Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On balance

I'm often asked some variation of the following questions: how was your experience at Boston Latin? What did you get out of it? Should I send my child there? My answer always begins the same: BLS was awful, but I'm definitely glad I went there.

I'm still recognizing the effects BLS had on me. There are positive ones, like being inspired to become a teacher, an appreciation for community service, and the straight As I've gotten for years. But there are also some serious negative ones. I always assumed that being able to cope with handling school, jobs, extracurriculars, internships, whatever, meant I had also grown the coveted ability to balance. 

In reality, however, I just feel wildly incompetent when I'm not so overworked that I need an extra dirty chai to function even on mornings when I've had 8 hours of sleep (for the record, that's a chai latte with two shots of espresso in it; it burns my mouth, and probably my stomach lining, too). It's kind of embarrassing that it took me so long to realize that this is not exactly a healthy approach to life. I've been told it many times, but I always assumed others just didn't get understand that I function on staying overly busy (my mom is probably rolling her eyes and/or yelling "duh" at her iPad screen as she reads this).

Pushing myself has had benefits. Without it, I probably wouldn't have been able to maintain my grades, graduate early, or have such a comprehensive resume for a 21-year-old. But it has also resulted in my taking an entirely all-or-nothing approach to every aspect of life. The ultimate, dictatorial objective pushed by BLS was Doing Enough, Both in School and Out, to Get into a Good College. I (openly) felt intensely jealous of people who weren't asked to work so hard to meet that goal. I was jealous of my boyfriend, who would hang out with friends constantly and skip class and still get As. I was jealous of my best friend, not because she worked less (on the contrary, she worked incredibly hard), but because her efforts were officially acknowledged by her high school when she graduated as salutatorian.

The accomplishment I felt upon graduation was tainted with the knowledge that it didn't come from having met the paramount Get into a Good College goal, but from having survived the notorious dropout rate all incoming 7th-graders are threatened with on the first day of school. I guess my sense of disappointment rationalized the indignity I shared with my classmates at the height of the expectations to which we were held. I assumed the sense of fulfillment would come when I put my six years of unnecessarily arduous schooling to use by conquering college.

So I did that. I kicked college's butt, and it was infinitely more enjoyable than my time at BLS. But still, nearly four years after my last graduation, I again feel my huge sense of accomplishment tainted with dissatisfaction. It doesn't come from any kind of lack of recognition. I found the acknowledgement I craved at BLS in my college classes and workplaces. I'm surrounded by a fantastic support system, filled with kind and empathetic people. Despite everything I said about high school here, I really have let go of what used to be impenetrable bitterness for BLS - after all, my answer to that first question is that it was awful, but I'm definitely glad I went there. So maybe the disappointment is just the creeping sense of insecurity that most people report happens during definitive life moments, like when they buy a house or accept a job. Or maybe it's just the average quarter-life crisis of a millennial who knows how utterly f'd up the future is for our and every forthcoming generation. But I think it's the knowledge that I have to completely rework the way in which I function, because it's just not cutting it anymore.

Although it's how I have succeeded thus far, I know how utterly warped my idea of balance is. Balance is not teetering between days when you forget meals because you've been furiously typing for multiple hours and "rest" days that end in vomiting from anxiety at the thought of working again. Working hard doesn't have to be an all-consuming lifestyle that leaves you either unable to function or feeling inadequate in (what should be coveted) free time.

In other words, despite years of academic excellence, I'm only now learning how to do my homework. That is, how to work hard and do things well, while neither losing my head completely nor feeling incompetent for not being utterly demolished by my own goals. This is all probably painfully obvious to you (unless you went to Latin with me, maybe).

I know I'll always be somebody who likes to be busy. I like full days, complete with extensive to-do lists and hour-by-hour breakdowns in a planner. But I hope that as I enter a new part of life, particularly one in which I affect children, I'll learn to balance just as they do.
"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything."