Jeremy Côté

Ebb and Flow

When I was an undergraduate, my instinct with every class was to give all that I had. I would put in massive efforts, making sure that I could honestly say that I did my best in everything. This strategy worked well for my academics, but the problem was that it neglected the need for rest, or modulation.

If you have ever had the joy of watching a bunch of young children race any distance over a kilometre, you will see a familiar pattern. At the start line, they will all blast off, sprinting as hard as they can. Everyone is giving their best effort, and it looks like it will be a fast race.

Until, of course, they realize that they sprinted the first one hundred metres and still have a long way to go. Cue the ensuing slowdown of everyone.

We can’t give our maximum all the time. This is mathematically impossible, unless we are only capable of giving one level of effort (a constant). Barring that possibility, we won’t be performing at our best in each moment. However, that doesn’t mean people don’t try, and that’s where problems come in.

Many of us (myself included) are stubborn. We don’t want to slack off, and we take it to the other extreme. We try to write everyday, or produce something new, or practice our craft every single day, without fail. It’s this last part that can turn insidious. Wanting to be consistent in our work is great, but it can turn into a negative thing if we insist on continuing when we need rest.

For myself, this became apparent in how I would approach school work. No matter if the work was a big homework assignment or some inconsequential thing, I would approach it the same way. In other words, I would spend way too much time on the small things. I was convinced that this was simply a way to be as good as possible at what I did, but it meant I would use a lot of my energy on items that really weren’t worth it.

Thankfully, I did not overdo it. However, I can easily see how this might have turned out, and I’m happy that I’ve recognized my behaviour before it went too far.

Sometimes, you have to be willing to say, “Okay, I can’t give my all on this. I need to save my energy up for this other thing I care about.”

This is important when thinking about the various plates you keep spinning in your life. If you try to pour all of yourself in ten different areas, you will find that you have nothing left to pour. Not only that, but you limit the amount you can pour in a given area.

We like to applaud those who seem to put in an extraordinary amount of effort in their work. What we seldom appreciate is how they aren’t simultaneously doing other things at a high level. They are capable of putting in this energy because they have chosen to keep their other interests on the back burner.

Note here that you don’t have to become someone who only does one thing. Rather, you need to be mindful of how you spread your effort. You can concentrate it all in a certain area, but that will come at the expense of the other areas. Making this choice isn’t good or bad, but it is being made all the time.

Refusing to acknowledge this fact means you will often tire yourself out, perhaps even growing to hate the pursuits you once loved.

We need to remember that we can’t do everything at the maximum level simultaneously. You have a finite amount of energy, so you need to allot it in a way that makes sense to you.