I’m having a really hard time balancing everything that’s expected of me with the things I want to do. I’m studying sciences at school, which is incredibly demanding, while holding down a job, taking driving lessons, tutoring, and trying to go to the gym regularly—so I have little to no time for stuff like hanging out with my boyfriend, visiting museums, shopping, going to cool cafés, or seeing bands I like. I’m at the point where I can’t do anything just for pleasure without feeling guilty. I feel like I’m being forced to choose between responsibility and sanity, and it’s exasperating. General life advice needed—send help! Best wishes and flying fishes —Becca, 17, London
Oh Becca, my Becca. I admire your ambition immensely. I know what it’s like to feel that you’re grinding 5,000 percent of the time, and to deeply enjoy those efforts and their amazing (or bound to be amazing) spoils, but to also feel this slight persistent (and sometimes actually enormous and spirit-detonating) sense of FUCK, MAN, I AM SITTING AT THIS DESK/BEHIND THIS STEERING WHEEL/ON THIS EXERCISE BIKE, AND POURQUOI??
Here’s quoi: You are hopefully doing these things because they make you feel good and whole, or at least because their results do. You know as well as I do that “being responsible” isn’t always a fun ’n’ fulfilling fantasyzone that’s perfectly in keeping with some hokey Pinterest platitude that tells you that “if you love what you do, you’ll never spend a day at work!!!” typed in Curlz MT over a picture of a beach, or some similarly oversimplified maxim amounting to “DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND BE HAPPY, FOREVER, WITHOUT FAIL.” Sometimes being responsible means showing up for a double shift, or perfecting a K-turn with nervous sweat beading on your forehead, or accomplishing whatever other humdrum, quotidian task is required for you to level up and/or provide for yourself as a functional, autonomous human. But that stuff should be the filler—the smallest slice on the pizza of your day, if you can finagle it.
A secret: Usually, by making yourself happy in a way that feels true and not fleeting, aka by doing something you feel you’re meant to in a long-term sense (as opposed to eating candy in the buff atop a pile of vapid magazines, which, though thoroughly incredible-sounding, is not what I’m talmbout at the moment—but I want you to do this at some point, too, once we’ve eased into things a little more here), you are, in fact, servicing the rest of life around you. If you are studying science because you fucking ADORE it and think you can pull off some rad work that will aid the weirdo planet we all live on, you need to be doing that. If you’re doing it because you feel like it makes you seem like you have your shit together in a tangible, “adult” way, it might be worth reconsidering what-all you’re getting up to in the lab, and why. Your operating in a fog of dutiful misery = not really beneficial to anybody, in the long run, least of all you.
So I would like you to look at your motivations for flexing as hard as you are right now, please. Are you tractor-beaming your energy at your studies because you believe in them as a source of goodness? Can you perhaps take on fewer hours at your job without sacrificing the scrilla you need to get by, or your boss’s opinion of you as a reliable employee? Is there a way to get exercise without strapping yourself to a stationary bike? Do you like tutoring, or would you really rather…not? I think really examining your priorities will help you feel less suffocated by them. What can consume a little less of your time without making you feel queasy? I know your first impulse is to say, “NOTHING! EVERYTHING IS ESSENTIAL!!!” But, my soaring sea bass, you have to make some choices here, because you wrote your letter for a reason, and you can’t go on like you have been. You are clearly not OK with how you’re expending your energies right now.
As a person who works 15-hour days, most days, regardless of whether I actually “have” to, I can tell you with colossal certainty that feeling anxious when one’s nose isn’t basically making out with the grindstone is absolutely real. But you have to actively agitate against those oh-fuck-why-am-I-not-at-my-desk impulses, because your work—and, more important, your mental health—suffers when you don’t make time for yourself, which I’m telling you because if you’re as obsessed with shredding all over your to-do list as I am, the immediate fear of doing poor work probably outweighs your fear of taking a few hours to enjoy your goddamn life without having a particular goal or fixed outcome in mind as you do it.
Make a list of what’s important to you. Map out your days by the hour if you have to, and set times that are nonnegotiably FOR BECCA ONLY, then stick to them. Because you deserve to french your boyfriend (instead of the grindstone), possibly while sitting in the café of a cool museum as a band plays, shopping bags dangling from your arms, at least once in a while. It’s so clear from your letter that you are far from an irresponsible or capricious person, so in those moments when you might be feeling guilty about trimming your schedule a bit in one arena, just REMEMBER THE SCOPE OF ALL THE MYRIAD OTHER OBLIGATIONS YOU ARE SO PIOUSLY ATTENDING TO, and relax a little. Your free time is well earned.
And, look, ya beautiful, bewinged fishington: Not to get all Pinterest-platitude-steez on you here, but balance is important, your time is incredibly valuable, and your happiness is crucial to your ability to not only get through your workload effectively, but BE A GOL-DURNED STABLE, HEALTHY PERSON! And you absolutely deserve that. So, make that list. Plot out your hours. Sacrifice some of your bureaucratic duties. Go the fuck shopping.
Your dedication and work ethic are amazing (and the next time anyone tries to utter a single syllable of tripe about how teenagers aren’t responsible, they can knock on my door and I’ll happily stuff a print-out of your letter in their idiot mouth first), but so is visiting the museum from time to time. Go see for yourself, and you’ll find everything else you’re worried about—your work, your relationships, the settledness of your brain, maybe even the world writ large?—will benefit from your making that choice. —ARS