Today’s post is going to be the cornerstone of all succeeding entries on how to stay healthy in architecture school and beyond. Think of it as my guiding belief on how to achieve success – “Life is a marathon, not a sprint – so it’s extremely important to take care of your health”.
Are you setting yourself up for long-term failure by trying to achieve everything today?
I’ve been there, friends. For some time, I was a chronic workaholic myself – and then I smartened up.
For us young people who are still full of the vigor of life, we sometimes feel indestructible. This is especially true for many a gifted achiever who constantly seeks their next youthful success.
We take pride in our perceived resilience – so we brag about our week long all-nighters in getting a project done, inject ourselves into the roster of a number of councils and movements, and feel shaky and useless when our hands aren’t tied by new projects.
So what of exercise and sleep? Enter the commonly used maxim “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!”
There’s nothing wrong with being driven and wanting to pursue a meaningful youth, but once your health starts to suffer on a habitual basis, you’ve reached a point where you might be actually compromising your long-term well-being.
I don’t want to come off as preachy in this post, but I’ve witnessed so many really talented people crumble in their 30’s and 40’s – and have sadly seen some not even reach that age at all.
So If you’re the type that is going full-speed ahead in his or her teens or young-adulthood, I humbly invite you to reflect on a few of the points below. You deserve to be the best and happiest you can be, all throughout your life.
1. You’re not indestructible. Your body has its limits.
Yes, I know how it feels like to come to school on submission and brag with friends about who had the least sleep during the week, adrenaline giving a mild sense of euphoria, causing you to feel like a total bad-ass in the process. Perhaps it’s a simple joy of solidarity that many an architecture student should experience maybe once.
However, you can’t keep subjecting your body to this kind of set-up on a regular basis. Sure, the first few times you’ll recover with a weekend where you’re drowned out on your bed, but make it a habit, somewhere down the road you will get sick, you will get under-recovered, and you will start feeling like poop. All that chronic stress will depress your immune system and provide a good environment for abnormal cells to start developing.
Believe it or not, a shocking amount of 30-something people die of cancer every day, and the breeding ground where this started to develop wasn’t just a one or two year happening – it was a long time coming caused by bad lifestyle choices in younger years.
2. Your youth is a time to build good foundations, and it’s also a time where you need to enjoy the little things in life.
You might think that “building good foundations” means building up these posts on your resume to impress employers. Oh, I was project head of this while being president of that, while being the youth ambassador to this, while still being involved in so-and-so. Of course all these achievements can be great things, but if you constantly forego your well-being in pursuit of paper accolades, think of what you’re really sacrificing.
When you look back at your youth decades later, do you think you’ll see it with nostalgia or disdain? Will your cloud of memory of university life consist of a series of erratic projects that stressed you out, made you miserable, and didn’t allow you to pursue other skills your were interested in?
Maybe you’ll concede that you could have cut down the fluff achievements and really focused in investing in yourself and your well-being. Also, chances are, your contemporaries won’t even remember all these little projects you were killing yourself for.
It’s a harsh truth, but hardly anyone will remember or care about majority of your achievements in high school or college. These times represent a small part of your life where you were still at the infancy of your development. What will resonate more about who you are is your body of work over the course of your lifetime. Which brings me to my next point:
3. Chances are, you’re going to be alive for quite some time – and your best and wisest successes will come out when you’re older and more developed – provided you’re not always at the hospital.
A lot of driven people want to make a difference in the world today – which is a great thing. However, to work yourself to oblivion in your younger years in trying to achieve this in the quickest way possible may be highly inefficient. I invite you to think about this next comparison – which is based on the lives of two real-life people.
Chad is a young, driven individual. He wants to make a huge difference in the world.
In his college years, his priority is joining all the movements and organizations he can, heading a number of extra-curricular projects, and achieving all kinds of academic honors. He is able to achieve this to a large extent, at the cost of a lifestyle of sleepless nights, bad food choices, and recurring headaches, fatigue, and mental breakdowns. Compared to other people his age, he has achieved a whole lot.
After graduation, he accepts that the crippling stress that consumes his life is needed in achieving his goals to change the world. In his 20’s, he continues to try to keep pace. He embraces his active, driven lifestyle, and pursues continuing education while working in a top firm he gets hired by due to his multitude of accolades. His days are spent in a fast-paced, tiring work environment that pays well, and his nights are filled with sidelines and classes.
His constant fatigue has become something else, and HE spends many days in bed on a sick-leave. But it doesn’t matter, he thinks. It’s a necessary evil. I’m building the foundations for the day when I change the world.
Except that day doesn’t come. Over time, Chad’s health starts to take a toll by the time he reaches his thirties. He develops lifestyle induced afflictions like diabetes, hypertension, recurring gout, all under the cloud of metabolic syndrome. Over a decade of bad lifestyle choices has set the right foundation for his health to implode. Instead of soaring through the clouds, much of his life is spent in doctors appointments and dealing with medications and crippling dietary restrictions.
Over time, Chad is able to still do a good amount of good, but never at the scale that he initially envisioned. It’s a tragic story of a well-intentioned individual who didn’t see the merits of pacing himself through life – and paid the price for it.
Tim is a young, driven individual. He wants to make a huge difference in the world.
In his college years, he prioritizes learning and leadership opportunities, but is wary of the point of diminishing returns. He lives active days of learning and extra-curricular activities, but sets aside time for himself. To do this, he sometimes has to turn down heading new projects offered to him by his contemporaries.
He makes it a point to try and sleep 7 hours a night, exercise around thrice a week, and be mindful about eating junk. Sure, he inevitably has to pull an all-nighter here or there, but his discipline to stick to a consistent work schedule ensures this doesn’t happen often. Compared to other people his age, he has achieved a good bit, but he knows that he is constantly able to focus on bettering himself slowly and surely, and this will be his greatest asset.
After graduation, he continues his learning-focused lifestyle and is hired by a good firm because they see his long-term view and commitment to personal development. Because of all the practice in his university years in finding a work-life balance, he is able to do well in his job, while still setting aside time to learn about the initiatives he is looking to build later in life.
He has a deep sense of well-being and lives an energized life which he knows will take off for as long as he remains receptive to the knowledge and wisdom the world trickles into him every day. He remains hungry to learn and build connections, and his high energy and clear mind allows his to work like a well-oiled machine.
Tim’s life slowly but surely follows an upward trend. His consistent health makes his progress less erratic and he becomes more reliable. Over time, he collaborates with a number of great people and helps orchestrate programs that do a world of good – globally. But what is most fulfilling for Tim is that he was able to achieve his dreams while still being able to enjoy life and feel great everyday.
One night, in his 50’s, he attends his college Homecoming, and finds a lot of his batch-mates are sadly reeling from a number of health ailments, and are thus far from being as productive and fulfilled as they’d like to be. One of them is Chad.
In the end, who was able to cover more ground?
I invite you to start thinking life as a marathon, and not a sprint.
If you go full-speed ahead in your youth, sure, you’ll get to cover more ground initially, but you may very well pay for it during the prime of your life. On the other hand, If you invest in your health and find the right pace so you don’t burn out, I’m confident you’ll be able to touch more people, and do more good. Just something to think about.
4. Can you invest in both your long-term growth and your health at the same time?
Yes you can, and if you really think about it, these two are complementary. But it will take discipline and a bit of distancing from the popular “quick fix” maxims of the world. It will take a lot of commitment in sticking to a game-plan of many small habits instead of following the whims of your emotions. So you have to play it smart and take the time and effort to Learn, Plan, Commit, and Adapt.
For instance: We have to be critical at a lot of the seemingly beneficial conveniences and addictive pleasures of modern society that have been shown repeatedly to be causes in today’s leading health ailments. Sure their specific industries cover it up, which is why you have to be more diligent in your commitment to research.
Simple example is that drinking soda thrice a day is one of the worst things could can do for your health in virtually all aspects – mental fog, energy, heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, you name it. (1) We take news and studies like this for granted, thinking the consequences won’t happen to us. I’m not suggesting you live in fear – I’m asking that you consider living educated and critical.
So with all this said,
This post is officially the start of the development of the Health & Fitness leg of the blog. Expect a great number of quality posts rooted in peer-reviewed scientific literature, geared at giving you ways to find a sustainable balance at life. A lot of these stuff are things I wish I knew and was critical about earlier in my life. The earlier you start to commit to your health, the better.
Hope to see you healthy and happy down the road,
(1) (Vasanti S. Malik, SCD, Barry M. Popkin, PHD, George A. Bray, MD, Jean-Pierre Després, PHD, Walter C. Willett, MD, DRPH, and Frank B. Hu, MD, PHD) Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes: A meta-analysis – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2963518/