"Baby Boy, Stop Putting So Much on Your Plate"

02/23/2021

Growing up in a household with three males who thoroughly enjoyed eating, food never stood a chance. When we would convene to eat as a family, I had two options: load my plate with as much as I could (because seconds were guaranteed to be scarce) or eat as quickly as possible to be the first to claim the remains left in the pot. My preferred method was to make sure my first plate at the table was hefty since I could never out-eat my older brother, who has me by five years.

As I took time to discover myself and identify patterns, I realized my "dinner plate" mentality was a childhood behavior transplanted to my adult life. Throughout college, I've perpetually set demandingly high expectations for myself when it came to academics. I was no longer an athlete, but I still felt that I had to stand out among the competition. I needed to stand out so my white professors would notice me in my black skin and recognize I could secure and excel in the same spaces as my white counterparts, just as equally, if not better. My desire to produce became habitual. I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to stand out whenever the moment presented itself. It was fear. Fear was a measure to which I set my goals. It was the fear of being overlooked for an opportunity I knew I deserved. It was fear of not being successful in my parents' eyes (because success deemed in an immigrant household can be crippling at times). Most importantly, the fear of missing out fueled the notion that I could achieve more if I just put more on my plate.

By the time I reached my third year in grad school, I was beyond ready to quit. Internally, I was screaming for help: a cry that I stifled and let no one else hear but myself. Attempting to remain afloat while completing two separate graduate programs, a laboratory-based graduate assistantship, a year-long fellowship that required community outreach, and internships during the summer was beyond excessive. I was helping defray the bills of my parents. Did I mention I was juggling these responsibilities all while trying to sustain a long-distance relationship? I admit it was too much for me to bear. Why didn't I say something? It infuriates me. I wish I would have learned to say no. I drowned plenty of times and was resuscitated by forces greater than me on many occasions. The onset of COVID-19 was a saving grace for me because it relieved me of my lab duties and freed me 25 hours a week to devote to the other obligations mentioned. I no longer had to travel around the state on weekends. It also allowed me to consider my own thoughts and feelings for a brief moment - something I did not have the leisure of doing prior.  The few hours a day I was given back made me realize I was so focused on accomplishing that I never once considered the true cost of my obligations - "cost" referring to the state of my mental health, personal decision making, happiness, personal relationships, etc.

What is your inspiration? Is it a person? Is it a business you've envisioned yourself starting? Is it relieving your family's financial burdens to dispel generational curses set before your time? Whatever it is, I implore you to chase it. By no means do I want to give off the impression I am encouraging otherwise. Hard work, commitment, and persistence are all attributes needed to obtain those inner drivers of yours, but so is rest. Rest allows you to take a step away from the chase so you can regroup. Sometimes taking a few steps backward allows you to adequately assess your progress and consider your next steps forward. Chase your dreams, but allow yourself some time to enjoy your progression throughout the journey. Above all, be present in your journey. 

"Baby boy, stop putting so much on your plate," were the words of my dear mother as I loaded my plate with spaghetti. I surely didn't pay her any mind. But as I reflect on her words as an adult, they hold a different meaning. So to my reader, I'll share those very words with you. Stop putting so much on your plate. 

...Besides, all that spaghetti will undoubtedly leave a stain on your shirt.

"The pressure I put on myself to succeed does little to help me achieve success." - J. Marie Novak.