Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Happy Birthday: Advice I would give my 21 year old self

I turned 41 recently, which prompted me to think about how much has changed in 20 years. What would I say to that 21 year old woman, the one working away at her chemical engineering degree, falling in love with her boyfriend, trying new things like rock climbing after growing up a music nerd? Here's what I would say:

Stuff is not the answer. Even though graduation is a year away, you're already looking for that perfect engineering job, the one that will spawn envy amongst your classmates. The one with the big starting salary and cushy benefits. It will be tempting to rent that spacious apartment and use all your extra money to buy cute work outfits. But be conservative. You don't have to prove anything to anyone. It would be a better use of your work and life energy to maximize your savings and deferred income and live a little simpler. Because those nice clothes and that nice pad don't define you, and they don't matter. Success is better measured by how much freedom you have to do things you like outside of work, to pursue other interests, or to possibly change careers someday (don't think that won't happen!).

Trust your instincts. Everyone encourages you to keep on this current path, but something is nagging at you. Listen carefully. Take that trip. Consider that career change even though you're barely starting this one. Very little in this life is irreversible, and you're young and healthy, so what's to lose? [Side note: I did do these things, which eventually put me on the path to medicine, but there was a lot of second-guessing along the way.] Speaking of instinct, it will come in handy someday when you just don't feel right but aren't sure what is wrong with you. It's going to be something serious, so you best not ignore it for too long. [Side note: I did ignore it for too long, but it all worked out ok :).]

You ARE strong. You see yourself as a clutsy, uncoordinated human being who has subsisted so far on book smarts. Yes, you're intelligence will get you far in life. But you will complete much harder tasks than next month's thermodynamics test. You can't imagine it now (you say it will never happen), but you will climb a 5.12 someday. Then you'll get cancer and you'll have brain surgery and you'll survive it and you'll recover. Then you'll climb a 5.12 again. You think you're weak and squeamish, but someday you'll be sticking tubes and needles into people for a living, and eventually you'll have to stick needles into yourself on a regular basis as well. Even though you can't stand it when someone disapproves of what you're doing, you'll sometimes go against what people in authority tell you to do, and you'll sometimes forgo the advice of well-meaning loved-ones. Own your choices.
"Always in the human experience, we find that some of the most difficult things that we've ever gone through -- the biggest tests or challenges that we're ever given as human beings -- actually are doorways to a new level of growth and new possibilities." - Rainn Wilson
Live in the present. You like to have a one-year plan, a five-year plan, and a ten-year plan. Hell, you get upset if your Friday night doesn't go according to plan! Life rarely aligns perfectly with expectations. Stop living in the future and forming your ideas based on the past. Embrace the growth mindset and be flexible.

Look inward. You, as many people do, tend to look to outward cues for appreciation, approval, and accomplishment. But everything you seek is already within you. You are loved, and you are love.

What would you say to your younger self? Try this on your next birthday (or any day for that matter) and see what comes out of it!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Seeing Love

(Image courtesy
I used to think of love in the typical ways that we all do: the love between a parent and child, romantic love between two individuals, love as admiration and dedication to a certain practice or cause. But I'm seeing it differently now, just as a thing that IS. Everywhere.

For the month of January, I participated in a journaling experience led by my yoga teacher, Denise Druce. She called it Miracles in Action, designed to help set your intentions for the year 2015. On one day, we were instructed to recognize love in even the mundane things. This was a non workday for me, so it wasn't as easy as noticing the love between patients, family members, caregivers, etc. as people are whisked to and from the operating room. Instead, I saw love in our kitchen as we dilligently prepared nutritious food for the day. I saw it in a neighbor's yard, where neatly piled leaves sat waiting for removal in hopes to improve the landscape for the spring. There was love in the small consignment store where I shopped, as the clerk proudly and carefully displayed the items "given up for adoption" (as opposed to being discarded) by consigners in hopes that another person would come along and love them again. I saw love for myself as I stared into the mirror that night, performing my ritual of cleaning and preparing my body for sleep.

One of the other journaling participants shared her "loves" on the Facebook page: "I am measuring my year 2015 in LOVE! In sunsets, in sunrises, in yoga practices, full moons, and friendships... Sharing my love for nature, my family, and our global connection to each other." This is the kind of love I'm talking about. With Valentine's Day coming, people feel compelled to demonstrate love, most often the romantic type, and most often through material means. But I'd argue that the important thing to remember on Valentine's Day and every day is that true love is innately within all of us. We are alive, so we are love. And if we do not show ourselves love, we cannot truly give it to others in any form. Fellow blogger Sara T MD discussed the consequences of not loving yourself here.

The late Dr. Sherwin Nuland wrote the popular medical prose How We Die and The Wisdom of the Body, so he was kind of an expert on existential questions and things that matter in life. In an interview with On Being's Krista Tippet, Nuland said:
"Everybody needs to be understood. And out of that comes every form of love. If someone truly feels that you understand them, an awful lot of neurotic behavior just disappears — disappears on your part, disappears on their part. So if you’re talking about what motivates this world to continue existing as a community, you’ve got to talk about love…."
Where are you seeing love? Happy Love Day!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Slow Mornings...


The operating room is definitely a morning place. Cases start at 7:30 am, which means that preparations can take place up to an hour beforehand. Luckily I tend to be a morning person, so I still get up fairly early whether it is a workday or not. And those non-work, slow mornings are truly a treat for me. This is my slow morning routine:

I wake up without an alarm some time between 6 and 7 am (if I'm going to work, I use an alarm to get up around 5:40 am). I saunter upstairs and take my morning medications/supplements with a large glass of iced tea with lots of lemon. Then I push the "large coffee" button on my fully automatic espresso machine (best money spent EVER, huge return on investment 7 years ago). The loud grinding of coffee beans is a welcomed sound, as it is followed by the perfect aroma of Guatemalan coffee beans being pressed and steamed with water to form my espresso. I never tire of that smell! Instead of rushing back downstairs with my coffee to get ready for work, I turn on lots of lights, including my 10,000 Lux lamp (a must-have in the winter). I may turn on NPR or a podcast and then settle into a perch in front of the lamp (usually on the top of the counter) to enjoy my coffee. Slowly, sip by sip.

Sometimes my husband and I do cooking projects, such as preparing something in the slow cooker for the night or peeling and baking potatoes to have after our afternoon workout. I might do a brief, self-guided yoga practice. If the weather is nice, we go out for a walk or a hike from our home. Then I make brunch. Instead of wolfing down something while driving to work, I have the opportunity to actually prepare food... What shall I make? I contemplate the options with glee. If I still want something quick, it's a smoothie with lots of yummy ingredients. If I want to spend more time, I choose a special recipe of pancakes, waffles, or eggs with sauteed greens.

I consider these mornings as personal treats. The term "treat" is usually associated with something edible, sweet, and decadent, but it can really mean anything that contributes to your own self-care. Taking time to appreciate my slow morning routine helps me more happily and efficiently get through my more harried days. Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin wrote this article on why we need treats in our life to foster the formation of good habits. And in Happy Money, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton discuss treats as one of their five key principles for spending money while maximizing happiness.

What about you? How do you spend your mornings on a weekend or a day off? Do you have other cherished "treats"? Share your thoughts here!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Making 2015 Resolutions? Frame Them Around Known Components of Happiness

(Photo credit: Jim Lowman

"In between goals is a thing called life, that has to be lived and enjoyed." - Sid Caesar

At the start of a new year, most of us contemplate some type of resolutions, whether they be fitness or diet-related, improvements at work, or changing of certain habits. However, effective goal setting can be an elusive task. There can't be too many, too few, they shouldn't be too broad nor to detailed, measurable goals are easier to meet, the timecourse needs to be appropriate, etc. Check out this article from Gretchen Rubin on tips for making effective resolutions. Others poo-poo resolutions, opting instead for setting a mindset, a theme, or a word to remember as a theme for your actions. But how do all these methods for self-improvement translate to increased happiness?

Last (Really? Really!) December, I saw an interesting program on HBO called State of Play, which profiled several ex-NFL players in the quest for a meaningful life after football. One of the psychologist/experts interviewed on the show mentioned three essential components for happiness that have been proven in the literature:
  • Connecting with Others
  • Opportunities for Personal Growth
  • Contributing to a Community
These just made sense to me. This year, I feel motivated to frame my 2015 goals around them. Why not maximize happiness while trying to make difficult changes to our lives? I'm certain that the achievement of goals is at the very least perceivably easier when they fit within the components of happiness.

My first and foremost goal (carried over from 2014) is to become a mom, which fits into all three of these components. I would no doubt grow personally from becoming a parent, and I would connect with a new human being and existing family members, plus eventually other communities that I normally would not have encountered. Another resolution is to continue my regular blogging with a goal to write two posts per month. This goal also applies to all three areas above. I hope that as readers you would agree that through my writing I am connecting to you and contributing to a community of people who want to prioritize self-care and stress management in their lives. And ultimately, I do write my posts in the interest of personal growth; they are my own public journal for discussing current thoughts, fears, and dreams.

I also have a resolution to continue minimizing the things I have in my closet. As a confessed shopaholic, I want to simplify my wardrobe further and may even try using this capsule wardrobe technique I recently read about. This will help me find more time for other things in my life, such as connecting to family and friends or pursuing other activities such as reading and writing more. Lastly, I will mention one goal that is more for personal achievement than anything else: I would like to do a real chin-up this year! People are amazed when they hear how long I've been rock climbing despite being able to do a chin-up or pull-up. I've already been working on exercises for about a month to get my back and core stronger, but with a little more weight on me this past year (being tall doesn't help the situation either), the chin-up has proven to be a difficult task! If I can do it now, I'll be no doubt be able to do it when I'm really back into climbing!