Equifinality, Old Loves and Going to Professional School

 

One of the things that bothers me most about myself is the fact that I’m multi-passionate. I’m often so overwhelmed with project ideas that they keep me up at night. There are so many subjects I want to learn about, so many stories I want to write, so many pursuits I’d like to try. Earlier today, it took all my strength to not get a book I saw on Critical Race Theory from the library. The stack of books next to my bed has already extended itself to occupy both the floor and my window sill.

When I was in high school, my partner at the time was single-minded. He wanted to go to medical school. All his extracurriculars, hobbies and volunteer work lined up with that goal. He started reading The Economist because a med school application coach told him it would help him. Today, he’s in med school. At the time, I was on student council, in the school choir, in the drama club, I worked as a lifeguard, volunteered for the Arthritis Society, took history and creative writing for my electives. None of my activities lined up. Years later, I’m in the same boat.

Sometimes I worry that being multi-passionate will prevent me from being successful. I worry that because I don’t have the tunnel vision that my old boyfriend had that I won’t achieve my dreams like he achieved his. At the end of the day though, I don’t want to be successful like him, I want to be successful like me.

I could never read The Economist because someone told me it would help me get into medical school. I could only read The Economist if I actually wanted to read The Economist. There’s a big difference between wanting to read something and wanting to have read something. I’m reminded of this every time I think it might be nice to read more “classic” literature. It always seems like a good idea, but when I’m actually curled up with Herman Melville and he’s spewing all this useless shit about whales — No, thank you.

I’ve recently realized that I’m not an “ends justifies means” person. I've also realized that I don’t have to be.

Equifinality is the principle that the same end state can be reached via different trajectories. This past year, I learned that even when it comes to professional school, equifinality is possible.

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. When I started studying for the LSAT, I thought I needed to be like my old boyfriend. I committed myself to study and only study; to abandon all my other goals and interests.

It went well at first. I started waking up around 5am so I could study before my day job started at 9am. I would come home pretty tired, would study a bit more then go to bed. After the initial romance of my commitment wore off, I found inspiration seeping through the cracks of my Spartan routine. When making dinner, I'd be inspired to write something and steal 20 minutes to type that idea up. Some mornings, I'd wake up full of energy and skip a lesson to go to the gym.


The cheating seemed harmless at first, a stolen kiss here and there. Before I knew it though, it was a full fledged multi-passionate affair. I took on film projects and wrote every week, I started marbling paper and selling handmade goods on Etsy and at craft fairs. I read books; many, many books that had nothing to do with logic. All the while working 40 hours a week at my day job.

It was sometime during this passion-project-binge that my dad asked me how my studying was going. It's true that I was stressed at the time (very stressed if I'm being honest) but when it came down to it I was in control of my studying. I understood the material and was doing great in my problem sets.

When I wrote the LSAT, I aced it. I didn't have to re-write and I got accepted into Law School a few weeks later.

It was important for me to write this piece because I was wrong. You don't need to be a machine to succeed. You don't need to sleep, breath and live for one goal. It could be that you want to. I'm just not about that life. This past year, I learned a lot about logic but I also learned I don't need to change who I am to get what I want.

I'm not saying that you have to achieve your goals my way or my old boyfriend's way. There’s no binary, no either/or. At the end of the day, the only right way is "your way."

Don’t be afraid that you’re doing it wrong, your only job is to do it.

 

What an Injury Taught Me About Gratitude

 
 
Andrea Seccafien is an Olympian and elite distance runner focusing on the 5000m and 10,000m. In the summer of 2015, she suffered a season ending injury early and could not compete for a spot on the Pan Am Games team and struggled to find positivity while sidelined all summer. This is her story:
 
 

I remember the moment I finally accepted I wasn't going to have a outdoor track season this year. I was up at altitude, it was the middle of April and I hadn't run since February. While this may have seemed obvious to most people around me, I had an absolute death grip on my goals of making the Pan Ams team, running personal bests and proving I’m still relevant.

It would be a grave understatement to say I let go of my goals easily and took this injury in stride. I spent a lot of time upset and frustrated that I didn’t even get to try to achieve my goals, that I didn’t line up to race a single time. It wasn’t until the Pan Ams team was named that I really let it go.

It’s now been 6 months since I’ve been able to train consistently and while I’ve missed running deeply, more challenging to me is how to be positive with this obvious, gaping hole in my life. My coaches, my physical therapists, my teammates would tell me “Stay positive.” And while I’m fully aware that positivity makes you happier, and healthier, this advice to stay positive didn’t resonate with me. Until it did.

But it wasn’t positivity, it was gratitude.

Gratitude is the opposite of depression and anxiety. It’s the conscious experience of appreciating the gifts in our lives.

At the beginning of every day, I answer: I am grateful for… and What would make today great?

When you start the day on the right note, things automatically start to fall in place. It pulls my focus away from the obvious struggle; this  injury, and brings it to something positive; the people in my life, americanos, outdoor pools with lane swim. And as simple, or cliche as this may sound, it honestly makes me feel better.

andamericano

And whenever I get down throughout the day because it’s beautiful out and I can’t run, I think about the second question “What would make today great?” and I focus on doing those goals instead of what I cannot do.

Gratitude puts situations into perspective. While I previously had four very healthy years with steady improvements, no one rises to the top without stumbling at least once. And while this year was far from ideal, there are plenty of things I can focus on right now to help me come back stronger and more fired up in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Andrea is currently living and training in Toronto, Ontario. She is a Canadian University (CIS) national champion, a Canadian national champion and represented Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics. This post originally appeared on her site: www.andreaseccafien.com 

 

Lessons on Success from a Recovering Perfectionist

 

The summer I turned 19, I started going to therapy. I had just completed my first year of university. I moved out of my dorm and back home where I was welcomed by a series of panic attacks. 

The first attack hit me the hardest. I remember not even feeling sad or upset before it happened. It seemed to just came out of nowhere. My vision blurred, I couldn’t think and I began crying, gasping for breath, my chest on fire. I remember falling to the floor, and crawling into my closet for shelter. From the floor, I called my best friend. I don’t remember what I said, but she showed up within minutes and we drove around and sat in her car in a Tim Hortons parking lot until I felt better. 

Aside from the attacks, it got to the point that I was either so upset or so emotionally numb, that I couldn’t eat. It was then that I made an appointment to see my family doctor. 

After some tests, my doctor diagnosed me with “moderate anxiety” and “mild depression.” She thought I would benefit from medication, but I was already on so many different drugs for my arthritis she wanted to start me out with therapy. So I got a prescription to visit a psychologist. 

During one of my first sessions, my therapist said something about me being “a perfectionist” but I brushed it off. There was no way I could be a perfectionist. I was nowhere close to being as good as a perfectionist would be. A perfectionist would know how to properly style her hair, would be meticulous about her weight and would have gotten all A’s at school (I had gotten a B that semester — in psychology, ironically). I told my therapist I was “too lazy” to be called “Type A.” That’s when she laughed. “The funny thing though, Faith,” she said, “Is that you’re even a perfectionist about being a perfectionist.” 

In the last year, what’s become increasingly apparent to me is that my perfectionism is more of a hindrance than it is a help. After I first acknowledged that I indeed was a perfectionist (which took some time), I told myself it was a good thing because it motivated me to be better. But that statement in itself illuminates the real danger of having a perfectionist belief system. 

When you’re a perfectionist, you believe that there is something inherently wrong or missing from who you are as a person. You believe that you (and life) will only be okay, when you become better. 

I was constantly making lists of things I needed to do to be better. I needed to lose “x” amount of weight, read “x” amount of books, get another publication, finish another project — that’s when I’d be good enough.

And since I tied my worth to my productivity and accomplishments, I was meticulous about managing my free time. Each day, when I got home from work, I’d write articles, read "important" books, workout, take classes, volunteer, etc. I was obsessive about being productive and using my time effectively. 

What I’ve come to realize though is that productivity does not equal effectiveness. My definition of success, i.e. completing everything on my perfectionist bucket list, was a lose-lose situation. When I did accomplish something on the list, something else was added — the list was never-ending so in turn I was never good enough. 

The other losing aspect of my definition, was that striving towards it was wearing me down. My perfectionism was all consuming. I was no longer doing things because I wanted to, I was doing them because I felt I had to. I wasn’t living my life for me. I was a human-doing, not a human-being.

There is a big difference between having a busy life and a full life. Human doings equate productivity with effectiveness, but Alfred A. Montapert said it best when he said, “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” 

Christine Hassler outlines that a full life is “being fulfilled from the inside out.” When I was a perfectionist, I was basing my worth off my external accomplishments. Our worth, however, is not based on anything outside of ourselves. We are inherently worthy. 

By acknowledging our own worth, we lessen the hold perfectionism has on us. We give ourselves the opportunity to base our actions off the desires of our heart instead of our feelings of “less than.”

To live with more intention, it’s important to ask yourself if what you're doing and how you’re living is serving you. To start living with more intention right now, start by taking a breath. Slowing down is the best defence against "autopilot living." Being present is a scary place for perfectionists because they often want to have completed tomorrow, yesterday. Perfectionists are so focused on how much better they want to be, they miss how great they already are. Don’t miss how great you already are. To feel good, see good. Focus on the positive. 

So take a moment, slow down, and bask in the awesome that is you. I promise it will feel better than crossing something else off your to-do list. 

 

A New Tool to Increase Happiness: Visual Cues

 

If we didn’t believe that surrounding ourselves with beauty made us feel better we wouldn’t have interior design. 

Every year, students decorate the bland, off-white walls of their dorm rooms with posters. Often it’s posters of their favourite movies, cities and celebrities. Unlike the walls of an apartment you rent or own, the walls of a dorm room can’t be altered. You can’t paint or make holes in them, your options are limited. That’s what makes posters such a good alternative. 

Although a poster can’t completely cover the unpalatable colour and texture of dorm walls, a poster still gives your eye a distraction. It creates a focal point. 

When you consider that most posters we buy are of things we like or love, posters not only add aesthetic value to environments, they add sentimental and emotional value. As a result, you can think of a poster as a “visual cue” that reminds us of things we like and make us feel good. In this way, a visual cue can counteract the general malaise one might feel from a bland or sterile environment. 

Visual cues can be used as a remedy for malaise in a variety of settings. In my personal life, because I live with chronic illness, most of my workspaces are covered in bottles of pills and other home care items such as therapy bands, heating pads and ergonomical supports. I also wear an ugly splint on my left trigger finger that always clashes with my outfits. 

There’s no way to really hide the clinical nature of these objects and because of my condition I can’t get rid of them. As a result, I’ve started using visual cues to counteract the malaise I get from staring at these objects day in and day out. 

For example, when I wear my splint, I wear different rings next to it. I’ve also started using a pretty pillbox for my daily meds. Although you may not be able to change the environment you live in you can add visual cues to that environment. The aesthetic and emotional value of these visual cues will provide you with comfort in an otherwise unsettling environment.

Here are some examples of how I used visual cues to ameliorate my experience of my health paraphernalia. 

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Author's Note: I included this essay in the "Live with Intention" section of Lamp in Hand because you may not be able to pick where you spend your time, but you can intentionally change how that environment makes you feel.

 

 

What it Means to Live with Intention

 

Living with intention is what I like to think of as the practical application of critical thinking in our everyday lives. 

Critical thinking is what we use to process the world that surrounds us and the information we encounter in the world. We use critical thinking everyday. We use it for problem solving and in research, whether we’re learning about something scientific or simply choosing between two recipes for dinner.

Living with intention is when we add critical thinking to the decisions we make about how we want to live our lives. Living with intention is all about living on purpose instead of accidentally. My very wise Aunt has a saying that many people “sleep walk” through life. Similarly, there is the adage, “everyone dies, but not everybody lives.” By adding intention to your life, you will add meaning to your experience of this world. 

Although we may think and believe specific things whole heartedly, our actions do not always reflect those convictions. Analyzing our day to day lives using critical thinking holds us accountable to our personal beliefs and priorities. That is where living with intention comes into play. 

Sometimes we "Sleep Walk" through life. 

Sometimes we "Sleep Walk" through life. 

 

A Reflection Activity to Accompany this Essay

Not sure how to start living with intention? Here are some tips and questions to ask yourself. 

 
  1. Determine your priorities 
  2. See if your behaviour lines up with your priorities
  3. Make appropriate changes if your behaviour does not line up with your priorities

Need help determining your priorities? Start by asking yourself what’s most important to you. What activities bring you joy? Joy reveals to us our passion.

Living without intention is like traveling without direction.  

Living without intention is like traveling without direction.

 

Once you know what your priorities are, see if your behaviour lines up with those priorities. An easy way to track your behaviour is to do a “time audit.” For one day, write down everything you do and how long it takes. You don’t need to have scientific accuracy - just make some quick jot notes on your phone or keep a scrap piece of paper in your pocket.

If your behaviour does not line up with your values, make some changes. A good rule to follow for living with intention is to do something everyday for each one of your priorities. If your priorities are your family and your health, you would want to make sure you do at least one activity for both.