I came across this post from Holly about her best adult decisions, and it really struck a chord with me. I love contemplative posts like these, and I like reading other people’s responses as much as I enjoy writing my own. So without further ado, here we go: five great decisions from my adult life.
* Pursuing and completing my PhD.
Completing my doctorate was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the reason for that is probably not what you think it is. While PhD-level work is challenging, the hardest thing about graduate school is the rampant mental illness, the anxiety and depression that just about everyone seems to experience. While I still struggle with those feelings, I am so proud of myself for clawing my way out of their death grip—the experience really taught me a lot about my own capacity for hope and change.
I am really glad I pursued an advanced degree in science because it prepared me to be a thoughtful and skeptical consumer of knowledge. I know firsthand the difficulties in designing good experiments and asking good questions. I know that data can manipulated to deceive, so we shouldn’t be too trusting of any authority, including science. I also love that science can blow your mind. It keeps me open to new possibilities, and how great is that?
* Dating Matt.
Yes, we are no longer dating, but I have no regrets about our relationship. Matt is still the nicest man I’ve ever met, and I’m grateful for all that he taught me and brought into my life. I still consider him an important person in my life, and I am happy to be at peace with this new stage in our friendship, the post-dating stage.
* Sticking with vegetarianism.
I became a vegetarian at age 19, just a few months shy of 20, and I’ve kept it up for ten years. I feel great about my diet—happy and healthy and so glad that I genuinely love vegetables. I sometimes wonder if I’m a freak. I mean, who gets excited because the blueberries and the kale are looking delectable at the supermarket? I do. (I bet some of you do too!) I don’t miss meat at all, and I’m happy to eat a mostly plant-based diet. For me, it is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. I don’t preach that vegetarianism is the right choice for everyone, but it is the right choice for me.
* Tracking my spending and keeping a budget.
What a boring thing to list here! Sure, you might call it boring, but it’s also very empowering. Money is power, people, and knowing how you spend your money is a big step toward being in control of your life.
I started keeping track of my spending when I started graduate school. Grad students are notoriously impecunious, so I wanted to make every penny count. Keeping a spending log showed me that most of my money goes toward rent and food. My apartment was my refuge during grad school, and food is my hobby. Dating Matt was an expensive proposition, between the plane tickets and our expensive tastes, but it was something for which I could budget, and I was happy to spend money in ways that made us both happy. To be honest, I sometimes feel guilty that he bankrolled our relationship more than I did, but then again, he has always made way more money than I do. So I let it go because he hates when I count beans, even if the pile ends up in his favor.
* Making balance a priority.
If there is one word that is overused in American culture, it is balance. Balance! What does it mean? To me, it means living your life in such a way that the everyday feels sustainable, productive, and satisfying. It means finding ways to pursue your goals while maintaining your health. I learned in high school and college that I really need 8 hours of sleep a night and daily exercise. I need time alone and time with friends. In graduate school, I learned that I’m really a 9-5er, which is frowned upon in science, but I maintain that if one is well-rested, you can get a lot done in 8 hours a day. I try to make every day count by focusing on the high-priority items in my to-do list, and I fit the rest in around the margins. I also think that being organized can go a long way, so if I don’t get something done today, I know it needs to be done tomorrow—I don’t waste time wondering if it should be done. I know it must be done.
Or not. I will always have more that I could be doing, and sometimes low-priority things don’t get done. I’m okay with that. I’m a bit selfish here because I care about getting my high-priority items done, not someone else’s. To be fair, I can be persuaded to prioritize other people’s stuff, but I maintain that we all can and should be able to say no. If you can’t say no to something, then how can you ever really say yes?
*** And a bonus! Becoming a long-distance runner.
I ran my first half-marathon in 2007 in Chicago. Since then, I’ve run three more half-marathons in Texas, so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve got a habit. Before my first half, the longest run I’d ever completed was ten miles, so 13.1 seemed daunting but not impossible. What I love about distance running is how it teaches you to transcend your own limits—you really have to believe, in your mind, that your body is capable of doing this thing that it’s never done. That’s a powerful thing—believing in something you’ve never experienced. It builds your self-confidence and demonstrates that life really can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. When life is kicking the crap out of you, as 2012 has been doing to me, it’s good to be reminded that progress can be simple. One step, one task, one day at a time. You will survive. You will thrive, eventually.
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Care to play along with this meme? Feel free to post your five best decisions and share the link in the comments—I’d love to hear your thoughts.