I am a busy person, as many know. I juggle my organization, internships, academics, extra-curriculars, writing, and hobbies, but I am rarely bogged down by stress. Striving for success does not mean you are bound to a life of anxiety and stress. Instead, if you learn how to balance your life in a way that is suitable for you, you’ll crack the key to living a busy, yet stress-free life.
1. Define what success means to you
It’s easy to subscribe to society’s idea of success for your work or organization. Big name, big lights, everyone knowing who you are. You can certainly have this as your standard of success, but truly consider it before you do. Success to me is no longer a milestone or a number. It’s about individual experiences, individual lives I can change with the work I do. I don’t have to impact one million people to feel successful anymore.
Changing one person’s life changes the people around them. Then it changes a house, a community, a city, and then, possibly the world. If you visualize success as not a destination, but a journey, you’ll be less stressed about everything going exactly according to plan, because news-flash, that’s not how life works.
2. Negative Stress vs. Positive Stress
There are two distinct feelings we have when we have a lot on our plate. Feeling stressed vs. feeling busy. A good friend once told me that when you feel negatively stressed, you are overexerting yourself for something that is draining and unhealthy for you. When you feel positively stressed (aka that pressure and anticipation in your chest), you’re feeling passionate about that something.
Positive stress is healthy. It forces you to care about things, like getting out of a high-risk situation, studying for a test, or meeting a close deadline. There will never be a job where you only do what you love and nothing else. There will be parts that you don’t favor. For example, I love running The Young Writers Initiative, but that doesn’t mean I like tracking hours/paperwork! It’s part of the job though, and while I get stressed about that aspect of things, the passion I have for TYWI keeps me going so I can do the parts I love, even though they make me extremely busy. This is positive stress because it doesn’t linger.
Negative stress is detrimental to your health. It wears you out, causes burn out, and overall makes you less productive and happy. For example, I hate math with a passion. Studying for a test in Calculus stresses me out immesnly, but studing for a test in AP World History is nearly fun for me. Sure, I have a high level of anxiousness for both, but the stress I feel for Calculus is tear-inducing, while the positive stress I feel for WHAP motivates me.
Does your stress motivate you or send you into reckless panic? Reflect on that for each thing you do.
I love being busy because I’m busy with things I love. You could have a million things to do, but if you loved them deeply, then the adverse affects of a crunched system won’t be as bad as you think they’ll be. But if I’m doing something I despise, even if it’s all I have to do, I’ll be stressed.
3. Pick and Choose Your Rocks
My teacher used this analogy at the beginning of the year when he was advising us on how to reach success. He had us write down things we do and care about on slips of paper. A lot of us put the basic stuff: our friends, family, social life, academics, various activities, etc. We were supposed to envision these as rocks to fill a vase with, but this vase couldn’t fit the amount of “rocks” we had. Then, he told us to discard one of those slips of papers. Then again, and again, and again until we only had 3 slips of paper left.
Those three slips of paper are your biggest rocks, the things you focus on and dedicate yourself to. It’s a shocking experiement, especially for me because I care about so many things that only picking three, including my family and academics, was incredibly difficult. I was left with one of my biggest rocks: writing. Writing is a part of me that I’ll never surrender. Model UN and Dance were the other two that I hated to discard, but did.
He said that we have to focus on these three rocks to get success, and other’s wouldn’t fit in the vase. I don’t agree with this. Sure, there’s only room for three big rocks, but those rocks aren’t perfect. They’re jagged and oddly shaped, leaving gaps and crevices in the glass where smaller, yet important rocks can comfortably fit in.
For me, I have my three big rocks: family, academics, writing (including TYWI). I also have medium sized rocks, like my friends, dance, Model UN, and sleep. I also have small rocks: choir, clubs, and baking.
Don’t let people tell you that you can only have three rocks, but remember this.
You can’t be every tool in the toolbox. Sure, you can be a multi-sided tool that’s capable of all the tasks, but that doesn’t make you the best at it. It barely makes you decent. This is called being a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. I decided I wanted to be the sharpest I could be, so I focused on my spike, what made me unique, and what defined me as a person.
4. Life is Composed of Balance
Life is composed of balance. Eating, sleeping, moving, working, socializing and relaxing. You need all of these things in moderation to live a relatively stress-free life.
Take time to do yoga in the morning, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Carve out time in your schedule to talk to your friends. It’ll make you more productive in the long term. Eat healthy, but don’t be afraid to occasionally indulge. Take that well deserved break, focus on your work when you work, and allow yourself to make mistakes.
5. Allow Yourself To Make Mistakes
Don’t be afraid to take reasonable risks and jumps to the future. There are a million things you don’t know and won’t know until you’ve tried. Making mistakes gets you the knowledge hub and also sets flexible, temporary limits on you so that you can re-evaluate and learn.
Making mistakes is part of becoming a better leader, creative, or person. Don’t beat yourself up on simple mistakes that’ll, even the stupidest, unless if caused damage to someone, including you. Internalized mistakes that cost you something you cared about could be a warning side that opens your eyes so you don’t ruin another opportunity that could be bigger
That being said…
6. Learn From Other People’s Mistakes
Don’t make a mistake you could have avoided because you were being lazy. This will only stress you out more. Learn from other people’s mistakes so you can avoid those and make novice mistakes that others learn from. You have a lot of things to worry about, so don’t bother yourself with issues that could have been avoided with a simple Google search.
7. I’m Busy But I’m Happy
I run The Young Writers Initiative, hold three paid internships, run a South Asian Club at school, am deeply invested in Model UN and other activities, yet, I’m completely happy. In fact, I’m MORE happy when I’m spending my time doing these things. I personally thrive in high pressure situations. I’m busy because I like being busy, not because I’m trying to pad a college app or such. When you do things you don’t like just for the purpose of padding a resume or getting into college, you’re doing yourself a grand disservice.
I rarely face long burn-outs because I have a high tolerance to stress. I’ve always been this way. I think it’s partly genetic because I rarely face situations where I’m so stressed that I crumble. I do this because I talk. I talk a lot to people I love. I prioritize my health and friends and family as well as my work, and I am able to balance it all because I ask for help, live in moderation, and minimize time wasted.
There’s a saying: success, social life, and sleep, you can’t have them all. I think this is wrong. Of course, I’m no Bill Gates that has achieved grand things in life, but in my realm of existance, I consider myself successful. The benefit I bring to others in my life is a measure of success to me. Scaling, balancing, and prioritizing will be your best frients. Get a calendar, get a team, and ask for help. When you do these things, you’ll suprise yourself with the amount of energy you have.
8. Be An Anti-Procrastinator
What does that even mean? Well, it’s not enough not to procrastinate. Instead, you need to learn to be anti-procrasinating. You should hate the feeling of putting things off to the last minute so much that you push yourself, naturally, to do work.
I’ve always been like this. If I finish something early and there’s something else due later that doesn’t demand my attention, I get started on it anyway. It’s all about getting started. That’s the hardest part! When you get started on something, it’s often hard to stop, so convince yourself that that paper isn’t due next week, it’s due tomorrow. You’ll get a head start, might finish early, and have time to refine and make it your best work.
Why do things at a level less than what you’re capable of? Why not go above and beyond? Why not save yourself from the imminent stress of cramming an essay, a test, a project, or paperwork to the last minute and just get started?
This requires that you re-wire your brain. Train yourself not to procrastinate. Trust me, it’s a game changer.
9. Avoid Complaining
When you complain, even if it’s casually, you’re convincing your brain that this is something that you wish you didn’t have to do. Going back to the comment about being stressed about things you hate…well it applies here. Of course, we’ll all be stressed about things we love too, and that’s healthy stress. Unhealthy stress comes when you feel like you want to give up, when you’re burnt out, or when you’re unhappy…and complaining does that.
I get it! Complaining is supposed to be a stress reliever, but for me, it’s the opposite. It makes me obsess over things I don’t have to stress about. It gives me a negative mentality on my tasks and decreases productivity, which stresses me out more.
10. Recognize We All Get Stressed: Just Don’t Dwell In It
Our body signals our stress hormones in flight or fight situations. It’s a defense mechanism and it protects us/motivates us to take action! We all get negatively and postively stressed. My best tip is not to dwell in it.
Don’t dwell in the past. You can’t change it. Don’t stress over the future, it’ll negavitely impact the outcome because you’re not thinking with a clear mind. Long-term stress causes burn-out, low productivity, and adverse health affects.
It’s hard to condition yourself out of a stressful mindset, but it’s not impossible. Do yoga, meditation, working out, talking to friends, journaling, pursuing your passions, and other things that calm you down when you sense that you’re about to enter a stressful period in your life.
For example, there was one day where I had to conduct an orientation, organize pre-sales for a product, finish over 30 movies for my internship, and clean my room. It was very easy to start feeling stressed, but I stepped back from my desk, closed my eyes, and focused on the positives. I have this much time in the day and this many things to do. It was possible to finish them all if I was focused and calm.
So I calmed myself down and finished everything that day.
There’s no secret formula. It’s all about learning what works for you, and how you can use stress to motivate you, but also prevent it from ruining a beautiful, busy life.
I hope this helped!
Riya M. Cyriac