Thursday, October 11, 2012

Maximize Happiness by Recognizing your Childhood Limitations

(One of my favorite pictures of balance and play, taken from a catalog)

Prioritizing is a big part of time and stress management for busy professionals, but it requires self-awareness and a hard look at your deeply held principles. Through my own self-discovery and reflection over the past few years, I've noticed a pattern... I am the most happy when, amongst other important tasks, I prioritize activities that belie old paradigms I had about myself from a young age. Here's what I'm getting at:

During my adolescent years, I developed a belief that I was uncoordinated and not at all cut out to do sports. As early as kindergarten, I remember being told I was already "too big" to dance and was forced to stand in the back of the pack of children for the group dance performance of The Good Ship Lollipop. While other, smaller girls got to play the part of the cute lollipops and candy confections, I had to wear an unglamorous prop costume in the background.

In the fourth grade, my family moved to a larger city with a big infrastructure of little league soccer clubs. I attended one tryout because my new friend was in the group, but I left in tears after being (inadvertently) kicked in the shins. On the first day of PE class in any given school year, I would be chosen first when opposing teams were picked. From day two on, I would be picked last. I earned the nickname "Grace" for the many falls and bruises I acquired during my frequent growth spurts to over 6 feet tall by age 14.

The memory of these events formed into a paradigm, which dovetailed nicely with my natural strengths in academics and music. Once I got to high school, I was approached by the coach of every girls' sport at the school. When I scoffed that I was completely unathletic, they all insisted they would work with me if I would just try. I briefly entertained the thought of joining the volleyball team, but after seeing the hard work that the girls put into just one of their typical practices, I was thoroughly intimidated.

All these beliefs were challenged when I met my future husband and he took me rock climbing. I begrudgingly agreed to the date, wondering what this tall, athletic guy would ever see in dorky me anyways. Halfway up my first route, I thought there was no way I could ever get to the top. But I did! We joined the climbing gym together to train and learn climbing technique, and one day I made it to the top of the overhanging (inverted) "hard wall". I never thought I'd do that either. When we graduated from college, we embarked on our first climbing road trip instead of immediately seeking employment. This was frowned upon by certain people, including our parents and our guidance counselors, because that's "just not what responsible, college-educated people do". But we did it anyway out of the love of climbing and exerting ourselves in the outdoors.

And if I hadn't embarked on that first cross-country road trip, growing and learning and "doing sports" with the love of my life, I probably would have never realized my desire to go to medical school. Because... oh yeah, I forgot to mention... I was holding onto another long-held belief about myself: despite wanting to combine science and service in my life's work, I was too squeamish and uncoordinated to be a doctor! I used to faint at the sight of blood as my mother did before me, and now I place IV's (and worse) on a daily basis.

What's YOUR inner driver? Some childhood paradigm might already be driving your priorities, and you weren't even aware. How do you find it? Try journaling, create a vision board, or just spend some time in mindful solitude. Pull out the things you love to do from your black bag. Maybe you were told you would never "be smart" because you had a learning disability. Or maybe you grew up in poverty and knew nothing different than surviving hand-to-mouth daily. Did the other kids in algebra class laugh at your feeble attempts to solve equations on the chalkboard? Were you told by someone that you were too fat (or too thin, or too short, or too tall) to do something? I have shaped my life choices and priorities around silently refuting these negative belief patterns I had about myself, and I would challenge others to do the same, knowing how much happiness and inner peace it has brought me.



6 comments:

  1. This post of yours couldn't have come at a better time. Thank you for this post. I'm a second year med student and struggling to find balance. I'd always been the "smart kid", but then I started med school and never felt more dumb. Over the course of first year, I convinced myself that I am not smart and that everyone else was much smarter. I do mediocre in class now and I feel like a part of me has given up trying. I've been really struggling internally and very overwhelmed. I stress out so much about not performing well in courses that I become counter productive when I set time to study. It's become a vicious cycle. My cardio final is coming up on Monday and I feel a surge of hope and motivation. Anyway, it was just very nice reading this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. Thanks, Susie, for your comment! I totally felt the same way when I started med school. Check back at my old posts where I talk about this, and I also mentioned it in my most recent post about jealousy vs. inspiration here (http://www.practicebalance.com/2012/10/how-to-find-inspiration-instead-of.html).

      I'm glad my story could motivate your studies... good luck on the exam!

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  2. Yes I could not relate more to this post of yours. It is funny how so many memories from childhood still follow me to this day. As you mention, there are some positive and some negative occurrences that have left quite a mark and still play a role in shaping who I am becoming.
    It's great to have found your blog recently (I have actually read all your posts!), I find it so easy to relate to going through very parallel aspects. 8 years at university and I'm still constantly striving to strike a balance and achieve sangfroid.

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    1. Thank you for your comment and your readership... and your resurrection of the million-dollar word, "sangfroid"... perfect! I've gotta use that one in a post!

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  3. Journaling became my habit when my friend from college admissions counseling advised me to try new things to keep my stress away. It worked that's why every time I'm stressed I turn into writing.

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