another eboard member.

Looking back, I wonder why I put myself through all of that. I did not have to be involved in four research projects, be in a dozen organizations, work with teachers etc. I did not have to. Some people may say I had to do that to get into medical school but I know people who did less and still got in. I truly wish I made myself and my mental health a priority because honestly, it really was not worth it. Granted, I had to go through these things to grow as a person, but I am using the lessons I learned from being extremely burnt out in undergrad to becoming a better student in medical school.

“I truly wish I made myself and my mental health a priority because honestly it really was not worth it”

So, I decided to make a pledge to myself. If I am not passionate about anything or if do not have the time to do it, then I do not have to involve myself with it. My mental health is important. I am realizing that taking breaks is not a sign of weakness but it allows me to refresh and recharge for my next tasks. I am also aware that if something gets in the way of me not being the best student I could possibly be, then I will not do it. So what if it seems like there are people out there who seem to have their lives together while doing multiple things? So what if people think I should do this or that position? So what? The only thing that should matter is my contentment on where I am in life. Because at the end of the day, I do not have to do everything.

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