I recently saw this video by Hank Green of the popular video blog youtube channel Vlogbrothers:
In the video, Green shares tips on how he stays productive (some he considers healthy and some unhealthy). In the video, he says he’s been pondering a lot recently on “doing a lot of things”. This made me think about my own experiences with “doing a lot of things” and my own ponderings on productivity and the healthy and perhaps unhealthy ways I managed doing all of the things I did in highschool.
In my junior and senior year (especially my senior year) I connected more deeply with friends who were also pursuing many interests, projects, and passions at once and was able to connect with great educators through my curiosity project with my sister. After seeing the many healthy ways they managed everything they were doing, I realized that some of the the ways in which I was managing all of my interests and projects were sometimes very unhealthy mentally and physically and actually hindered my productivity.
Unhealthy ways in which I managed “doing a lot of things” in high school:
Having a Very Irregular Sleep Schedule
I often would stay after school for club meetings, get home from school and start some homework and talk with my sister, leave the house around 5:30 for band practice, come home around 9:30, eat dinner and talk with my family, start homework, and then A) go to sleep around 3:00 AM or 4:00 AM, B) Fall asleep doing homework and wake up around 2 or 3:00 AM and finish homework, or C) take a 15 to 30 minute nap and stay up all night.
After doing this for four years, this schedule felt normal and exhaustion was simply a state in which I and most other students lived. I remember occurrences where I had slept too much and not finished a piece of homework or forgot to study for an exam and the next day I would swear to myself that I was going to not let that happen again, even if I had to only sleep an hour or two per night. While this might be a good strategy in finishing homework, it is certainly not good for one’s brain, body, or curiosity. In an interview with a history teacher my sister and I conducted this year, the teacher said that he noticed that “students are asked to do so much that when they do have any free time, they want to sleep”. Simply wanting to sleep in one’s precious free time rather than explore a passion left unturned during school is like simulated depression; walking through life with no eyes toward the future and no urge to explore something that sets your soul on fire. It’s grueling and boring and horrible. But what can students do who are trying to compete academically and extracurricularly for college?
In a design class at school, the class made shirts that on the back said #upsince3, as in “up since 3:00 AM”. There is a clear difference between getting up at 3:00 AM to pursue a passion, and not allowing oneself to sleep because of shame of getting poor grades or trying to sleep in between activities and work in which your heart is not truly invested.
Hating Yourself When You Make a Mistake
The worst part of every school day was undoubtedly the morning. Not because I was tired and didn’t want to get up to go to school, but because that was the time when I would be getting up to realize I didn’t plan out a club meeting, study for a test, finish a project, or it would be when I was just finishing homework, angry at myself for not finishing something or being able to manage a regular schedule. This often made me feel overwhelmingly as if I had failed and simply would never change. I often felt guilty and disgusted with myself for not achieving what I wanted to achieve. Although I understood that failure is the only road to growth, it felt like I never grew, but simply kept making similar mistakes or didn’t work hard enough. When I would make a mistake doing something, (like perhaps forgetting to print something out for a class or club meeting, plan ahead for a project, etc.) internally I would shake my head at myself, annoyed and unsurprised at my own continuation of the web of failure I had already weaved.
After reading about the ways other educators (like George Couros) and students (including my own friends) managed packed schedules and dealt with their own experiences of failure, I began to realize that hating oneself does not help one be more productive, it simply causes one to continue on the same path more miserable. When I allowed myself to ponder my own failure in a rational and reflective way, I began to feel myself growing. When I truly allowed myself to consider my failures as stepping stones of growth, I began to grow.
While having the opportunity to do these two independent studies and experience learning and working in areas I’m deeply passionate about was an enlightening experience, for a long period of time, it often made me hate myself even more. Working so closely with teachers I deeply admire and respect as educators and people made it even worse when I failed (was unprepared, confused about the next steps, etc.) because it made me feel that rather than being just a personal failure, my failures now became a waste of time for my teachers, showcased stage center for them to see. Sometimes this would paralyze me into inaction, other times it would spur me into a frenzy of activity.
Jumping into the independent studies made me realize that I had been holding onto other activities and projects I had been working on not because I was passionate about them, but simply because I had always done them. In the independent studies, I had the taste of passion and what I really wanted to do in my mouth while I constantly was fighting against the time intensive activities I no longer enjoyed.
This has given me the courage to finally let go of those things and really dive into the areas I have always been truly passionate about.
At the end of Hank Green’s video blog, he gives the tip to “follow and cultivate my (your) own curiosity”. I practically choked when I heard that. It’s exactly what we’ve been learning about in our curiosity project this whole year.
It’s difficult for me to give healthy productivity tips, especially to high school students. But one tip I would give would be to follow and cultivate your own curiosity. I have a sign hanging on my bedroom wall with a quote from Steve Job’s Stanford Commencement Address that reads
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Your journey through school and life will be much more joyful and fulfilling if you follow your curiosity. You may struggle and stumble, but you will ultimately have forged a path you are proud of. At the very end of his video blog, Hank Green says “Following my curiosity so frequently leads me to better life decisions, better business decisions, but also just feeling better. You’re never gonna feel bad about your whole life if you, like, loved people and were curious.”
I continued to follow the same paths because I had always done them and didn’t have the courage to let them go. At the same time, I created paths for myself that made me feel as if I were truly living for the first time. Follow the paths where your curiosity leads you. Stumble and make mistakes, but allow that to let you reflect on your steps and gain a stronger footing.
Your time is limited. Remember to Carpe diem, make mistakes, don’t punish yourself with negativity but instead view mistakes as positive stepping stones of growth, and have the courage to follow your curiosity and listen to your own inner voice, heart, and intuition. They somehow already do know what you truly want to become.