In the distance, twinkling lights of blue and red float along the horizon. A radiant star compliments the full glow of the moon from behind.
Life is simple and peaceful. The sounds of the waves rock me into a trance. I sip my beer. Serenity. I take a deep breath. Sand as far as I can see in either direction. bzzp… A mosquito eats at my wrist. I’m pulled out of my daze. I’m spending my time with someone I love and it makes the moment even more special. Sappy music playing in the background completes the scene of a romantic love story.
Over the past 5 weeks I’ve traveled through Northern Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
I just arrived in Phu Quoc, an island in the south of Vietnam, and it is spectacular. The sands of Long Beach extend along the West coast for over half the island.
But I feel selfish.
I feel selfish for being here while others are busy studying for exams or working hard back home. I know I deserve a break after 5 years in medical school but I have a hard time not keeping busy. For me, being busy is easier than stillness.
Stillness brings about doubtful thoughts, fears, and worries about the future. Stillness brings about my insecurities. When I take a step back, I don’t have anything to worry about, so what are those questions that run through my head? Insecure feelings that I’m never doing or being enough, “Enough for who?”, I ask myself.
All my life I’ve created expectations of myself but used other people and situations as excuses for blame. Whether it was my parents, school, competitive sports or my peers, I’ve always aimed for ‘my best’, which actually correlated to being ‘the best’.
We all know people who are over-achievers. These people appear to have it all together and more. They make us feel inferior and incompetent when we compare ourselves to them.
Some people have even said that about me, despite my own insecurities.
Our perspective trains us to see the World in a particular way. For me, the evidence told me that I’m always just a little behind and if I worked harder I could catch up.
I was a scrawny child and “bars” was my nemesis.
(Yes, I am lacking the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme, but that’s not the kind of bars I mean). Let me explain.
Being a competitive gymnast, I had a lot of expectations for myself but I always struggled with one apparatus: the uneven bars. My coaches would pull me out of dance classes and other events just so that I could spend more time training on my bar skills.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t physically perform the skills, but I had such a huge fear of ‘pinging’ (when you unexpectedly lose your grip due to improper rhythm of a swing) and hurting myself. The tighter I held on, the more disrupted my natural swing was and then I would end up pinging and hurting or scaring myself. It’s one of those concepts that is easy to understand but difficult to perform.
An example is your reaction to looking into the rear-view mirror just in time to see a car coming at you quickly. Theoretically, the best way to reduce injury on your body is to go limp and relax. Realistically, your body wants to tighten up and brace for the impact, which actually causes more whiplash and damage to the soft tissue.
Bars are the same. If you fight the natural rhythm of the swing, you will probably end up pinging, resulting in potential injury.
The more I pinged, the more fear I had but the tighter I held on, the more I pinged. It was a viscous cycle.
I wasn’t as talented as some of the other gymnasts. But what I failed to notice was that I was also comparing myself to National, International and some Olympic gymnasts.
Comparison to people in all aspects of your life must be empowering. If it isn’t, then it is futile. Acknowledging and tuning out negative thoughts is easy to understand but difficult in practice. It’s important to recognize if your environment is toxic.
So here I am in Phu Quoc, one stop along my journey where I am working on doing less so I can be more.
More is not always better. And better is not always healthy. Something that I’m learning is that if you’re constantly trying to keep up with life, you risk missing out on its purpose.