This job affords me troves of time. On one hand, I have ample time to think, read, exercise, travel, spend time with friends, and plan for the future. This is a blessing. On the flipside, excess time can lead to self-introspection and critique.
I am ambivalent about the value of psychological self-discovery. It is a wonderful opportunity to acquire insights into one’s behavior. Identifying problems present opportunities for positive change. It also allows us to construct coherent narratives in tough times to improve resilience.
However, one can easily get lost in rabbit holes of thought. Without consistent feedback from others, we cannot check our assumptions. We can easily slip down a slope of irrational beliefs into a destructive abyss (like giving up on attainable goals or walking away from promising relationships). In other words, how can we be sure that our introspective insights are accurate?
One introspection method I love involves writing letters to my future self. I believe they help me articulate my present-day concerns with more detachment and elicit optimism by suggesting that my current troubles will one day prove insignificant. Here is an example:
Dear Future Me,
I was wondering the other day how you deal with motivation? Are you as concerned about self-improvement as I am now?
I have ridden the self-improvement bandwagon for almost three years now. I have made great strides in how I think, how I manage my emotions, how I produce work, and how I think about my life in a grand scheme. I give myself countless opportunities to be productive.
What I don’t give myself is a break. I am so hard on myself. Every success is normal and unworthy of praise. I worked hard, stumbled upon a bit of luck, and had a success. I see it as par for the course. It’s not a cause to celebrate. I wish I was better at sitting back and appreciating my successes. How do you deal with that today?
On the other side, I unfailingly denigrate myself for failures.
Just the other day, I met teachers for dinner. It wasn’t a school function, but rather a friendly gathering. Do you remember your days teaching English in Korea? Feel free to put this letter down for a brief moment of reminiscence.
At first, I was hesitant to go. I had my eyes set on getting a second workout, eating some homemade nutrition, and going to bed early. However, I told myself that being social with teachers has amazing benefits for both my job and my well-being. I self-capitulated.
Soon, another decision reared its head. Should I drink? I anticipated drinking a little bit and therefore assented. But many bottles of soju later, we were quite drunk and in search of a singing room. There we continued to drink more. I munched on snacks, beer, and soju.
While I had a ton of fun in the moment, alcohol is the ultimate antithesis of delayed gratification. The next morning I struggled to get out of bed, skipped my workout, didn’t study Korean, and trudged to school a hungover mess. I sat at my desk most of the day watching Youtube videos. It was so unproductive it made me feel even sicker.
What decisions produced this completely unproductive day? On one hand, the decision to meet up with my teachers put me in the position to drink to excess. Then again, no one put a gun to my head and a shot of soju to my lips. I made poor choices and paid the price. I cannot believe I allowed my drinking to compromise my hard-fought morning routine. I’m ashamed.
This is the problem. I rarely (if ever) celebrate the fact that I fought hard for a solid morning routine in the first place. However, after only one slip-up following three months of adherence, I feel like a failure. Why can’t I give myself a break?
I think part of it has to do with feeling the pressure of a hypercompetitive world. I feel like I need to propel myself forward every single day or else I will fall behind and end up in a dead end job hating my life. I will unleash this frustration on my future wife and children, ultimately generating a cycle of self-critical misery. My drinking will inevitably get worse and I will trudge toward an untimely grave, condemning my self-improvement efforts as futile.
How did you feel reading that? Did you cringe at my whiny angst or is so true that it hurts? I sincerely hope it is the former. I sincerely hope that your obsession with productivity doesn’t beget your demise. Perfection is the enemy. Progress is your greatest ally.
I hope you learn to live life slowly, appreciating one moment at a time. I hope you use your productivity for the express purpose of freeing up space to relax and appreciate moments with people you care about.
Who cares if you weren’t 100% productive today? No one is. Just try to win small battles at a time. When you lose, dust yourself off, make adjustments, and keep walking.
Even if you take occasional steps back, just make sure the steps forward outnumber them. If you can do that, you will always be moving forward. That would be worth celebrating. Don’t celebrate perfection. Relish in “good enough.” You are enough regardless of what you did today. You are enough regardless of what anyone tells you. I know you know all of this. The real question is, do you live it?
How good and pleasant it was to bask in the warmth of the Buddha by the sea.
I love this staircase of books. Gamcheon was full of surprises.
The coats cover my distended and overstuffed belly (more on that next week).
The label kills me. “Movie cameraman.” It’s like an English lesson in statue form.
This massive market was fun to explore. I got some TWICE posters out of it, too.
“Look, Ma! I made my first Korean friend!”