The day I turned in my thesis I told my dad I could finally relax. He told me he thought it would be good for me to take a few days off. I looked at him and said “I can take two months off if I want”. He looked at me and said, “You could take one or two days off, maybe a week, maybeeee ten days, but no more”.
At first, I was confused by this. I totally thought I could do nothing for a long, long time. I think that was just a leftover sentiment from feeling lazy all the time when I was growing up. But I can tell you right now that I only made it a half a day without working on anything.
I’ll be honest, I’m not the hugest fan of school. I love learning and exploring ideas but school never really did it for me. As I found myself looking forward to graduation and getting increasingly excited, I realized that I thought I wanted to be free of the stress and pressure that comes with school. When quarantine began, I decided to take the opportunity to switch all of my classes to pass/fail. I thought that this would alleviate pressure, but I was doing exactly the same if not more work for all of my classes than I was before. Even for the classes I was already guaranteed to get a passing grade in. So what gives?
I realized that I thrive under pressure. As much as I don’t think I do, I love uncertainty and tight deadlines and… pressure. In fact, I realized that I rarely feel a lot of pressure from external sources, whether that be school or work or anything else, because I put so much pressure on myself anyways. On some level, I always knew that I put a lot of pressure on myself, but what I was missing was that I actually enjoy it. I emphasize this distinction because before my focus was always on relieving pressure. I would try to stop putting so much pressure on myself and “learn how to relax”, believing that pressure was bad.
Once I started taking my classes pass/fail and putting in hours on the assignments I found interesting and challenging, I realized that I was missing something. After thinking about my experience struggling through some very challenging [verilog] assignments, I realized I was having a lot of fun. In fact, when I finished an assignment I would feel a little sad that I wouldn’t be able to work on it any more. This has been a really new development for me because I never thought I could like working, let alone like working on hard problems that made me frustrated and where I often got stuck, over and over and over again.
So after this realization, it wasn’t that surprising to me that I woke up the day after I turned in my thesis raring to go, feeling a strong urge to start working and lots of pressure to be productive. And I liked it. I felt like a kid who found a secret stash of chocolate and ate it all. It’s like I was doing something naughty but was secretly proud of myself. The reason I bring this up is because I think in the personal development industry we have a lot of preconceptions about what is “good” and what is “bad”. As a person notoriously bad at navigating the gray area, I get it - it’s so nice to label and divide and “logic” everything into nice little neat categories. Until it doesn’t work and things don’t fit. Because at the end of the day, life is messy. So just because pressure leads to anxiety or stress or unhappiness for some people doesn’t necessarily mean it does for you.
I initially felt so much guilt around pressuring myself. I was mad that I couldn’t just “be ok with how things are today”. But for me, putting pressure on myself to work hard and be productive doesn’t come out of some dissatisfaction with the now. It’s just fun. I like it. And that’s ok. I don’t need to deny my workaholic tendencies just because someone else says it’s wrong.
If you know me, you know that I love the word “leverage”. I love the idea of using anything and everything you have to your advantage. Because why not? So, if I like pressure and I like working, why shouldn’t I accept this and use this to my advantage? On top of this, now when I feel a lot of pressure during the day, I don’t feel stressed. I usually end up smiling or laughing at myself. Especially now in quarantine because it’s probably the only time where I’ll actually have zero obligations, and yet I’m working on so many projects and putting so much pressure on myself… for fun. Ha! Even writing that makes me laugh. The key here is that reframing a situation or an emotion or even a reaction can be enough to completely change its effect on your life.
Now that I know I thrive under pressure, I’ve stopped pressuring myself to stop putting pressure on myself (lol). And with that I’ve gained back so much energy to use however I like. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that in denying certain parts of our personalities, we are actually using up energy that could be better placed elsewhere, and shrouding aspects of who we really are. The more I journal and reflect, the more aware I am of myself. But what this has really brought me is energy. I feel like I have an infinite supply of energy right now, for which I am endlessly grateful. And I know that by continuing to do this type of internal work it will only get better.
So at the end of the day, I used to connote pressure with stress… now I just sneak a smile to myself and laugh. Because I know I’m doing this to myself. And I like it.