Success first, happiness second?

November 16, 2014 § 1 Comment

I’ve allowed this semester to consume me (and take my sanity hostage) and now I need to actively work to get it back. It’s not like I’ve gone crazy, or that you would even notice that I am where I am mentally, but inside my head, when I am at home studying, it’s a mess. This past week I have been pushing myself especially hard, which means studying until I physically can’t anymore (when everything hurts and I can’t see straight) and getting up earlier than I should. It never works. It just leads to hysterical burn-outs.

On Thursday I was a total zombie by noon and feeling the initial symptoms of Skjalg’s cold. So, I took the rest of the day off (my day was supposed to go until 21:00) and went home to not study. That night, I told Skjalg that I need more routine. We’ve slowly slipped away from going to bed at 22:00 and waking up at 6:00. I’ve gone completely off the radar on that one, Skjalg is a little more regimented. I also suggested that I study in the guest room, which has been more or less Skjalg’s man-cave since we moved here. He’s been spending more time studying out in the living room and since the space is not a familiar space to me, it might be a good spot for me to get quality studying done. Our apartment has also taken Murphy’s law to a new level – and it is impossible to relax in that kind of chaos.

While at school on Friday, Skjalg hit the reset button for us. The class for which I am a teaching assistant in anatomy (I am only joining for the histology practicals this semester) had their histology midterm. I arrived earlier and stayed about an hour later to help grade their exams. On the way home, Skjalg texted me to ask that I pick up some dinner for an impromptu date night. My brain played around with the panic switch as I thought about how exhausted I was and how it was not going to be a fun night (I’d envisioned us eating dinner while watching an episode of Parks and Recreation, then having to clean the apartment for however many hours until bed). Instead, I came home to a glittering clean apartment alit with candles and a glass of wine waiting for me. I actually teared up when I saw it and spent the rest of the night telling Skjalg how amazing he is and how much I needed that reset. (Yes, med school is so stressful that a clean apartment elicits tears of joy.)

Yesterday I spent the day studying at the Parliament library with my friends Hanna (who is actually a childhood friend of my friend Stian, from Oslo, and in 5th year), Suvi and Synnøve. Our second microbiology midterm is coming up soon and it is going to be a big one. While studying at a café a couple of weeks ago, Amir and I formed a microbio “support club” to help us get going. We have been doing 1-2 topics from the topic list every day and then text-test each other in the mornings. I’ve been spending so much time on those topics that all the other subjects have kind of been pushed to the side. So yesterday was all immuno! We had our midterm in immuno a couple of weeks ago (I think during week 8) and I might be eligible for the competition. It depends on how they set up the qualification. I got 31/40, so if they take the top 70/75% then I’m in! We have 6 exams this exam period and it would be so nice to get one out of the way ahead of time.

As for the title of this post, it’s meant to be a little reminder for me of how not to think. Skjalg and I have been trying to read non-school related books before bed (we were successful for the first week or two). We started by both reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It is amazing and enlightening… but also so, so heavy to read before bed. So, we’ve switched over to The Happiness Advantage after being inspired by this TEDtalk:

I was reading it last night before bed and it set me in the right mental place before ending the day. Why? Because even in the first couple of pages, it was exactly what I needed to remind myself of. The point was that success does not lead to happiness, but rather happiness to success. Here are some of the quotes that I highlighted:

But with each victory, our goalposts of success keep getting pushed further and further out, so that happiness gets pushed over the horizon.

 

‘The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.’ John Milton, Paradise Lost

 

They felt overwhelmed by ever small setback instead of energized by the possibilities in front of them.

Only five pages of that book was enough to ground me (that plus a clean apartment, amazing boyfriend and productive study day). It is so easy to get caught up in the stress of the moment, in the fear of failure and in general insecurity, that I forget how hard I’ve worked to get here. Where I am now is where I have wanted to be my entire life. It’s hard because I want challenge. And happiness needs to be part of the journey. I am happy and I still take time each day to appreciate my environment – the falling leaves, the barbecue and hot wine smell from the winter market, the gorgeous winter sunrises – but it takes work to remember. I receieved two comments on my last post, one from my wise Grandpa and one from Aswini, a doctor in India, and they both meant a lot to me to read. It is always inspiring to hear from people who are similar to you and who have traveled the path before you. Their experiences yield great insight and can help direct you towards the right path.

On that happy note, I’m off to make protein pancakes for my man 😉

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§ One Response to Success first, happiness second?

  • Charkie says:

    So relevant! I’m glad you took time to reflect on this. Your post reminded me of a commencement speech by George Saunders that I like to think about when life gets convoluted by the need to succeed. You can read it in its entirety here: http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/?_r=0
    but since you are a fellow quote-lover, here’s my favorite part 🙂

    When young, we’re anxious — understandably — to find out if we’ve got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you — in particular you, of this generation — may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can . . .

    And this is actually O.K. If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously — as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.

    Still, accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

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