Mindfulness and Avoiding Unnecessary Suffering

Lately, I have been doing some more self-reflection than usual. The last four weeks were somewhat of an oxymoron. On the one hand, things were really great for me. I was being super productive, drinking lots of water, working every day, saving money, eating healthy, reading instead of watching too much TV, getting outside and exercising, and enjoying some hobbies. On the other hand, it also felt like hell at the same time. I was working at two different jobs, it had been two weeks since my last day off, I rarely saw my family, I was racing everywhere to get basic things done like grocery shopping and laundry, and even though I was eating healthy, I felt like I was going to binge eat a bunch of sugar at any moment.

I absolutely could not stand one of the places I worked at. The people were not friendly, the job was physically exhausting, I felt angry, anxious, sad, and lonely when I was there, I had fallen into the role of the “yes man”, and it felt like I was asked to do every extra task someone needed. 

It was Thursday, and the previous night I found out I was going to be assigned even more work hours the following weeks, and that I would need to be at work until 11:30 p.m most days. SNAP! That night I broke. For dinner, I didn’t eat my “money-saving” home packed dinner, I splurged on expensive sushi. After work, I picked up a bunch of junk food, where I came home and ate that, rather than doing my nightly workout. Finally, I stayed up late watching TV, not caring about anything in the world. The next day I finally decided to quit my job.

Looking back at this, I realize now what my mistake was. It wasn’t necessarily that I was pushing myself too hard. Like I said, it was also a great time for me. I feel the best when I live a more fast-paced life, being productive, and maintaining healthy habits. The problem was that I wasn’t eliminating a toxic situation from my life.

At the time, I had two different jobs. When comparing my two jobs, the differences were like night and day. One was constantly fast-paced; I was literally sweating from running around all day. The other was still fast-paced, but I wasn’t physically having to burn myself out. One job had coworkers that were too quiet, rude, or cliquish. The other job had coworkers that were always kind and easy to speak with. One job had inflexible hours, constant late shifts, and poor management. The other job had flexible hours, rotating late shifts, and very supportive management.

If the differences were so night and day, and I was so miserable, then why didn’t I quit sooner you might ask? Well, there are two reasons for this. The first being, I wasn’t in tune with myself and my mind. In the previous weeks, I had been so busy and consumed, that I rarely had time to pause, think, or relax. I was missing the signs that this lifestyle was not for me. I was blanking on words and forgetting the basic things I needed to remember. For example, if a family member asked me to bring them a glass of water, I would unconsciously say yes, walk away, and forget instantly because my mind was in a different place. Then they would jokingly holler at me again until I realized what I had just done.

Once I finally gave myself time to think and reflect, I started to see clearly again. One of my reasons for staying at the “stressful job” was the fact that it paid more. However, after I took the time to think and do a little math, I realized that a 40-hour workweek at the “stressful job” only earned me $55.20 more than 40 hours at the other job. I automatically knew that my sanity was at least worth $55.20.

Now that I had time to reflect, I also realized how different of a person I was at each job. The “stressful job” left me bitter, anxious, and angry. The “better job” left me happy, energetic, and confident. Whatever I felt during work, I took home with me, and I am sure my family enjoyed me much more when I came home from the “better job.” I also realized that whenever I had to work at the “better job,” I considered it a “day off” in my head. It makes me laugh that I thought an eight and a half-hour workday was my “day off,” but it was, it was paradise compared to the other place I spent half my time at.

Once I did some self-reflection, I understood that if I hadn’t continued to work at the “stressful job,” I might have been able to stick to my personal goals better. I wouldn’t have caved on healthy eating, exercise, and saving money if I had let go of the thing that was truly causing me stress.

To get to my point, I hope that with all of these stories you can at least relate to a time where you used mindfulness, or understand the importance of self-reflection. I tend to run away from self-reflection; I haven’t used my meditation app in years. But, there is so much importance to it. Sometimes we are so caught up in the middle of our lives, that until we take a step back and use that “bird’s eye view,” we don’t know what is bothering us, what we need to fix, or what we have to change. Maybe you feel like you are taking on too much or you have too many stressors in your life, like I did. Or, maybe there is just one thing, one person, or one problem that you need to take care of. Maybe once you remove that “master stressor”, your whole life won’t be perfect, but, your life might become easier to manage. I tried to look to other people for answers about what I should do, but we all have our own brain, and we must start using it. Because, only I know what it is that I truly want, and only you know what it is that you truly want. So, if you are stressed, anxious, upset, hurt, sad, or even happy, reflect on your feelings. Learn to identify the cause of each emotion, and pursue it more if it brings positivity to your life, or get rid of the things in your life that bring about the negativity. You control your life, and even if it is an uncontrollable circumstance, you can still control how you react to it. Once you finally take control and do what it takes to solve your greatest problem, there might be somewhat of a domino effect on the rest of your life. Like I said, everything might not be fixed and perfect, but at least you will be in a stronger place mentally; you will be ready to face all of your other problems.

The other reason why it took me so long to quit was that I felt this need to endure unnecessary pain. At the beginning of this year, I heard the term mental toughness. It refers to one’s ability to do hard things, endure, be resilient, have grit, etc. I began learning more about the importance of having mental toughness and developing this attribute.

As summer came, and I took time off from university, I set some financial goals for myself that would prepare me for the coming school year. As I worked at my jobs, if I ever became tired, or annoyed with having to work so many hours, I thought about having mental toughness. I thought about the stories we have all heard of moms and dads working 70 hour work weeks, just to provide the bare necessities for their children. As I thought about these stories, I realized that my life was not as hard as theirs, and I shouldn’t complain about working 50 hours when I don’t even have the financial burden of providing for others.

To my point, I believe in working hard and overcoming challenges because this is how we progress and become better in life. But, my thinking was flawed regarding a certain point. Pain, hard tasks, and challenges are important. For example, when you lift weights, sore muscles equal growth and development. It is only during the uncomfortable times that we actually grow. But, I also believe that while hardship is necessary for the development of our character, there is also unnecessary pain. My “stressful job” was an example of that. The time I spent there didn’t develop my character and it didn’t make me stronger; in fact, it made me weak. I was hurting my mental health from all of the extra anxiety, and I was becoming a worse person because I wasn’t spending time with my family, and when I did, I acted poorly towards them. 

There is a key difference between building mental toughness or character and staying in a toxic situation enduring unnecessary suffering. A 50-hour workweek at the “better job” is still hard. It requires discipline, sacrifice, and mental toughness. But, it isn’t unnecessary pain, like forcing myself to spend half my time at the “stressful job” when I had other options available. The dad who works the 70-hour workweek at a terrible job, to provide for his children, isn’t even experiencing unnecessary pain. His suffering serves the purpose of helping his family.

It is important to push ourselves and grow. However, we must make sure that there is a purpose to what we do and what we endure. We must also make sure that it is not at the sacrifice of our mental health and wellbeing. If we are overridden with anxiety, anger, grief, or sadness, we don’t have a chance at maintaining mental toughness because we won’t be resilient enough to even handle the small things.

To conclude, I hope my experience sheds light on the importance of mindfulness, mental toughness, and avoiding unnecessary suffering. At the end of the day, I believe we control our own lives. If you are unhappy, or you need help, or you want to start doing something, it is important to finally go for it. If there is something we want to do, change, or overcome, we need to make that decision for ourselves. Like William Ernest Henley said, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

Once again, if you are looking for help to overcome mental health struggles or even some other people to relate to, please reach out by visiting our website www.insaneability.org. We are here guiding you to the life you want to live.

-Julianne E.

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