One of the biggest benefits I’ve obtained along my mindfulness journey so far has been an increased sense of self-awareness. I’ve always been a perfectionist, and I have always said it is both my biggest strength and my biggest weakness. However, I never realized how much my perfectionism is tied to my struggles: how upset I am when things don’t go as planned, how much pressure I put on myself to get every little thing just right, and how draining a “failure” can be. Mindfulness has gently lifted the veil off my face, allowing me to see the puzzle pieces that are my personality and is guiding me to assemble the pieces together.
One of the many challenges for me in grad school is learning how to roll with the punches and how to remain proactive when plans go awry. When I was growing up, my motto in life was always, “it happens,” and as I got older it too got older and became, “s#*t happens”. Somehow I’ve forgotten that little mantra during my early years of graduate school. Now I feel like I’m planning and planning, and working and working; trying so hard to find some sense of accomplishment and being easily frustrated when things don’t go quite as I had planned. And of course things hardly ever go as planned (especially in science, and especially for graduate students). Often times, the things that don’t go as planned are beyond my control. Maybe you are waiting for a reagent to be shipped in which unexpectedly is on back order, maybe the freezer crashed or a vital instrument breaks and you are left waiting for manufacturers to come and fix things on their timeline. These crappy things are generally beyond a person’s control. This is where my old saying, “it happens” really comes in handy. I’ve definitely lost sight of that attitude during my PhD training. I’m so emotionally and physically invested in my PhD, that I allow these little life things to add stress to an already stressful environment.
As a perfectionist, I want to have a plan, but I need to gently remind myself that it’s OK to allow that plan to change. When “life” happens, it’s important to take a breath. Ask yourself if there’s anything in your power that you can do to “fix” the situation. If the situation is beyond your control, just remember that this is life. In order to know perfection, we know imperfection; everything is balanced. Allow yourself to bring peace to yourself, to your loved ones, and to the world around you. Remind yourself that it’s OK to follow a curving path. May peace accompany you and guide you along the winding path that is life.