the narrator

image by Erica Campbell of @BeAHeartDesign

narrator A

7:32 am: I wake up in the morning, and “wake up” here is a glossing over of the actual facts of the experience: I am groggy, it is a Monday, and my eyes seem a little swollen shut. I turn off my thrice-snoozed alarm and finally heed its fourth warning.

8:02 am: My feet pad out into the cold air of my apartment, away from my messy, unmade bed. I perform the humdrum routine of getting ready, and feel slightly rushed the whole time. Also, my hair looks bad.

8:55 am: I head out the door, and plug in my headphones. I barely acknowledge the greeting I get on the elevator. I step out into the cold and dreary January and wonder why weather like this even needs to exist.

9:45 am: Throughout my school day, I work intermittently on shoving more and more facts into my head, a regular practice in getting ready for the overwhelmingly stressful Step 1 Exam coming in May. I beat myself up for not being further ahead, not being more focused, not being naturally as gifted in science as it seems others are. I get things done, and when the end of my study day rolls around, I lament and lambast myself for what I did not finish, mostly accrediting it to my own laziness.

6:20 pm: On my walk home and in my own head, I am now not only anxious about what I didn’t get done, but also about the couple walking ahead of me, who remind me of my single status. I am filled with nostalgia and pessimism about dating and what’s possible for the future. Then, I am mad at myself for being worried about this topic AGAIN.

6:45 pm: I come home, and am vaguely annoyed by the clutter in my roommate and I’s apartment, and distinctly annoyed by the mess I have left for myself in my own room. I feel overwhelmed, and tired, and warm up some lackluster meal I made two days ago.

10:45 pm: After scrolling for an hour on instagram and other sites on which I can compare my life to the shiny lives of others who have made better choices than I have, I change into some old, soft clothes, get some processed dessert from a box, and collapse into bed. Another day done. Before I slip into sleep, a thought flits through my mind:

“Today was a bad day.”

narrator B

6:15 am: I wake up to my second alarm, and groggily turn over in a warm and cozy bed, cocooned in pillows and blankets from Target that I picked out because they were floral and happen to remind me of the embroidered rose I have from my grandmother. My eyes fight off opening and the light I enforce on them, but I tiptoe out to the kitchen and turn on the coffee maker I had prepared the night before. I gently wash my face and depuff my eyes, appreciating the soft feeling of this slow start to my day.

6:30 am: I pour a generous amount of milk into my coffee, and settle back into my bed to read a book on theology or poetry with a candle flickering nearby. It is perhaps my favorite part of the day.

8:40 am: I remember that today, Monday, is the day my favorite podcast issues a new episode. I plug in my earphones after I greet the security guard at the front desk, whose name I REALLY need to ask for next time (but is it too late at this point?). I step outside, and though my hands freeze and my nose drips, I appreciate the rare snowfall that has covered St. Louis, the place I wanted to move to for medical school two years ago.

9:00 am: I arrive at school and talk to a few of my classmates. I rush upstairs to make sure I don’t lose the bet going with two of my friends about who arrives at school on time (the loss of which requires the late one to buy pastries for the other two). Even though our friendship is mostly based in sarcasm and I would thus NEVER say this directly to either of them, both of them always make my day a little happier.

11:40 am: At this point, I have learned what is possible to get done in a day, and I leave some wiggle room for a brain that cannot possibly focus for ten hours straight (because most brains can’t)! Sometimes it is a little tedious, sometimes I don’t care AT ALL for the facts I’m learning, but I do remember how overjoyed I was when I (at an AppleBee’s, no less), found out I had gotten off the waitlist at this dream school. I thought it impossible (and still do find it sort of impossible) that that could ever happen. I also remember the excitement and joy I have felt every time I’ve shadowed a psychiatrist, listening to how they moved with and connect to their patients. I return my thoughts to the lecture I’m watching at 2x speed, and am even a little grateful for the high speed and high pitch of the lecturer’s voice.

12:30 pm: I laugh a little too loudly at what a friend whispers too loudly in the library, as I eat the lunch I packed with foods that make me feel good and taste good (and are mostly cheap!).

4:45 pm: I head out of school, having checked off everything but one thing from my to-do list. It is okay—I’m proud of what I did accomplish today, and make a note to move the task to the next day. I try to focus on the importance of small steps to a big goal.

5:15 pm: I arrive at the undergrad campus gym, getting ready and hoping the coffee I chugged will give me the right amount of energy and enthusiasm to teach the workout/dance class I planned and created during the summer. It is a small, once-a-week thing, but it is a place of creativity for me—a place I am both proud of and grateful for.

7:15 pm: I walk through the front door, and am glad to see my roommate is home. The smell of something chocolate wafts through the air, and I am again reminded of how nice it is to live with one of your best friends (who also happens to be better at doing the dishes than you).

8:15 pm: I scroll through social media for a bit, but know that the limits I’ve set on my phone are for the best because I like to compare myself a little too much. I see a picture of one of my engaged friends, and I feel like freaking out because, um, WHAT IF I DIE ALONE?! There is a small, new voice that speaks here, though: This is a desire for connection, and this is a difficult uncertainty that many people in their twenties are going through right now. Uncertainty isn’t necessarily bad, but it can feel really hard, especially when you torture yourself with a litany of why it will always be hard and uncertain. It’s just as, if not more, likely the future will be wildly good as much as it will be wildly bad. Now use that desire for connection to FaceTime one of your best friends (and you can maybe freak out to them a little too—it usually makes them laugh).

9:30 pm: Thank you, morning me, for making this bed. I pull up the recent fiction book I am reading and settle in with the chocolate dessert my roomie made. After a while, my eyes get heavy and I can feel myself falling asleep. Before I do, a thought flits through my mind:

“Today was full of good things.”

DIY: 10 thoughts to grow a better human

Even though January is almost over, resolutions are still a thing.

Really? Yes, really.

And, more generally, I think we are all constantly trying to grow.

Two things to note first:
A. Wanting to grow doesn’t mean how you are now isn’t good. This is a paradox, yes, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

B. Growing isn’t something we do only by ourselves or only for ourselves. In some ways, we are the ones who put in effort and grow ourselves. But in bigger ways, our communities, loved ones, and what we believe in (i.e. God, our faith) are our gardeners. On the other point—we don’t grow just for ourselves. We learn how to become the best gift we can so we can ultimately give ourselves away.

With those two things noted, here are the ten things I’ve been taught. Writing these reminds me that they are important—note the word reminds, because I definitely don’t follow these perfectly either.

1. Work with what works.
Don’t set goals that you do not actually give one single fck about. i.e. for a while I wanted to be in the habit of eating salad everyday, but I hate salad. There is an objectively good thing there—eat healthier. However, there are often many ways to overall big goals—don’t choose the path you hate the most. I.e. if you want more time to read, a lot of people would suggest waking up earlier. Try it. But if you hate waking up in the dark, may I suggest going outside the box and trying night reading? You don’t have to always choose the most challenging route if it’s not a long term solution.

2. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. And don’t let good be the enemy of done.
Whenever I have a goal, I like to do this really annoying thing of making it all of my goals and dreams at once or, alternatively, nothing. This means I like to think when I wake up on the first day of the year, or on my birthday, or on an arbitrary Tuesday, I will change twelve things about my life. This, shockingly, does not work.
When we have a big goal, we are inspired by it and want to go whole hog on it from the word go. But we are bad at it, and inevitably fail, and then end up quitting the whole thing because we made the options be perfect or fail.
Set yourself up for success. If your goal is to move more, don’t make a marathon in two months your goal—make it walking for ten minutes a day. Eventually, that will be habit, and then you can take your next literal and figurative haha step towards the big dream that inspires you.

3. Find someone who’s good at it.
Finding a mentor is important for logistical reasons, but it also boosts morale. Someone has actually done the thing you think is impossible! There are a million ways to still tell yourself that you in the particular couldn’t do it, but no longer can you tell yourself that it is outright impossible. Mentors are also great for reminding you that they too probably felt uncertain and incapable at times (and probably still do occasionally).

4. Don’t punish yourself.
Please don’t decide that tomorrow you’re going to crack the whip on yourself. Think instead of how your favorite teacher treated you. If you’re anything like me, you probably liked teachers who were both kind and believed in you enough to challenge you beyond where you were at. However, their criticism of you and demands on you were constructive and reasonable. This good teacher built you up so you could be better and know more. They left you feeling overall stronger, not weaker, than you were before. While you may have been humbled, you were not hurt. In the same way, your aspirations should give you hope, not give you anxiety. Remember the learning process is a process, and to not freak out at yourself everytime you’re not an expert by day three on the path.

5. Find a place to sit somewhere between empathy and encouragement for yourself.
This one is actually maybe the hardest for me personally. It’s really easy to flip-flop between being ruthless with yourself and just kind of giving up on your aspiration. Good news though: this type of thinking is actually a logical fallacy that we humans enjoy as a thinking shortcut. The fallacy is either-or thinking: instead of seeing possible actions and outcomes on a spectrum, we see option A OR B, with no in between. As a little reflection would teach us, this black and white thinking is usually not the full reality in front of us.
When we are trying to do something new or different, we have to be like good parents to ourselves. If you were potty training a two year old and they failed a couple times, you wouldn’t be like, “Well, I guess this whole bodily fluid control thing isn’t gonna work out. That’s life.” NO. You would keep trying and do different tactics and work with them until they figured it out. You would encourage them. You would read them Everyone Poops. You wouldn’t just chalk it up as an L and take it.
On the other hand, you wouldn’t scream at a two year old for not understanding how the porcelain throne works. You would not shame them or call them an idiot or tell them, “Well you’re never gonna figure this out so you might as well not try, Judy.”
This example, while weird, also makes sense. However, we talk like this to ourselves all the time when we try to learn new things that don’t come naturally to us because we have never lived them out before. The meaning of this point is that we have to find somewhere that allows failure without telling us failure is all we’re ever going to be able to do in this pursuit. It’s a really hard idea to hold because it’s fully of uncertainty and we humans hate that. Yet, we have to try.

6. Make a plan.
Figure out tiny steps. Write one tiny step a month that you do a few times a week. Get good at that step. Next month, move to the next step.
Don’t make it an impossible plan. Do no make your to do item something akin to “Never gossip ever again in my life” or “Eat only kale for the foreseeable ever and into the afterlife.” You’re not giving yourself a chance.
The big goals are sexy, and the small goals like “at least floss once a MONTH, maggie” are not exactly something you want to share. Remember that these little goals are part of the big one. That, in itself, makes them exciting.

7. Keep track.
Find a piece of paper, a phone app, or the blank back of your hand to keep track of you doing the things you planned for correctly. Keeping track helps you see where you go wrong, and when, how, and why you went wrong. You are, in some ways, your own scientific experiment. Don’t get mad at the experiment for going a way you don’t want—just take note, tweak the variables, and try again.

8. Celebrate small victories.
When you do notice you are doing well and following through, please, please, please take a moment to see that. It can be really easy to lose sight of the fact that doing the small, good thing is in itself an accomplishment on the way to a big goal. Be nice to yourself and recognize that even making a little change is a big deal.

This point actually ties to the name of this blog—tiny little lights. When you think of a string of fairy lights or christmas lights, they make the whole place grow. They are made, though, by individual lights brought together. Changes are like that. One tiny light won’t light the whole room—but many things brought together will.
Also, don’t be an asshole to yourself by making a “small victory” something that is actually huge. A small victory is the flossing once or working for an hour one day on something you’ve been meaning to. A small victory is not “I have permanently erased all my flaws and am a beacon of humanity.” Perfectionism, I see you.

9. Accept that you’re going to fail, it will piss you off, and it will make you better.
You. Are. Going. To. Be. Bad. At. It. Accept this a little bit, and move on. Otherwise, everytime you fail you will be derailed and eventually have to start all over again.
One bad day does not make a failure.

10. Follow the cliché: we overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can do in a year.
This is sort of a culmination of all the points, but it needs to be stated by itself. We create impossible hoops for ourselves when we put ourselves in a pressurized tank of shoulds and musts and either-or scenarios. We often want x by two weeks from now or to become Y within a month. We try to make drastic changes when in reality we would do better and more by seeking little victories day by day. We would do better to be gentle.
This point relates to believing in yourself and the aspirations you’re aiming towards. In the words of Elle Woods, “You must always have faith in people, but, most importantly, you must always have faith…in yourself.” When we try to put ourselves on a strict diet or limited improvement plan, we are implicitly setting ourselves off for a drop off after that time period ends. Believing in yourself means trusting that you’re not going to suddenly not care about your dreams anymore or that doing something slowly means you’ll never complete it. You have the resilience and grit to become many of things you want to be in some fashion—you just have to believe that.

photo by @adamjk