Comparison – February, 2019

“Don’t half ass two things. Whole ass one thing.” Ron Swanson is the proud owner of this quote and I’ve tried to live it fully for the past few years. Giving my all – mindful, slow, purposeful energy to just one thing. (Many of my favorite life lessons have been unearthed from from parks and rec.) But now being on rotations, attempting to somewhat keep up blogging, wondering what my next step is, and maintaining general life / relationships, I feel like I’m quarter assing 4 different things. Running around with my frontal cortex lobotomized – always rushed, always messy, just chaotic.

So when I am trying to complete a task, or I’m experiencing something, I’m usually not doing so with 100% dedicated mindfulness. I’m experiencing only a quarter of it, not taking time to fully appreciate it. Just a little blip.

And I’ve had to accept that that is the nature of my life right now. Usually I’m plugging along and things are okay – things are certainly much better during the clinical year, as the sole measurement of success is no longer a numerical grade after an exam. But wearing a few different hats can be viewed in a few different ways. When I’m really confident in what I’m doing – when I’ve had a good day and I feel like my message is strong, or I contributed in a meaningful way to the course of a patient’s health – I feel so sure of myself without much hesitation or fear.

But when I start to question if I’m putting out useful content, if I’m being as thorough as I possibly can with patients, is when the comparison bug bites. And that bite can very easily turn systemic and necrotic. Mostly because if I start to feel as though I’m not where I should be academically, I try to study harder, only leading to frustration that I’m not retaining everything (reality check: the thought of absorbing ALL of medicine in 1.5 years is 1000% impossible). And when I take a break from studying after feeling frustrating, I turn to scroll through IG. So THEN I start comparing my inadequacies in that department.

It can be a vicious cycle, especially when the algorithm is changing and I focus solely on numbers as declarations of self-worth – both in the classroom and on social media. I don’t have as much time to create new content. If I’m going to take new photos it has to all be done on the weekends. And it has to be done in between studying, laundry, cleaning, and bill paying. And I’m just so exhausted from rotations that the creative juices that used to flow so readily – the ones that inspired notepads upon notepads of new puns and recipes ideas – seem to have completely dried up.

If my content feels tired, it’s because I am tired. If my captions seem lifeless, it’s because I’m laying in bed after a 12 hour day of rotations and then am faced with the task of studying for the remainder of the night.

While IG has largely changed my life for the better, I follow a lot of really, really cool people. Most of whose inspiration well seems to be limitless and who post things of the GO AFTER IT. LUKE WARM IS NO GOOD. BE COMPLETELY EMBLAZENED BY WHAT YOU DO” genre. But is this reality? I sit In my bed and read these things and can’t help but question if we have to be, or should be, 100%, 100% of the time. I think on a GREAT day I’m at a solid 80%. Because my path is windy and hasn’t completely revealed itself to me. The days are long. The hours are longer. And when you’re vulnerable to fatigue it sometimes feels really difficult to inspire yourself, let alone others.

Why isn’t anyone posting things like: it’s okay to be tepid. Go in unsure, maybe you’ll come out more sure, maybe you won’t. Stumble. Question yourself. Some days you’ll absolutely hate your “dream,” other days maybe it’s just okay. Maybe you just survived it, and that’s an accomplishment in and of itself. Maybe you totally 100% fail and feel bad about yourself. But then you recover. That’s the ride.

And sometimes I’m victim of just wanting to skip the ride. Wanting to just be done, rather than savoring all of the in betweens. And this even translates to my daily life habits. I’ll skip to the ends of episodes of shows, wanting to get to the end, the “good,” the “after,” rather than savoring the path to get there.

And maybe my “ride” is an issue for you! I completely recognize this too – perhaps portraying my life and day-to-day as a little more rosy than it actually is. The only way I can really sum this up is an experience I had in Boston a few months ago. I was out at bar in South Boston (groan…) with a few friends and ran into someone in the bathroom who asked “are you the LEMONS person?!” Giggling and with side eye, I replied “sort of?”  She (admittedly pretty drunkenly) said she almost unfollowed me because I was “too healthy.” I smirked and to my absolute delight, my very dear friend behind me started cackling and loudly interjected, “Oh trust me. She is not too healthy.“ She – knowing my affinity for red wine, chocolate, cheese, and a good pizza every now and then.

We all have this idea of everyone else. And we all start looking at everyone else’s path. And then we start feeling shitty about our own. And if I’m too busy paying attention to other people’s paths – as glamorous as they may seem – and wanting to borrow or steal a bit of theirs for my own – then I’m going to be absolutely no good at recognizing and paying attention when my own path presents an opportunity to change. When it whispers, but my ears are too directed at the conversation or the happenings of what others are doing. When I have the opportunity to do something entirely unique that is totally, unapologetically, 100% me.

That isn’t to say I agree with the phrase “stay in your own lane.” If I had done that, I would probably still be applying to jobs in human resources, as I felt that was really the only thing I could do when graduating from college in 2014 with a psychology degree. I had been willing and motivated to merge. So my mantra is try out different lanes, use a blinker and merge respectfully, until you’ve found a speed and style that speaks to you.

I’m trying my best to just navigate my own path. Because I was only given this one. But it’s only natural to dip to the “should” stream of consciousness sometimes.

Can I be doing more? SHOULD I be doing more?? Do I need more plants in my room? Should I get a new phone to improve the quality of my photos? Should I be drinking celery juice?! Should I be doing infrared sauna 3x a day?! Should I be pulling all nighters to study? Am I not studying enough? Is what I’m doing enough?

And then would come the inevitable, okay Katie ENOUGH from sheer exhaustion of my thoughts running me into the ground.

Now I’ve realized that if I’m not inspired or motivated, it is not useful to push myself.  To post a photo of avocado toast just to try to maintain eyes on my page. Or to continue studying despite feeling like I’m really not retaining anything. My identity is not solely PA school. And it is not soley blogger, either. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, a dancer, a cook, a goof, a pun-lover, a HUMAN.

It is exhausting to spend so much bandwidth comparing yourself to others. Or even comparing the current self  to the self we someday hope to be, but aren’t quite there yet. The you that you are right now to the you that you want to be. It’s debilitating. Incapacitating. Paralyzing. If you spend so much time wondering about what you should be doing rather than just doing it, you’ll never get anything done! You tap out of cognitive resources, and there’s nothing left to devote to things you ACTUALLY want to be doing. It’s not a limitless well. And when you’re so depleted of cognitive bandwidth, I think you’re so much more vulnerable to adopting the negative stream of consciousness that sometimes runs through all of our minds, and further contributes to digging us deeper and deeper into the hole of negativity.

I’ve realized that if I’m in a good head space, when the pesky critters of negativity crawl their way into my brain, I’m able to easily swat them away. Recognize them, and move on. But when I’m having a vulnerable week, if I’m not sleeping well, miss a deadline, if I do something (or forget to do something) that makes me feel like a big dummy on rotations (which again is not only inevitable but the sheer POINT of rotations – to mess up in a controlled environment and learn from it), that is when the negativity grasps its claws tightly and it’s hard to shudder off. So my number one suggestion is to try to understand what’s really bothering you. Getting to the root of the problem so you can then shrug off the comparisons.

But since we are all human, it’s entirely unrealistic to think that life will be anywhere close to good, or tepidly okay (notice did not use the word per**ct) at all times. And that we’re entirely rational and can easily tease apart and know what our root problem is, here are some tips for what I do when I feel the comparison claws about to take grasp.

  • Like Craig in Parks and Rec – create a list of things you love that make you unique and YOU and repeat them to yourself when you’re down. His are: watermelon martinis, exposed brick, keri russell’s hair. Pretty spot on.
  • Get together with your friends or classmates or coworkers and each write down nice things about each other. It can be totally anonymous! Pass around little scraps of blank paper in an envelope with your name on it. Then everyone writes a little blurb of something nice about you!! We did this as a PA class at the end of our didactic year and I revisit my envelope OFTEN. Sometimes it’s easier to accept when others say nice things about you rather than you having to say them to yourself.
  • If there’s a poem you like or a part of a book that inspires you big time, highlight it, flag it, take a photo of it, print it out, blow it up and revisit it when you’re feeling deflated or defeated.
  • Go watch something that reminds you we are all the same: “Relatable” – standup by Ellen Degeneres
  • Read “Am I There Yet” by Mari Andrews
  • If you receive something nice from someone, save it and scrapbook it. I have a cork board in my room and I tack it right to the board so it’s easily visible whenever I’m studying. The words of love and encouragement keep me going when I’m otherwise exhausted and just want to quit.
  • See a therapist!!! Talk about it! Saying the words out loud can sometimes stop the negative spiral right in its tracks
  • Write down your why – why is it you’re doing what you’re doing and make yourself read it / meditate on it every morning
  • Get away from what you’re comparing yourself to. If it’s something in the classroom, take a break from studying. If it’s social media, put the apps on the last page of your phone so that you’re less likely to see them so often. Or just delete them and take a social media hiatus. Go out with friends who aren’t in your program. Or make a pact with friends in the program that you’re not going to talk about exams or grades for a certain amount of time.
  • Remind yourself that your identity is MORE than the single thing that is consuming you. Recognize your hobbies and passions, rather than work or studies. And start putting a bit more time and energy into those things, rather than what’s causing you to compare. When I’m focusing too much on studying, I start performing poorly. And when I get wrapped up in the Instagram game, I start resenting it and it stops being fun. It’s all about that sweet spot. I am very rarely there, but at least I know it exists. And I’m trying now to recognize when I start leaning too much one way – to catch myself before I fall over.
  • Be okay with luke warm. Maybe it turns into something and heats up. Maybe it doesn’t. Oh well!
  • Take a deep breath and realize it’s okay to share the mess. Because it will be messy. Say yes to the mess, get enough sleep, eat vegetables, laugh, and play.

What about you guys? Any tips for the comparison trap? Would love to hear from you!!

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7 Responses

  1. I loved this blog post, thank you so much!!! It’s so hard to not compare where you are to where others are at, especially if they are at a point you’d like to be at!! Sometimes the hardest thing is to keep your eyes down and do your own “work”! Good luck with everything, you’ve got this!

  2. Katie,

    I am sitting here it’s tears running down my face. I don’t know if you remember me but I contacted you a long while back asking you about the HNFM program at UWS. I had some questions regarding the program and you were so kind to help me out. I ended up applying, getting in and am now halfway done with the program. I ended up having to defer for a semester as I found out I was pregnant with my second child (happened a lot quicker than our first!) Anyway, to say the least, starting this program with a new baby and a toddler was challenging. I get caught up in the comparison game on the daily. It’s a constant battle. I have always been so confident in my academic abilities, but this program has been another story. I could blame it all on the timing (obviously a sleep deprived mother of two is not going to be the top of the class), but if I’m being honest I know it is more than that. Some of the material does not necessarily come easy to me, and I have to try. Like, really try. Something I’m not used to. And sometimes I fail. Also something I’m not used to. As you may understand, one of the biggest challenges to this program for me is the isolation. How are others doing? Am I the only one who isn’t getting this? Am I the only one who did poorly on this assignment? And it’s such a mixed population of students. Some are already far into their practice, with a solid medical background making this program look like a piece of cake, while others like myself have a degree in communications and always cringed at the idea of math and science. Logically, I know it doesn’t make sense to compare my journey to theirs but in my low moments I do. And as you mentioned, I then pop onto Instagram to “distract” myself and end up scrolling through a feed of perfect health and fitness influencers who seem to have it all figured out which sends me down an ugly path of questioning whether I’m even healthy enough, fit enough, smart enough, motivated enough (the list goes on and on) to enter into this world of nutrition. It’s enough to make me want to just throw in the towel altogether. Anyway, today I received a poor grade on a forum post. My first ever (these are typically an easy A for me). It sent me into a spiral. If I can’t even do this, how am I ever going to be a nutritionist? Is anything actually sticking in my brain? How am I even going to help someone with what I am learning? It’s amazing how a little negative thought can blossom into a full fledged identity crisis. The other forum responses always sound so perfect. So clinical. So “sciencey” (yup, made up my own word, but I’m tired and over writing so…) This semester has been the toughest yet. With a lack of interest in subject matter (hello clinical epidemiology) paired with an insanely high workload, and I also blame the cold dreariness of winter a little bit, I’ve just been over it. Which of course makes me feel even worse. This is my dream. I should be happy to read medical journals all day long, right!? Anyway, I felt like a failure all day. I just happened to see your post on Instagram and I’m just so beyond grateful I took the time to read your blog post. It was exactly what I needed and has been more helpful than all the words of assurance my lovely husband gave me (and he’s a licensed therapist so that’s saying something!) Thank you for being vulnerable and real and putting into words the back and forth internal battle of the journey. I am going to bed with a more calm mind about my own unique path tonight because of you, knowing I’m not alone in my experience.

  3. I love following you, not because of your content (although, I do love that!) but because of who you are as a person and how vulnerable and real you are. Thanks for making the time and effort to write this post because it’s so relatable and something we all need to be reminded of sometimes!

  4. Hi Katie,
    I’m a first-year PA student and we have our Cardiology final tomorrow. Needless to say I’m feeling (more than) a bit defeated, and just want to say thanks for your thoughtful words. And Parks & Rec references – the best.
    In solidarity,
    Carly

  5. Hi Katie,

    This is so beautiful and inspiring! I am starting PA school in May in Ohio and want you to know that you were one of my main influences in beginning to create this path for myself. I left undergrad feeling discontent with my degree and in one summer collected myself to apply to PA school with much assistance from your blog. As my family was unfamiliar with the profession and I did not know any friends in the profession, I have continued to use your blog for words of wisdom to pursue my goal career. Thank you so much for sharing your path and for the positive insight to encourage me to embrace my own journey!

    1. I can’t even begin to explain how much this means to me! I’m so happy I could help at all in this journey of yours. This comment most certainly helped me and is seriously pushing me through a tough bout of studying. thank you thank you thank you! and best of luck starting in May. You will do amazing and please let me know if I can help in any way!

  6. Yes to all of this!
    I recently deleted all of my social media accounts and it has made a huge difference in my anxiety level. I used to feel like I was constantly missing out on something. But what was a missing?? Pictures of cats and food. The bloggers that I followed and actually gained value from (yours included) I still check periodically, but not every day as a means of distraction from what I really need to be doing.

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