Lemon juice

18 April 2016
18 Apr 2016
West Lafayette, IN
7 mins

In our day-to-day lives, there are the everyday struggles, the everyday problems that we face as we make our way through the twenty-four hour cycle and through the work week. Maybe you’re out of your favorite coffee, maybe you’re late commuting, or maybe your internet got cut for two whole days*.

And then there are the struggles that shape the everyday. The struggles and the problems that are so substantial that they make us go back and question ourselves and what exactly we find to matter in our lives. These problems are the ones that matter in the end – the ones that ultimately help shape who we become in the future.

This is a story of the second kind.

You see, over the last several months, since around October, I’ve been stuck in a dilemma of priorities and direction. Except for the handful of posts I hastily managed to publish in December and early January, I hadn’t written a post in a really, really long time, and that really bothered me.

The absence of my regular posts weren’t entirely without reason. As I got more involved in more and more projects, both community and self-initiated, I found less and less time every day I could devote to sitting down for an hour or two, cranking out an idea into a post, proofreading it once or twice, and then publishing it online. It was, at least, in my mind, too much effort and too much time I could invest in other, more urgent things, from coding projects to troubleshooting more high-priority issues in my life.

To add to that, I’m currently right in the middle of what could end up the busiest and most stressful time in my (admittedly short, so far) life for the next few years. Everyone says the high school junior year is the busiest year until college, and I really hope that’s true, to be honest. I’m stuck in it, and I’ve been for the last several months, and I don’t know if the lack of spare time I’ve experienced since August is because of school or because of the sheer volume of work I put on myself, but man, it’s been exhausting. I’m the kind of person who likes to do a lot, and to try to find time for everything that I want to do in between schoolwork and other obligations that pop up has been seemingly impossible this year.

But wait! There’s a reason behind my spewing of run-ons about my lack of time, and it’s not just to get you to feel sorry for me.

Although I’m still in the middle of my junior year (and entering the testing season – GAH!), and I’m still mostly swamped with obligations every minute I’m awake (yes, when you get less than four hours of sleep a night pretty often, sleep is also an obligation, not a luxury), I’ve learned to let some things go, to prioritize, and to figure out for myself who I want to be and what I want to do the next few years, because, as I realized, I can’t do everything.

If you’ve been following along, you might have seen that posting on the blog regularly wasn’t the first thing to go when I got pushed for time this year. In fact, it was one of the very last things to go from my regular schedule. Posting regularly, once or twice a week, to this website is, yes, a chance to share my ideas, but it’s also.a chance for me to sit down with my thoughts, think them through, and have a therapeutic experience of picking through my own mindset. And to let that go because of lack of time between school and othe necessary work was a huge bummer, and honestly, it was my symbolic failure to keep doing everything that I loved to do.

So to recover, I had to prioritize. I’d already thrown out things like TV watching and playing video games a long time ago, so I had to go through and pick out the parts of my life that didn’t mean as much to me, and minimize the time I spent working on them. This is the self-discovery bit of the problem.

Having a severe lack of time to do everything really forces you to figure out the things you most like to spend time doing. It’s terrible, but it’s also a really effective way for you to figure out what exactly you value the most, and what you want to be doing years down the line. And for me, it came down to exactly two things: spending time with friends and family, and spending time creating things I want to create, and working on projects I find have value to me. And a key to both: to focus entirely and fully on one thing at a time, rather than try to mix both into some amalgam of chaotic multitasking mess.

It might be of interest (or might not, if you know me well) that school or work isn’t in that equation. And that’s because I think those are preparatory to the things I really value. For now, with the experiences I’ve had, the things I learn at school and the experiences I have there are valueable not really because I learn so much from it academically or because I value the stamps of approval that comes from standardized testing rooms, but because school is a good place to make friends and to find people you want to work with in your life. And your mileage may differ – this is just my thoughts.

Throughout the last few months, since November, I dramatically cut time I spent on the things that didn’t fall into the two categories, and I was generous on how much time I genuinely spent doing the things I found mattered to me. I was frugal with each minute I spent doing homework, but I didn’t mind spending hours with my friends or days working on a programming problem or building a website for a cause I believed in, because those minutes and hours that I put into the things I cared about were what made the rest of the time worth it.

And slowly but surely, I’ve recovered. I’ve came back to a more productive version of myself without sacrificing my time with friends, and I’ve found things I’d like to work on to carry me through the rest of my life.

My formative experience here might not have been as grand as a trip to Kenyan hospitals or an experience working at a refugee camp, and it might not have been as difficult as going through a family conflict or financial troubles, but in its own right, the pressures and stressors I’ve experienced forced me to reconsider my values and find my priorities for the next few years, and gave me a sense of where I want to see myself in the next five years.

Life might go around handing you lemons, but that doesn’t mean you have to take them. And personally, I just like to pick out the ones that taste just right, and squeeze out the juice until I have something sweeter than you thought lemons could possibly be.

My personal takeaway from the nearly six-month blogging hiatus is, simply, this: take some time to find exactly what matters most to you in your life; what things in life makes the rest of the messy reality worth it. Make that list as short as possible, but as rich as possible. Than take it to your heart, carry it with you everywhere, and live it.

* Not to complain about such a tiny problem, but I’m writing this on hour thirty-two of a household internet outage, and it sort of stinks. I have errands to finish and places to go, people.

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